Mawahib Ahmed
Christine Kobelka
Nadia Stokvis
Catherine Wilcox


Mawahib grew up in the Sudan and completed her Bachelor Science Honours Political Science at the University of Khartoum. She worked with non-governmental agencies (NGOs) concerned with rights of women and children in the community, especially the displaced women from war in southern Sudan. She earned a scholarship to do a Masters in Development Studies at the prestigious Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

In 2000 Mawihib and her husband came to Canada with two children (Amin 4 & Nour 2) and seven months pregnant with her third child. As newcomers with no income and unfamiliar with Canadian laws the family used its savings to pay a six month deposit to rent an apartment. Having no health card it took a long time for her to see a doctor at the clinic. Nine months after Karim was born Mawahib started looking for a job and applied to study for her PhD.

Two years of volunteer work in women’s support programs, including Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services and the Sudanese Women’s Union, preceded her ability to obtain work. She helped to support her family by catering from her home, gradually moving to part time work facilitating “building capacity” programs for East African women and the Educational Equality Program of Violence Against Women for mostly Arabic-Canadian women.

Her immigration status delayed Mawahib being accepted as a PhD student in Women’s Studies at York until 2003. Pursuing her studies and supporting her family at the same time is a struggle. As the eldest in her family with six siblings she is financially supporting her parents in Sudan. Since 2004 her husband is no longer living with the family, so she is now handling all the responsibilities alone and has had to continue to work. Her need for financial support to continue her studies is acute as she is half way through her PhD preparing for comprehensive exams and feeling the need to quit her job even though her husband’s income is insufficient.

As a woman of colour and a newcomer she has seen first hand that immigrant women have tremendous potential. Mawahib works with Arabic speaking women living in abusive relationships, providing translation and assistance with settlement problems. In the Sudanese community she helps women with settlement, education and employment issues including resume writing and cover letters. One of her referees noted that significantly she has assisted the Sudanese Women’s Union to establish linkages with the mainstream organizations like Family Service Association.

For her PhD studies her papers and research concern the challenges faced by immigrant women in the community and how to overcome them. She writes “it is my passion to create a link between my studies and academic work in order to make a practical difference in women’s lives in the community. I am interested in helping immigrant women face the challenges of gendered immigration policies and the impact of their underprivileged status in the labour market. I am equally interested in how immigrant women organize themselves and what services they can obtain from community organizations.”

The Grant for Women will allow her to handle some of her financial obligations and give her a year for her studies. She will be able to focus more on her studies in the short term and enable her to fulfill her career goals in the long term. Indeed it will “make a huge difference in my life, both now and in the future”.


Christine has green eyes and blonde hair in a family of parents and two sisters with brown eyes and brown hair. This phenomenon is due to recessive genes her parents carried and passed on to her. She notes that this is “a tip of the iceberg of my interest in genetics”.

Christine’s university studies started at Queen’s University with a dual degree of Bachelor of Physical and Health Education and Bachelor of Science, returning for a Bachelor of Education. While volunteering at Queen’s Christine saw how genetic counselling made a difference with people on a daily basis and decided this was a perfect career path. She is currently studying for her Masters of Science Genetic Counselling at the University of British Columbia that only accepts six students out of a large application pool of about seventy-five.

When Christine was in Grade 11 her mother died after battling a rare, aggressive form of cancer. As a pillar in the family coping with her mother’s death was difficult but Christine graduated with phenomenal grades and many fond memories. Her father is very proud of her accomplishments and supportive of her studies but is unable to significantly contribute financially to her education. Her financial debt load is very high, as her program costs $30,000 a year, which is overwhelmingly expensive. Throughout her studies she has worked at part-time jobs.

Genetic counsellors are healthcare professionals who provide information and support to women and their families providing information on causes, implications and recurrence risks of genetic conditions. Women’s health, productive and family planning issues are at the forefront of genetic counselling, with a significant proportion in the prenatal realm. Genetic Counsellors are involved during pregnancy and prior to conception regarding issues such as multiple miscarriages or stillbirths, advanced maternal age, abnormal ultrasound or serum screen findings, a previous child with genetic disorder or birth defects, or exposure to harmful agents during pregnancy. Women are given information, supported emotionally and non-directively counselled through such difficult subjects as prenatal testing, family planning, pregnancy options, recurrence risks and management of diagnoses.

Breast and ovarian cancer counselling is also a growing branch of service to women. Not all breast and ovarian cancer is inherited, but if there is a family history, women are offered information and the possibility of genetic testing. Counselling also includes guidance regarding the risk of developing these cancers, preventative screening and/or prophylactic measures to reduce risks.

In the second year of her Masters degree Christine will conduct a directed study project. She will retrospectively survey women who screened positive on the maternal serum screen, who have an increased chance to have a baby with Down Syndrome, to find out why many do not choose to have follow-up diagnostic testing. In the future she hopes to study the effectiveness of video-conferencing genetic appointments with prenatal patients in remote areas of BC to help remove physical boundaries.

Christine wrote, “ The Canadian Soroptimist Grants for Women will go a long way in helping me finance my upcoming year in Genetic Counselling at UBC. I am honoured to be among such a passionate and dedicated group of women who are working in diverse fields to improve the quality of life for so many women.

Genetic counselling is at the forefront of women’s health, productive and family planning issues providing information on causes, implications and recurrence risks of genetic conditions. In the second year of her Masters of Science in Genetic Counselling at UBC Christine will conduct a directed study project. She will retrospectively survey women who screened positive on the maternal serum screen, who have an increased chance to have a baby with Down Syndrome, to find out why many do not choose to have follow-up diagnostic testing.

Christine wrote “I am honoured to be among such a passionate and dedicated group of women who are working in diverse fields to improve the quality of life for so many women”


A family friend recommended that Nadia “find something you are passionate about and make a career out of it, that is the secret to professional fulfillment”. After completing her Bachelor of Science (BSc) Biopsychology/Business at Mount Allison she worked for two years before reentering university studies at Mount Saint Vincent in BSc Applied Human Nutrition. When she learned about community nutrition her worldview was changed forever and she knew what her passion in life would be. “I wish to pursue a career that makes a difference for marginalized populations, specifically food insecure women, by helping to build health communities and healthy public policy in a meaningful way.”

Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Nadia only sees her family two times a year, because the Masters of Health Science in Community Nutrition at the University of Toronto has a very intense course load along with fieldwork for hands-on experience. One of her referees noted that admission into this graduate program is extremely competitive and Nadia was one of the highest ranked applicants. She is paying for her education completely on her own, so has a very high debt load. In the summer of 2006 Nadia completed eighteen weeks of the required twenty-eight week unpaid practicum, making it nearly impossible to save for the coming year.

Nadia’s main interest is food insecurity defined as “the inability to obtain sufficient, nutritious, personally acceptable food through normal food channels or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”. This is a manifestation of poverty that poses a threat to both physical and mental health.

Food insecurity affects at least 14% of Canadians with even higher rates among vulnerable populations including the unemployed, socially assisted, lower educated or those with ill health, as well as recent immigrants, women, seniors and lone parent families and their children. A large majority of this group are women and children with poverty as one of the main underlying factors. Social policies related to income assistance, housing and educational supports often undermine food security, especially for these groups.

She writes, “I plan to spend my career working passionately to achieve food security for these women and improve their health and well being by using my skills to help develop effective capacity building nutrition programs. Then I want to use my nutritional expertise to advocate and influence policy makers about the inequities these women face and how they negatively impact their health.”

The Soroptimist Grant will be a “tremendous help financially and reduce a lot of my stress. Furthermore it will enable me to focus on my studies and take all I can from this program to allow me to serve and make a difference in the health and well-being of food insecure women. You have no idea how much this means to me, I am so honoured that you and your colleagues selected me” she wrote after hearing about winning the award.


We all have triggers in our lives. For Catherine a trigger was learning about the Eastside’s missing women. “My exposure to the stories and struggles of these women stimulated my interest in making a personal contribution to the healing and empowerment of an extremely vulnerable community”. Catherine’s career plan is to work with the most neglected portions of the Canadian population – women sex trade workers in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

Her current studies at UBC to earn her Masters of Education (M Ed) Counselling Psychology allows her to acquire competency in the areas of gender and sex-role counselling, the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol counselling and the ethics of working with vulnerable populations. Her degree will allow her to work professionally and therapeutically with sex trade workers as a Registered Clinical Counsellor.

Catherine carries a heavy debt load as her full time commitment to academic and career plans prevents her from working more than three hours a week. The remainder of her schedule is filled with volunteer and family commitments. Funding is hard to find for the kind of work Catherine is doing.

On graduation she will work with the Women’s Information and Safe House (WISH), a safe haven for sex trade workers in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, many of whom are HIV positive and drug addicted. Given the scarcity of funding for such a project Catherine will need to develop a comprehensive plan, along with other women’s organizations, for securing the resources to develop free counselling services for this unprotected population.

From a therapeutic perspective the numerous issues sex-trade workers face (mental health concerns, addictions, HIV/AIDS, sexual and/or physical abuse) significantly increases the complexity and vulnerability of this population. Increasing the accessibility to trained counsellors will help to facilitate trust and safety in the lives of this extremely at-risk population. With preparations underway in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics in 2010 sex trade workers will face increasing displacement, poverty and social stratification. Catherine wants to “cultivate a sense of healing and empowerment in the Downtown Eastside. I intend to illustrate my personal commitment to supporting a hopeful community of women.”

Regarding the Grant, Catherine wrote that “your support not only makes a significant difference to my financial wellbeing but more importantly it supports crucial work being done with highly vulnerable populations of women in the lower mainland of British Columbia”.

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