It helps to be outgoing

In nearly a decade of learning, volunteering and working in Canada, Fowzia Huda has learned a few things about community involvement

Pegah Salari, ’08 MBA - 27 March 2023

Fowzia photo

Fowzia Huda, ’17 BSC, takes a lot of her inspiration from her older brother, a cardiologist in Indiana, who left their childhood home in Bangladesh to study when he was only 16. “I wanted to be like him,” she says. But he wasn’t the first or last of their family members to take such a step. Huda has 44 cousins and 22 of them are doctors. She has relatives on staff in hospitals in parts of Europe, North America and Asia. Like a lot of them, she’s a combination of adventurous, outgoing, mature and caring. It’s not a huge surprise that she wanted to study abroad and undertake front-line care.

Her journey to Augustana nine years ago was serendipitous. She liked the research focus of the U of A, but she had missed the September intake date for the program she was interested in — bachelor of science majoring in psychology — and there wasn’t an option to start mid-year on North Campus. That’s when she heard about Augustana. Part of a Top 5 Canadian research institution, the Camrose campus had a January intake for her program, too. She wound up settling into  Augustana and getting involved in campus life, working as student residence co-ordinator, and in community life, volunteering at the Camrose Women’s Shelter.

Huda leaned into her extroverted nature to establish a community for herself at Augustana. Living in the dorm, she became a resident assistant and later joined the International Student Association as a council member. In between all her volunteer work and tutoring jobs, she made Augustana Campus her home. 

After university, Huda worked in newcomer support at HIV Edmonton, helping clients in tough situations that included fleeing from persecution in their home countries. Being an educator as well as a case manager, Huda helped design programs around education and prevention. Barhet Woldemariam, director of partnerships and national initiative at HIV Edmonton, describes her as a “system level thinker” in her approach to programming, meaning she understands how the parts relate the whole and can’t be considered separately. “Fowzia’s authenticity inspired others,” Woldemariam says.

In 2020, she started work at the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC), a research and intervention-based organization that promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders. She now manages national community-oriented programs for the CBRC. Huda moved around a lot in her life, and has now lived in Edmonton longer than any other place. She told us about a few of the things she has learned about community involvement along the way. 


It’s a privilege to hear people share their experiences.

“It’s hard for people to ask for help,” Huda says. “But it’s important to really hear people in order to help them, to make sure services are meaningful.” Huda joined HIV Edmonton in 2019, a year before COVID-19 further isolated that organization’s clients. Through the first stages of the pandemic, the organization supported people living with HIV through care packages and programs such as cooking circles to help members of the community maintain their human connections. HIV Edmonton’s Woldemariam says it’s Huda’s deep understanding of herself and how much she can do that demonstrated how to cope with the  client-facing, front-line work, which can be draining. Many of the people she met through HIV Edmonton are still her friends. It’s gratifying, she says, to see that people want to stay connected.


To be successful in community work, you have to believe in collective growth.

There’s a saying Huda likes: Where one grows, all grow. “I know it sounds corny,” she says, “but there’s truth to it.” Working for social agencies means working with people and not for them, she says, which is very different from conventional jobs. The reward comes from helping individuals, which creates growth in the whole community, she says. “It’s very humbling when someone remembers you outside of the scope of work you did with them.”


Trust between people comes from the feeling of being heard. 

“It takes courage for people to talk about their experiences, especially if horrendous things have happened to them in the past,” she says. When you put someone’s experiences first, she says, you can make them feel safe. “Trust happens when someone can be vulnerable with you and knows that you will respect their experience.” And it requires a kind of humility that Huda calls grounding. 


Stigma adds to the burden of health inequality for the queer and trans community, especially when it comes to mental health.

Mental health care isn’t a seamless part of universal health care for anyone. And there are many layers of difficulty for the queer and trans community when it comes to dealing with mental health care. High costs can be a barrier for underserved  folks, many of whom have lost the support of their families and lost their homes. Huda says that trying to access mental health treatments can fall to the bottom of the list of what seems possible for some people. 


When you take a community approach to education, you must teach without being presumptuous.

Huda learned a lot when working with people from communities that are traditionally conservative and shy about certain topics. “You have to build relationships before you can bridge the taboo and share knowledge,” she says. “Education is a light-bulb moment for people when it comes to stigmas. When you share with people on their own terms, you see that people are more receptive than you thought.”


Empathy requires awareness.

Sometimes it sounds like Huda is older than she really is. “The world is hard. You can’t force people to care,” she says. “People get what we call compassion fatigue. It’s important to recognize it in yourself, too. You have to ask, ‘am I running out of juice?’ ” That kind of self-reflection will come in handy in her next steps. She considers returning to school, sometimes she thinks about studying leadership management or public health or, true to her roots, she hasn’t ruled out medicine.