When Alex Atiol was a student in Sudan, he learned that Canada was the “world fishing ground.” In 1993 he arrived here on a World University Services Canada (WUSC) sponsorship. “Other than that I didn’t know much,” he says, chuckling. Today the affable and committed Alex is well informed, as that’s part of his job as ISANS Coordinator of Orientation Services.
He graduated with his BA in Economics from Dalhousie, but financial sector job prospects were slim. He had been an accountant in Sudan and tutored English as a refugee in Kenya, so he volunteered at ISANS helping clients settle. He remembers the shock a new family felt seeing the seemingly endless grocery store choices. That concern and ability to get along with people led to a job with new arrivals. He created the ISANS orientation manual and a 10-unit module to help them learn how society functions. “Working with people has been my passion since I was a student. I had gone through the experience myself and helping comes automatically.” He is especially proud of earning accreditation as a Dialogue for Peaceful Change facilitator. This international program features the best methodologies in community-based conflict mediation, focusing on conflict content, culture and spirituality.
Working with people has been my passion since I was a student.
Alex is emphatic about immigrants’ contributions. “We’re injecting new ideas; nothing will be lost.” His experience has been positive. He found Dalhousie to be “amazing” and worked at the library and with campus police while studying. “It didn’t take me long to feel part of society.” He later became active in the community — ISANS representative in Partners for Human Rights, Atlantic representative on the National Anti-Racism Council, chair of the local Development and Peace committee, and member of the African Association of Nova Scotia and the Sudanese Association of Nova Scotia.
He speaks proudly of his family who helped pay off his student loan, allowing purchase of a house. “That is something I won’t forget.” His oldest daughter is in the Master of International Development program at Oxford University while two study economics at Dalhousie, one proceeding to law school. His son works with street children in Toronto and the youngest attends school. Alex is proud of their mother – an ISANS Life Skills Worker and Superstore cashier — who cared for them alone. He lived without them for three years, until he made friends who helped sponsor them.
Alex feels Halifax is a perfect size, has good schools and a strong sense of community. “ISANS is full of people eager to help and ISANS policies allow that. It’s not bureaucratic; we have a good and happy place. I say ‘we’ because I feel I am part of it.”