Sidra Treehouse’s co-director, Mariam Aly, was interviewed by CBC for National Women’s History Month. Aly founded Sidra Treehouse in 2016 to help Syrian refugee children transition to life in Canada when she was 17.
Q&A with Mariam Aly
Q: What do you think is important to remember for National Women’s History Month?
A: The women who came before us struggled and persevered for women all around Canada to have what we have. So we have to remember these actions and honour them through our present day actions—we need to build on the empowerment that they already set for us.
Q: Do you have any strong female role models in your life?
A: I do. My mom taught me when I was younger that it’s important to choose the people around you very wisely. I’m very fortunate to have the most incredibly strong women around me—my mother, my sister, my two best friends—they’re all amazing examples of women that live every day to work hard and make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of gender and race. My mother is my leading example always, and I do everything to make sure that I honour her and make her proud.
Q: How does Sidra Treehouse work to empower young newcomer girls?
A: We work to empower girls by making sure every mentee has a “big sister” that they can connect to. It’s already difficult enough being a hybrid of two different cultures, now they have to learn how to navigate a society that sometimes doesn’t value women, and especially women of colour or of an ethnic minority like Muslims. So whenever a mentee has intersectional identities, we make sure that they have someone that can identify with what they might be going through and they have someone to look up to.
All of our mentors are incredible examples of strong, empowered women that range from studying STEM to the arts. They all lead by example about the importance of education, the importance of volunteering and the importance of community work. Recently with our coding camp, we helped introduce STEM club activities to the girls of Sidra because it’s important for women to know that these barriers are set by society—they’re not real.
Q: Why is it important to encourage young girls and women to develop leadership qualities?
A: Women constitute half of the population, and most of the time, they raise the other half. So if they’re not strong and they’re not educated and they don’t know how to lead, society crumbles. Because women are the backbone of society, it’s important to cultivate strong leadership skills so that women are heard in a male-dominated environment. It’s important so that women are no longer meek and submissive, but rather leading in progressive trends.
Q: What advice would you give to Sidra Treehouse’s female mentees?
A: Always seek help whenever you’re unsure about something because there are women that have gone through the same thing as you. Then, you can also help build this network of female empowerment within Ottawa, and within Canada. We hope that our mentees come to us when they seek advice, and we hope that in the future, they become the people that others come to.
Read the CBC’s article featuring four women in Ottawa who are making a difference.