Opening a world of opportunities for immigrant and visible minority women and their families

This is a great program I have ever seen...very useful with friendly, patient, knowledge teacher… Because I think it’s a hard way to teach a person who has never spoken anything in English...And they get it well and in short time and I hope people join it. For example me, I learned a lot in this program from basics and it’s easy to know and speak to Canadians. Like I have improved and it is great to have a teacher like you. So it’s a pleasure to be one of your students and sometimes someone knows better than others so the teacher try to help everyone. I mean it’s really hard to make a lesson for everyone’s level, but you do it. Especially from very little child to adults to seniors.
— Walid
The collaboration we have developed with Focus for Ethnic Women has been extremely rewarding and productive. We have been able to initiate research to better understand the physical activity experiences of new Canadian women, and this was only possible by the individuals at Focus who were advocating on their behalf. It has been a wonderful experience working with this organization.
— Mark Eys, Ph.D
This program helped me. How I speak English and helps newcomers learning English first time and to see that Canada is a good place. I liked this program. I go and it is fun and helping me learn I know people and people know me to help each other and my teacher.
— Mustafa
I look forward to class every week. First of all and most importantly, that I can come to a place and feel safe sharing and meeting other people. Sylvie and Ibti Sam made me feel so comfortable and welcome right away. Even if I am down, my mood gets better because of class. Secondly, I really enjoy learning English with the other women. When we went to the Market together, it was one of my best days ever in Canada!
— Khiri



Vision, Mission, Values and Principles of FEW

Women especially visible minority and immigrant women face multiple barriers as they strive to succeed in Canadian society.  These barriers include gender, language, religion, customs, heritage, dress, skin colour, political realities, discrimination and systemic racism, unfamiliarity with the new culture and lack of Canadian work experience.



Empowering women for tomorrow.


We will be the best in class, go-to agency for leading edge programs and services to support all  women and their families to achieve their full potential and economic prosperity.

Our Strategy Supporting Mission:

To support women in the Waterloo Region by providing a nurturing, culturally sensitive environment that builds self-esteem, social networks, employment related skills and connections to meaningful employment.



  • We believe in the inherent worth of every woman, regardless of race, colour, sexual orientation or ability.

  • We value the culture, religion and heritage of every woman.

  • We value every woman’s aspirations for herself, her family and her community.

  • We strive to create a nurturing and inclusive environment where women are accepted, respected and encouraged.

  • We strive to provide opportunities for personal growth and socio-economic advancement through life-long learning.

  • We strive to facilitate the integration of immigrant women into Canadian society.

  • We strive to promote skill development, educational pursuits and gainful employment.

  • We are is committed to serving all women including those with disabilities.

  • We strive to promote access to educational, employment, social and recreational services for women and their families. 




In 1986, over 2 million immigrants and refugees arrived in Ontario. Many of these immigrants were born in such countries as Armenia, Laos, Lebanon, Iran, Ukraine, Viet Nam, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Russian Federation. With increasing numbers of immigrants beginning to arrive to Ontario, there were not many organizations prepared to receive and help them adjust to their new home.

In 1986, a number of meetings were held by concerned immigrant women in Waterloo to assess the needs of arriving immigrant women. This resulted in a funding application to Canada Employment Centre (CEC) to carry out a feasibility study to set up a training program for immigrant and visible minority women.

In 1987, a feasibility study was conducted with manager Mary Ann Scott, and two researchers, Pushpa Seeraratnam and Lisa Harnelt, working for six months out of the Kitchener-Waterloo YMCA under the guidance of a Board of Directors. A proposal was developed to set up a sewing skills training program with English language and life skills components. This training program, Skills Unlimited (SU), began operations at 33 Bridgeport Road East in Waterloo in March 1998. Funding was provided by CEC for a Severely Employment Disadvantaged (SED) project under the Canadian Job Strategy.

The founding members strove to provide opportunities for personal growth and socio-economic advancement while facilitating the integration of immigrant and visible minority women into Canadian society. They also wanted to create an organization that would promote skill development, access to education, recreational services and employment for immigrant and visible minority women.

Focus for Ethnic Women was created to support female immigrants in particular. The founding members of Focus desired to create an organization that supported the holistic nature of women’s needs, including their physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs. They wanted to create a safe space for immigrant women to feel personal empowerment while enhancing their self esteem.

Focus for Ethnic Women was incorporated as a charitable organization in July 1987.


Founding Members
Ari Ariaratnam
Preet Ahuja
Shanta Dubey
Ulke Khare
Gayle Misra
Jassy Narayan
Shobhana Ranjit
Pushpa Seevaratnam
Antonieta Soares

Inaugural Board of Directors (1987-1988)
Ari Ariaratnam – President
Shobhana Ranjit – Secretary
Ulke Khare – Treasurer
Preet Ahuja
Yvette Craan
Vijaya Niranjan
Shanta Ragade
Shanta Dubey
Margaret Skrownska-Binek
Carolyn Brown
Maragret Hennig
Antonieta Soares
Anita Kesavan-Srinevsan


Since 1988, Focus for Ethnic Women has received funding for various projects from:


Secretary of State
Ontario Women’s Directorate
Ontario Women’s Directorate in collaboration with the Victorian Order of Nurses
Canada Employment Centre (CEC)
Jobs Ontario
K-W Community Foundation
Community Opportunities Development Association
Status of Women Canada
The Good Foundation

Ministry of Education and Training
Motz Foundation
Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC)
Ontario Trillium Foundation
First Echo
Canadian Women’s Foundation
Region of Waterloo
The United Way
Zonta Club




Focus for Ethnic Women is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.

FEW Board Members (L to R): Alka Seoni, Jackie Gerlach, Katherine Laycock, Tammy Cressman, Anne Cameron, Sylvia Terzian, Rita Khan, Renu Bhandari (ED), Brenda Halloran

FEW Board Members (L to R): Alka Seoni, Jackie Gerlach, Katherine Laycock, Tammy Cressman, Anne Cameron, Sylvia Terzian, Rita Khan, Renu Bhandari (ED), Brenda Halloran


Dr. Sylvia Terzian – President

Sylvia is a full-time Lecturer in the Department of English at St. Jerome’s University, in the University of Waterloo, whose primary research interests are in Migrant Literatures, Transnational and Diaspora Studies, with a focus on Arab migrant literature.

Tammy Cressman – Treasurer

Tammy, CPA, CGA has 10 years experience in accounting, is owner of TC Accounting Solutions and volunteers her time as an audit and finance committee member for Mennonite Central Committee Ontario.

Katherine Laycock - Vice President

Katherine is currently a PhD Candidate in the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo, who volunteers with the Red Cross Disaster Management Team, Global Studies Alumni Board, and numerous university service projects.

Alka Seoni, M.Sc. – Director

Alka was born and raised in India. She holds master’s degrees in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology & Genetics and is extremely community focused.

Jackie Gerlach – Director

Jackie came to Canada in 1973 and acquired some early experience providing settlement support in Saskatoon. Since then, she has worked as a nurse, researcher and now works locally as a nurse practitioner.

Rita Khan, M.D. – Director

Rita Khan MD, CCFP has been a family physician practicing in Canada for the past 43 years. She has been involved with FEW since 1989 as a Board member and past Board President. She has now joined as a Board Director.  She has extensive experience with other Non Profit organizations.

Manar El Mugammar – Secretary

Manar was born in Sudan, and immigrated to Canada with her parents and 4 sisters in 2001. Since then, she attended the University of Waterloo, Conestoga College, and started her own Marketing and Public Relations Consulting Agency in KW. Manar has over 8 years’ experience in Marketing & Public Relations.




Renu Bhandari - Executive Director

Renu Bhandari is a CMA, CPA who served on the Board of Focus for several years in the past.  She retired from her service at Canada Revenue Agency after 35 years, at the end of 2015.  She then joined Focus for Ethnic women as its Executive Director.  Renu came from India in 1974 and has lived in Waterloo since then.  When she came to Canada, there were no services provided to assist new immigrants settle and integrate into the Canadian Society.  She understands the struggles that new comers face and is dedicated to helping others, especially women.  She is a mother of two and grandmother of four!

Susan El-Nagar - Administrative Assistant

Susan has 10 years of experience in SEO, content management and web marketing. She worked with multiple CMS and E-commerce platforms. Besides her work, she also volunteers her time as a project coordinator in Waterloo Region ISC2 Chapter and as a board member and language teacher at Shamrose school.