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Dr. Sinela Jurkova: Bridge Builder and Barrier Breaker

A quote on what International Women’s Day (IWD) means to you

I do believe that women deserve to be celebrated, acknowledged and respected 365 days in the year, not just on March 8th. Women’s tenacity, determination, thriving, immense contributions and accomplishments are not a single act. These represent our life’s journey. Each time I stand for myself, I know that I stand for all women. As Maya Angelou said “I’m a woman phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.”

What you do at CCIS

I joined CCIS as Diversity Education Lead 10 years ago. I started together with Ricardo Morales (Director of CCIS’ Community Development and Integration Services (CDIS) division) and we were very excited to approach diversity education in a more complex way, beyond simply understanding different ethnic cultures. Our approach was holistic and transformative. We developed content and activities aligned with current research in the field and that reflected the dynamics in our society, the challenges newcomers face. Our approach also addressed ways through which mainstream Canadians could be more understanding of, and open to learning about, other cultures, including exploring and addressing their own biases. During my PhD research, I developed a transcultural transformative learning model for fostering inclusion and was able to implement it in my work. This moved the program to a higher level and attracted many organizations that engaged my services in exploring, learning and transforming their services into being more inclusive and culturally sensitive.

Highlights of your accomplishments at CCIS

My academic work is closely related to my work for CCIS. I earned my PhD in Research Education and Adult Learning from University of Calgary, with special interests in transcultural transformative learning, communication and culture, community development, theories and practices for inclusive and anti-racism education. I have published articles in multiple academic journals. I have presented my research and work at international academic conferences related to the topics above. Currently I lead a government funded project: Community Based Participatory Action Research for Anti-racism Education and Action.

I have been involved in advisory committees, leading and consulting local and international initiatives. I am a member of national and international academic associations related to educational research and practices, adult learning, international migration and ethnic studies.

Additionally, I serve as advisor on Diversity Education for Correctional Services Canada (the only person who is external member, not CSC employee) and I am a vice chair in the Regional and National Ethnocultural Advisory Committee for CSC. As part of this volunteer service, together with other Board chairs we advise CSC about programs, services and interventions designed to meet the needs of ethnocultural offenders and help them reintegrate into the community. Furthermore, my role is to raise awareness and educate CSC staff on issues related to ethnocultural services anti-racism, employment equity and discrimination in the workplace.

The things you are most proud of in your work

I can say I am proud of all my work. I work in the field where the results are not measured in quantitative indicators rather in qualitative. My work is a long-term investment in peoples’ knowledge and community development, in transformative learning, aiming to build a better society, with just and equity, humanity and humility, where diversity is respected, and each of us feel belonged and valued. This work requires patience and passion, trust and support. Therefore, I am thankful for the trust and support from my division director Ricardo Morales, from my colleagues. I am delighted to work for an organization like CCIS, with a long history and credibility, where our leaders provide opportunity and encourage us to demonstrate our best, to learn and grow. And I will continue to contribute high quality work and will contribute my best.

I am proud to see how our spontaneous initiative of establishing the Culture of Belonging Committee that started a year ago is growing and engaging more colleagues in our learning events. With the current project on anti-racism education, I am very happy to work with dedicated, highly educated, professional, and creative team. We are very excited to develop and test the anti-racism educational program and the innovative prototype – using VR technology for exploring personal biases, enhance cultural sensitivity and nurture empathy. This will expand Diversity Education program to the higher level involving cognitive, emotional and experiential aspect of learning combined with advanced technology and contemporary academic research.

All these motivates me to keep going, to learn and stay attune with the best practices in the field, to disseminate knowledge and promote the program that I lead.

Recognitions and awards received

My very recent distinction award is Employee of the Year – for the great accomplishment with CCIS received on the Gala organized by Portal d’Immigration Association and dedicated to International Women’s Day.

Most of my recognitions are academic – scholarships for my research work in the University of Calgary and publications in international academic journals. The most recent publication is in UNESCO journal International Review of Education.

A message you would like to send to other women

Gender is just one of our many identities. I think, a focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society's DNA. Being a woman is a quality that gives us strengths, gentleness, vulnerability, power, representation, but also oppress us because of existed inequality and objectification in many societies. I cannot accept that in the 21st Century, there are places in the world where women are banned from education, not allowed to go to schools, struggle to attend universities. Education is a universal human right. Moreover, knowledge is power, as philosopher, Foucault, states. How can we achieve equity when women are deprived of education? Women have the great mission to carry and bring new life into the earth and to raise the next generation. To succeed in this mission we need support, love and encouragement. And solidarity! Solidarity forges harmony and unity and helps drive success for all.

Hobbies you enjoy outside of work that help you unwind and maintain your well-being

I have many interests but not always have enough time to pursue them. I love to be outside, in the mountains- skiing, hiking, or just walking. I enjoy the beauty of nature and try to spend as much time as I can in the outdoors. There, I feel energized, relaxed, refreshed, and inspired. This is the time that I can be with myself, to listen to my internal voice, to generate some new ideas, to reflect. I love to capture these moments and the amazing jewels of nature around me. Each of my photos carries and keeps a story and feelings about the place, people, event. Maybe in another stage in my life I can narrate a visual book of my journey.

Also, I enjoy reading—this might be the activity that has dominated much of my time. It is great now that there are audiobooks which allows me to “read” when I travel, drive, cook and do housework. I love listening to music. When I work from home, music is my working background, music keeps me concentrated and creative. I adore attending concerts and musical performances. This is something I really missed during COVID isolation and now starting slowly to get to this.



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