Episode 134 – Rise

On this episode, we meet Hayat El-Ossmani and Nunu Desalgne — two incredible community leaders here in Edmonton.

Nunu and Hayat were recognized for their community work at the 2022 RISE Awards. The RISE Awards are presented by Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers to recognize immigrant success in Edmonton. Hayat and Nunu received The Community Leadership Award, sponsored by Edmonton Community Foundation. This award recognizes newcomers who demonstrate a commitment to community engagement, with the goal of creating a more welcoming and inclusive community for all.

Since 2003, The RISE Awards have celebrated newcomers who have built strong communities through social, cultural and economic development.

Find out more about the RISE Awards.
Meet more recipients.
Lear more about the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers

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The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation. And is a proud, affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Image for this episode was supplied by Edmonton Community Foundation.



[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays] 

Shereen Zink [00:00:25] Hi everyone. Welcome to The Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Shereen Zink—

Graeme Lummer

style="font-weight: 400;"> [00:00:29] And I’m Graeme Lummer. This podcast is brought to you by Edmonton Community Foundation. We are a proud affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Shereen [00:00:35] Edmonton is full of generous donors who’ve created endowment funds at ECF. These funds are carefully stewarded to generate money that supports charities in Edmonton and beyond.

Graeme [00:00:45] On this podcast, we share stories about how these funds help strengthen our community… because it’s good to be well endowed. 

Shereen [00:00:51] On this episode, we meet Hayat El-Ossmani and Nunu Desalgne, two incredible community leaders here in Edmonton. 

Graeme [00:00:57] Hayat is the Director and Co-Founder of the B-Smart Learning Center, a preschool that caters to young ones aged twelve months to six years. B-Smart focuses on early childhood learning and helps children thrive by understanding their individual needs.

Shereen [00:01:1o] Nunu is the Co-Owner and Operator of the Habesha African Market. She dedicates a ton of her time to the 107th Ave community and helps other newcomers feel welcome and find their way in a new place.

Graeme [00:01:21] Early this year, both Hayat and Nunu received a RISE Award. The RISE Awards are presented by Edmonton Mennonite Centre For Newcomers to recognize immigrant success in Edmonton.

Shereen [00:01:30] Yeah, so Hayat and Nunu both received the Community Leadership Award, which is sponsored by ECF. This award recognizes newcomers who demonstrate a commitment to community engagement with the goal of creating a more welcoming and inclusive community for all.

Graeme [00:01:44] Since 2003, the RISE Awards have celebrated newcomers who have built strong communities through social, cultural, and economic development. 

[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]

Our correspondent, Amal Mohamud, spoke with Hayat and Nunu to learn more about their approach to community building. 

Over to you, Amal.

Amal Mohamud [00:02:00] Thanks, Graeme! 

I am so excited to introduce you to both of these amazing women. Let’s begin with Nunu.

Nunu Desalgne [00:02:07] Yes! Uh, I am Nunu Desalgne. I originally am from Ethiopia. I am, uh, the Co-Owner of Habesha African Market.

Amal [00:02:15] Nunu helps African newcomers navigate their way through all the complexities of life in a new land. Although she operates the Habesha African Market, Nunu truly shines in her passion for uplifting the 107 Avenue community spirit. Be it with art, music, or food, in a community faced with many life challenges, Nunu has become an inspiration to others on working together to uplift an entire community.  I asked Nunu what it was like for her growing up in Ethiopia.

Nunu [00:02:42] Uh, it was… well, a lot different than here. I-I had a lot of fun growing up in Ethiopia. Uh, lots of friends and the neighbourhood and the weather, the culture. I guess that’s something I treasure day-by-day. I always try to kind of talk about my kids, how it was growing up for me, and it was a lot of fun. Things are changing now. Last I left back home was, like, 20 years ago. I was from the city, from Addis Ababa. It’s like a place that you can be whatever you wanted to be. For kids, we were allowed to play outside. You know, you go outside and play, all the neighbours are watching. It’s— uh, when they say it takes a village to raise kids, it really does take a village. Like, you go outside and play and people watch. Your neighbours will feed you. Your neighbours will take care of you. You’ll do the same thing for your neighbours. Uh, it’s… it’s just a huge, strong community.

Amal [00:03:38] Nunu still misses her hometown. It’s a part of what inspires her commitment to her current community.

Nunu [00:03:43] That’s why, in a lot of ways, that I’m very involved with people here ’cause I feel like… that’s what we need. We need a strong community. People share, you know, their food and their home and, uh, all those little things. And we— which we don’t have here.

Amal [00:04:02] Nunu comes from a small family.

Nunu [00:04:05] Uh, that’s very unlike for [laughs] a lot of Ethiopian people. I only have one sister. I don’t have a brother. But, uh, I-I guess in a way that I felt like I had a lot of people around me because of the neighbourhoods that I grew up in. We were a very small family, but we had always people around us.

Amal [00:04:23] I asked Nunu how she came to Canada.

Nunu [00:04:27] So I came to Canada. Um, my sister, uh, moved here, uh, long ago. And, uh, I wasn’t too, too sure whether I wanted to come here or not. But, uh, there was a conflict between the Ethiopian and the European governments. So I wasn’t able to stay in Ethiopia.

Amal [00:04:48] Nunu was 20 when she arrived to Canada. She first lived in Halifax for almost five months, then moved to Winnipeg for about five years, then she came to Edmonton in 2008.

Nunu [00:04:58] My first impression was cold, but then in a way I felt, like, free. It was exciting to just, uh… be able to kind of live freely and walk around freely without being worried. And then I lived by— on my own for the longest time, and that was exciting, uh, just to kind of discover things, what I could do. And so I had that excitement. So I guess, um, I wasn’t afraid, although I didn’t have a lot of support around me, I kind of moved from place to place. But I wasn’t scared. So it was… it was really, really exciting just to see how… how I could grow and how I could fit in, and learning the language and understanding the culture and those kind of things.

Amal [00:05:47] Nunu told me about how the Habesha Food Market got started.

Nunu [00:05:51] Uh, the Habesha Market business. We… we come from a restaurant background. Uh, in 2000— I guess the middle of 2008, my husband decided to pursue a restaurant business. And we kind of worked our way up through this. This is, uh, my husband’s dream. Like, owning a grocery store. He’s been always— that’s what he always dreamed of. And I’m, like, supporting [laughs] the dream.

Amal [00:06:20] I asked Nunu why giving back to the community is important to her. While we were chatting, some customers were shopping, so you may hear them in the background.

Nunu [00:06:28] We always help each other and we always grow together. So it’s… it’s always important to share. And also, uh, I have three kids and I feel like I could make the world a better place for my kids. And this is what— something that I’d like to pass on to my kids. I just— you know, like, w-w-we’re always— we’re capable of, you know, doing something great… other than ourself. And, uh, that’s what I want my kids to know and to live by.

Amal [00:07:00] It’s the idea of giving back and uplifting the community that led to Nunu’s nomination for the RISE Award. She was excited to be a recipient.

Nunu [00:07:09] Uh, it was really great. I, um— you know, we do what we do every day, and I do not expect that award. And it was really nice to get recognized, something that people get inspired by. So it’s really nice. Aside, um, from being in… in the community league as well as the… the Edmonton Revitalization board member, I-I have done so many events and, um, parties— community parties here in hopes of— This neighbourhood is, I feel like, it’s just a forgotten neighbourhood. There is nothing great things happens here to vibrant the neighbourhood. So I have organized, uh, African Day events here, and, uh, I help at the Black-owned market hosting here. So all— all these little events and involvements just brings out people and, uh, vibrant the neighbourhood and creates something for the community to just come by and enjoy themself and, uh, just enjoy the outdoors and all those great things.

[00:08:13] So i-it-it’s so nice, like I said, to not be only recognized, to see that what you’re doing is making— you know, like, people are following up. So all this attention will bring out what I wanted to be able to accomplish for this neighbourhood. Um, and that’s, like, creating a safer and a better community for our community, for the new immigrant people. Like, want them to be able to have a great life in this community. Not only, you know, running away from this community, from this area. I want them to feel like they… they belong here. So, yeah… thank you for that.

[00:08:56] So I feel like we’re all capable of doing something great, and it doesn’t really have to be, um, on a big scale level that— to give back and just helping each other and even planting flowers in your front door. And I feel like that’s just giving back to community. It’s just to vibrant the area and the neighbourhood. So it’s really important in the way that, uh, supports others.

Amal [00:09:25] I asked Nunu what she hopes to accomplish in the future.

Nunu [00:09:29] I hope to accomplish, um, getting the African co— community recognized in the level that we should be recognized for. Uh, we contribute so much to this country, to the economy, and I feel like we’re not recognized enough to what we do and to what we bring. So that’s what I wanted to accomplish in this neighbourhood alone. Most businesses are owned by African people and, uh, what we bring here is not recognized enough in the level of the hard work that we’re putting through. So that’s what I hope to accomplish, to highlight our culture and, uh, what we do here.

Amal [00:10:12] Nunu is 100% inspired by her kids.

Nunu [00:10:16] All the things that I want t-to happen is basically what I want my kids to live in. Like, I— a lot of times they go to school and there’s not many things to show where— their culture, where they come from, and there’s so many things that they could talk about. There’s only one, um, cultural day that they go dress up, you know, in the culture outfit and this and that. Uh, but I really want them to be able to, uh, speak about their culture and about their food and, uh, all those little things. Uh, but it makes a lot of difference for them because they’re really proud for who they are. And I just want that to be, you know, their everyday life.

Amal [00:10:58] I asked Nunu what advice she would give to others to uplift their own communities.

Nunu [00:11:03] Don’t give up. It’s really tiring doing community work and any kind of involvement because it’s time consuming and, uh… and you don’t get paid. [laughs] So i-it’s… it’s… it’s really hard work and it’s extra work that takes your— away from your actual work as well as from your family time. But it’s very rewarding, uh, to see what you wanted to see getting done. And if you started doing anything, I’m sure people will follow to continue what you start off. So it’s really nice to… uh, to just kind of not give up and, uh, continue.

Amal [00:11:46] I felt very inspired listening to Nunu talk about her dream of living in a neighbourhood that was vibrant, supportive, and a safe space for people to celebrate their culture in. A place where kids can grow up with a lot of opportunities to engage with their culture, and where newcomers feel welcome while building a new home. Our next guest is Hayat El-Ossmani.

Hayat El-Ossmani [00:12:07] My name is Hayat El-Ossmani.

Amal [00:12:09] She’s the Director and Co-Founder of the B-Smart Learning Center, which runs weekend classes for children to learn about cultural studies and the Arabic language. This year, Hayat also received the ECF Community Leadership Award. Hayat told me about how she came to Canada.

Hayat [00:12:26] We arrived to Canada, my husband, myself, and our two-year-old son. Uh, our main goal was actually to seek a land where there is equality, where there is diversity, inclusivity, and— as well as a peaceful land where everybody is well treated and respected. The country was very cold at that time, and, um, we had some struggles in terms of the culture and in terms of getting used to the language because my first language was Arabic as well as my husband’s. And we took a little bit of time to improve our accent. Then, uh, we started improving our self-development education. And in 2015, uh, I joined the workforce for a nonprofit organization in Edmonton, in the field of education ‘til 2017. And then in 2017, we decided to open the first project for us, which is the B-Smart preschool. This is where we are today.

Amal [00:13:23] Hayat told me more about B-Smart Learning Center.

Hayat [00:13:26] This centre is actually an educational institution for early childhood education. Uh, we are a team of, uh, around eight staff. We are all educators in early childhood education. It’s a licensed preschool through the Alberta Education and Early Childhood— Ministry of Early Childhood Education. Uh, we all have first aid and, uh, police check records. Uh, the main goal for the centre is actually to get the children ready for the school. So it’s, uh, like a pre-K program. 

[00:13:57] Our program actually focuses on the learning through play in addition to the new curriculum in Alberta, which is called Alberta Flight Curriculum. Uh, we have a very diversified, uh, centre. So we have children from different cultures, and that’s what makes us very proud of who we are. Uh, we provide the, uh, service for the children who are three-  to five-years-old. They go— if they are, like, three— three-years-old, they come to the preschool and they spend two years of their life here.

[00:14:28] If they are four-years-old, they spend one year here, and then we say goodbye so that they can go to the kindergarten program. Uh, we offer a bilingual program, an English program as well as the Arabic and Islamic religion and cultural studies. Why we do that is just to instill in each child, uh, the love of, uh, diversity and that we are all here. We… we— Although we don’t look maybe the same, but we are all here for one goal, which is making friends, sharing and caring for each other, and how we can be responsible citizens in the future.

Amal [00:15:02] I asked Hayat to tell me what she loves about her job.

Hayat [00:15:05] The job I chose is actually very— uh, I’m passionate about my job. It’s very exciting and every day is different than the other day. And we learn so many things from the children who are at young ages. Uh, actually every day we learn something new. Uh, they come up with amazing ideas, they can come up with— like, they create some artwork that we never thought about. We are all together here as co-learners. So the teachers, us as educators, and the children, we co-learn together. We are also, um, co-researchers. We can look into some stuff and go deeper into getting the knowledge about, uh, a theme or a topic. So that’s the main goal.

[00:15:45] We focus on five areas of, uh, education for the children. We want every child to be playful, to enjoy playing. We want every child to be creative, and we want every child to be curious. We want every child to be, uh, responsible about the community and about the environment. And we want every children to be persistent because we don’t want children to be— like, uh, to surrender from the first try. We give them so many opportunities to— through toys, to try the first time and second time again and again, all over. And then they will discover that they can really make it and reach the end of their goal. And it doesn’t matter that they finish the whole thing the way we want them to do it, we want to see the creativity in each child. So that’s the main goal in this program.

Amal [00:16:37] It is for this work with children that Hayat was nominated for the RISE Award.

Hayat [00:16:41] I was very honoured and proud to be a receiver. We were two people who received 

the Community Leadership Award for Edmonton through the Edmonton Mennonite Centre. And that was, um, like, something that I’m really grateful for every single person who nominated me. And the nomination was based on how much we are involved in the community, supporting the needy, supporting the children, supporting the… uh, the women, how many activities we did in Edmonton in order to, uh, instill the, uh, human— like, community work. And actually, what I find is this award is not only for myself as Hayat, it’s actually for every female in Edmonton who puts her heart in every single work she does. Um, this award is for my staff, for my family, for my friends, for every single person who supported me throughout my journey. And it also opens the door for… wh-what should I do for others? How can I help others? How can I instill the leadership even in the youth females in the community? Because this is our role. It’s not actually only to receive this, it’s how we can hold this and then give it to another female in the community and say, “You are the next queen.” So this is how I truly believe in about leadership.

Amal [00:17:59] Hayat told me about how she feels about her success.

Hayat [00:18:02] Uh, we all have dreams, but definitely, um, Canada has opened many doors for us. Like, for myself and so many women in the community, uh, it opened the door that we can show our true image, who is— what is a Muslim woman, especially that I’m wearing a hijab. So many people think that we are oppressed and we are not educated. Um, actually it’s totally different. We have dreams. We have our voice. We can voice out our concerns. We can talk to everyone about how we can support, how we can help. So I hope that through this, um, interview today and— uh, we can give a positive image about the Muslim women who is an important person in the community, and she can be, like, shoulder-to-shoulder to any other person.

Amal [00:18:52] Hearing Hayat speak about empowering women is so exciting. This idea of empowering each other is a big part of how she approaches her work. She truly sees herself as a partner to her staff, to the parents, and to other organizations in the community. She told me more about how they do things at the Learning Center.

Hayat [00:19:12] We host almost every day about 120 children. We have about 17 staff. We’re all working together to make sure that the children are in a safe and caring environment. So it’s really exciting to have every day dealing with this big number of staff and of children and parents. And we know that, um, it’s a partnership. We are partners with the parents, we are partners with our team to make this organization successful. We’re also partnering with the community because without their support, without their advice, uh, we wouldn’t be who we are today. They are giving us tremendous support. 

[00:19:52] And, uh, the type of service we provide is for children age— babies, actually, age six-months-old to, uh, twelve-years-old. We provide— in addition to the daily programming, uh, we provide transportation to and from schools. We provide healthy, uh, meals according to the Canadian Food Guide. All our food is also halal. And, uh, we always pay attention to all the, um, uh, support and guidance from the licensing, from Alberta Health, especially during COVID, where we were very responsible and cautious about how to follow these guidelines and implementing the safest, uh, guidelines in the facility to make sure that every single child and staff are in well-being.

Amal [00:20:36] I asked Hayat what she hopes to accomplish in the future.

Hayat [00:20:39] They say, like, “The sky is your limit” and there are so many, uh, dreams and plans. Uh, but I take it one step at a time. My main goal, actually, at this time is to have, um, a program where I can support more the youth females in the community and the children who go through hunger maybe, and, uh, through, uh, some social struggles and to support them, uh, as well as the new immigrants, female immigrants, to find more job opportunities for them through hiring them or supporting them to earn their certain level of education, maybe in early childhood education. So our doors are always open for whoever really needs support and help in the community.

Amal [00:21:24] Hayat and Nunu are so deserving of this Community Leadership Award. Getting to sit with each of them made me feel empowered. I hope they’ve inspired you, too.

[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays]

Graeme [00:21:33] Thanks so much to Amal Mohamud for introducing us to Hayat El-Ossmani and Nunu Desalgne. And thanks to Hayat and Nunu for sharing their time with us.

Shereen [00:21:42] If you’d like to learn more about Edmonton Mennonite Centre For Newcomers and their RISE Awards, head on over to our show notes for the link. You’ll be able to check out other recipients who are leading the charge to make Edmonton a more inclusive city.

Graeme [00:21:54] There are so many wonderful people doing amazing things. It really is worth taking a look. Also in our show notes, we’ll have links to ECF’s Well Endowed Web Show and the latest on our blog. And don’t forget to check out our other upcoming granting deadlines and funding opportunities.

Shereen [00:22:07] Well, that brings us to the end of the show.

[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]

Graeme [00:22:09] Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Shereen [00:22:11] We hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please share it with all the community-builders in your world.

Graeme [00:22:15] And if you have a moment, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Sharing the show and leaving reviews are the best ways to help new listeners find us.

Shereen [00:22:23] You can also connect with us on Facebook where you can share your thoughts and see some pictures.

Graeme [00:22:27] Thanks again for tuning in. We’ve been your hosts, Graeme Lummer—

Shereen [00:22:31] And Shereen Zink. 

Graeme and Shereen [00:22:32] Until next time! 

Andrew Paul [00:22:34] The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation—

Lisa Pruden [00:22:40] And is an affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Andrew [00:22:43] This episode was edited by Lisa Pruden.

Lisa [00:22:45] You can visit our website at TheWellEndowedPodcast.com—

Andrew [00:22:48] Subscribe to us on iTunes—

Lisa [00:22:50] And follow us on Twitter at @theECF.

Andrew [00:22:53] Our theme music is by Octavo Productions.

Lisa [00:22:55] And as always, don’t forget to visit Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org.

[theme music continues playing for a few seconds after dialogue ends]

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