#OneEastToronto – Meet Sohelia Khan Bonhi

Headshot of Sohelia smiling with a blue border.

#OneEastToronto shares the faces of East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), a group of more than 100 community, primary care, home care, hospital and social services organizations in East Toronto working together to with community members to better connect local care and services.

In this special edition of #OneEastToronto, we’re sharing the stories of the people who play an important role in ensuring community health ambassadors have the tools they need to connect local residents with health, social and community services.

Meet Sohelia Khan Bonhi, Program Worker at The Neighbourhood Group (TNG).

“When I was a child, my goal was to be in an administrative policy-making position. I was a Human Resources professional back home in Bangladesh, and I also volunteered and travelled to remote areas to empower local women. I still remember the smiles I received while contributing back to my community.

After coming to Canada, I developed an interest in learning about young children and their mental health. Mental health is stigmatized in our communities. However, more recently there has been increased awareness about it, and people recognize that it’s important to take care of your overall well-being which includes mental wellness. I completed a postgraduate degree in Child and Youth Work at George Brown College before I started working part-time as a program worker at The Neighbourhood Group (TNG).

I was keen on working with newcomers since I was also one and could share my experiences. Many families in the community are uncertain about how to parent in Canada, as it may look different than what they’re used to in their respective countries back home. For example, I have heard stories where parents want their children to follow and pursue the dreams they had for themselves. In my role, I connect with women in my neighbourhood not only as a worker but also as a mother, collaborating with them and guiding them about the nuances of parenting in Canada.

In my role as staff lead for community health ambassadors, I am committed to supporting our ambassador team at TNG. During COVID-19, we scheduled regular meetings among ambassadors and organized training sessions so we could more effectively combat misinformation together. I also ensured I was available by WhatsApp and phone if my team ever needed my support. We found that people in the community feel like they can connect with community health ambassadors because ambassadors look like them and can understand what they are going through.

In March, our community health ambassadors had the opportunity to tour Health Access Taylor-Massey (HATM). This benefited our ambassadors’ work because it gave them a better understanding of how this local healthcare, social and community services centre works. It allows them to better support community members, many of whom experience language barriers and are unsure of where they can access integrated services. Ambassadors are now better able to share information about services at HATM, help local residents book appointments, and share and relay feedback that will help improve service delivery at this site.

Our ambassador team is diverse. I am patient and understand that everyone has their own challenges and stories. It’s important to have compassion. I also try to be very transparent and fair with the team through clear communication, so ambassadors don’t feel left out or misunderstood. This approach helped me work effectively with ambassadors, team members and community members. When I’m working, I don’t think of myself as a lead, I’m a part of a team.”

Get to know Sohelia more through a quick Q&A!

  • Spicy or sweet food? Spicy for sure! It tastes good and has flavour.
  • What is a hobby you cannot live without? Gardening – it’s amazing to see the growth of plants, fruits and vegetables from seeds. I love the feeling of growing something with my hands. I have my own garden at home. I grow spinach, tomatoes, chillies, leafy vegetables and flowers such as roses and perennials.
  • What’s your favourite movie/TV show? I like thrillers and action movies or dramas. I enjoyed Prison Break when that was airing and recently I enjoyed Night Agent. I finished it almost in one sitting. It was that good.
  • If you could relive one moment in your life, what would it be? If I could relive a moment, I want to go back to when I was younger and living with my parents and sisters. I want to live that life again where everyone was with me. I am close with my family but they all live in Bangladesh, so I try my best to virtually connect with them on a regular basis.
  • What are you grateful for? I am grateful that I am alive and here, right now. All of us have different challenges in life. I have seen the hardships many people have experienced in Canada and back home in Bangladesh during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when there were high case counts. Every day in the morning, I say a prayer to show gratitude that I’m here today.

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