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Nidal is Ready to Build Her New Life

By Carolyn Jack

One dreary winter day, about a dozen women made the long trip from one of Vancouver’s southern suburbs to the downtown boutique of Dress for Success Vancouver.

Fresh-faced or grey-haired, recent arrivals in Canada and people who have lived their entire lives here – each of the women had their individual stories of what brought them to Dress for Success. What united them was their common goal of searching for work and building a new future.

“I wasn’t sure what it would be like,” remembers 27-year old Nidal ElToul about coming to DFS, “I didn’t know anybody there. So I was a bit nervous. But they were friendly.”

Nidal and the other women were at the boutique to participate in Hope & Style, a professional development group session which DFS Vancouver provides 10 times each year. Hope & Style is specifically designed to provide help to women in communities outside of the city’s centre; the clients come to the downtown boutique via a shuttle program, sponsored by TJX Canada and RBC Foundation. WorkBC, one of DFS’ partner agencies, had brought the group of its clients together.

Clients participate in ‘lunch and learn’ session asking HR specialists questions about applying and interviewing for jobs.

Hope & Style participants have an appointment with a stylist and makeup artist, and then join a lunch-and-learn session with a group of leading human resources professionals. It’s a full morning of professional development geared to help launch the women in their work search. Each woman works with the stylist to select a job interview outfit, and anything else they might need – including a coat, handbag, or shoes. The program has been running for several years, and has helped hundreds of women.

Like many of the women who come to Dress for Success, Nidal and her family are new arrivals in Canada. They arrived just two years ago as refugees from Sudan. The move to Canada has meant a lot of upheaval in their lives. “It is hard,” says Nidal, “But I know I can have a better life in Canada.”

Glenys helps Nidal find the right outfit
Stylist Glenys helps Nidal find the right outfit.

Right now, Nidal is working hard at a fast food restaurant to support herself and her family. But she has bigger dreams. Before coming to Canada she had been studying to be a social worker, and had gotten a diploma in psycho-social case management. Now, she wants to be a nurse.

“I want to help people,” says Nidal.

Volunteer Glenys Lawson was assigned to be her stylist.

“When I first saw her, I was struck by how positive she was,” says Glenys. “That big smile!”

As Glenys and Nidal searched through the racks of clothing together, the experienced stylist and the young Sudanese woman bonded.

“I came to Canada from England back in my early 20s, and I remember the struggle of starting new,” Glenys comments. “I came with not a care in the world, thinking it was the land of opportunity. But there were bumps – searching for a job without Canadian work experience, and the difficulty of having a professional qualification that wasn’t accepted here. So, I just had to get on with it. You really see yourself reflected in the clients who come.”

“For some reason, I felt like I knew Glenys for a long time,” Nidal says. “She is very friendly and kind.”

Soon Nidal and Glenys’ hunt was narrowed down to a trim grey tweed sheath and jacket. “We had so many choices,” remembers Glenys, “Everything looked great on her!”

Once the outfit was together, Glenys found the most critical item  – an elegant wool coat and scarf, suited to the Canadian winter.

“It was very beautiful. And warm too!” says Nidal.

And to finish it off – a handbag. Nidal hunted among the options, and picked out a beautiful fawn-coloured tote.

“That was mine,” Glenys told her when she put it on, “I donated that.” A moment of sisterhood – and the two new Canadians – one now with decades of experience here, and the other just starting out – embraced.

When she walked out the door in her fabulous new outfit, Nidal felt “very confident. I felt like I was ready. And my confidence was so much better than when I left the house that morning.”

“It warms your heart,” Glenys reflects, “I often go home with goosebumps after sessions with clients like Nidal. It’s lovely.

On her way home on the bus, a woman stopped Nidal  and told her she looked so beautiful, she should be a model.

Her newfound confidence has helped Nidal move toward her dreams. Shortly after Hope & Style, Nidal applied for a  job as a youth worker with newcomers. She wore her Dress for Success outfit – “my lucky uniform” – to her interviews. Just this week, she got a phone call with the news she’s been waiting for – she’s been offered the job!

“I want to thank Dress For Success program for all the support and love,” says Nidal.

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