In February of 2021, the British Red Cross introduced Kimiyaa to Mohammed, a 34-year-old Palestinian refugee from Gaza who now lives in UK. Mohammed is a civil engineer who had worked in Gaza City and arrived in the UK on a master’s scholarship to study environmental engineering.
At the time, due to the siege conditions around the Gaza Strip, it was impossible to travel from Gaza to reach the UK. However, the British embassy managed to get a security clearance and to provide the necessary transportation for Mohammed and another seven Palestinian students to reach Jordan, from where they could travel to the UK. This was the first time Mohammed had felt safe in 15 years, away from the constant battles and airstrikes on Gaza. Mohammed obtained refugee status after applying to the Home Office, due to the unliveable situation in Gaza.
At our first interview with Mohammed, we encountered a charming and highly motivated person, keen to find work and to provide for his family. As is the case for many refugees settling down in a new country, Mohammed had lost a lot of confidence and was struggling to see any light at the end of the tunnel. He basically didn’t know anyone professionally in the UK and had no clue how or where to start looking for work.
We introduced him to Anat, a London-based senior associate at Zaha Hadid Architects, who was born in Israel.
Over the next few months, as Anat and Mohammed progressed on their mentorship path, a violent conflict would erupt again between Israel and Palestine, putting both Anat and Mohammed in an awkward situation.
Read their amazing story below, in their own words, and don’t miss the end!
Why did you want to get involved with Kimiyaa?
Anat (mentor): "For a long time I wanted to volunteer but was busy with my work and raising two kids. I liked the Kimiyaa concept of setting aside a ‘moment’ in my week to help out another person, a refugee in my professional area. I liked Kimiyaa’s goal-oriented, time-focused framework with one weekly meeting of 2 hours."
Mohammed (mentee): "I was applying for dozens of jobs without getting any interviews. I was applying and applying. I was very down at that time, with the disappointment of applying for so many jobs with no results. When I heard about Kimiyaa through the British Red Cross, I thought why not? I’m ready. I just needed someone to help me in a professional way."
What were your first impressions of each other and your mentorship?
Anat: "There’s a lot of similarities between Mohammed and myself. Not only the kind of journeys we took looking for jobs, but also culturally. I’m from Israel and my mentee is from Gaza. We lived on two sides of the border but culturally, we are very similar. So I felt very comfortable with Mohammed as we share the same sense of humour. Our conversation is made possible because we live in the UK, away from the conflict zone. It took me a very long time as well to culturally adapt to the UK and so I knew what he was going through. There is a huge adjustment, which requires time and patience. When I looked for my first job, I felt exactly like him as I did not have any experience in the UK and I had zero local contacts. I did not know anyone in my industry, and had to send cold emails to many companies. It took me a good few months to find a job as an architect in London. For a few months I felt very frustrated, which amplified my feeling that I was an immigrant."
Mohammed: "The best thing was that Anat understood my situation. She has children, she understands the impact of having to move or relocate with a family."
What was your mentorship journey like?
Anat: "I looked at his CV the first time and I told him ‘you should be proud, you have a great CV.’ If you are from the field and you talk to him, you really see that he knows what he’s talking about. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t get a job. I said ‘You have experience. You’re an engineer and that’s what we’re going to aim for. You need to aim high, not lower yourself in order to get a job.’ We sat down with the CV for more than three hours to present it in the right way and also help him to be a little bit more proud of what he has achieved as an engineer. That was a big part of our work. This was a first step in helping him regain his confidence. We worked a lot also on the interview — how to present yourself, what to answer. What I always used to say to Mohammed was ‘never, ever present yourself in an interview as if they are doing you a favour by hiring you. You are doing them a favour by offering your talent, your work ethic and your passion to do what you do well."
Mohammed: "Anat helped me with the CV, the cover letters, with increasing my vision to see different kinds of companies and different opportunities, and also encouraged me to still apply, saying ‘don't worry, you will get it in the end.’ Often, she also helped me with my English – how you should say that, how to use this word. For me it was very important to know the right way to communicate. This insight helped me to understand my situation better. She even introduced me to many organisations that can help refugees like Transitions (part of Renaisi) and Refugees and Mentors. She guided me on so much."
During the course of your mentorship a violent conflict between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories started. How did that affect you both?
Mohammed: "It was a stressful and worrying time. Imagine someone has his mum, his dad, his old friends, his family there, under bombs. Maybe the next day you will hear that your mum or dad has died. During this period, I wasn’t in a mood to talk about my career and jobs. I didn’t care about my career, only about my family, back in Palestine. But I decided to take the weekly meetings with Anat, because I knew that Anat had already booked that slot of her time for me and I want to respect that. We discussed the professional job stuff and at the end we touched on the topic mainly from a humanitarian point of view, rather than political. When people talk from a humanitarian point of view they can reach a meeting point because, in the end, all of us deserve to live."
Anat: "If I lived in Israel I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discuss such essential issues with someone from Gaza. The fact that I live here enabled an open conversation. We didn’t necessarily agree, but respected each other's point of view. And ultimately it didn’t affect the professional mentoring project itself; rather it created more of an understanding between us that brought us closer."
Mohammed & Anat: meeting in London, Fall 2021
What were the outcomes of your mentorship?
Mohammed: "For the duration of our mentorship, we worked through my CV, improving it and targeting organisations and people I should approach. Anat also reached out to her network to try and get colleagues to meet with me for potential jobs. Top of my list was a multinational company who were looking for a Water and Environment Engineer. Anat prepped me up, I sent a CV and was called for a Zoom interview. One week later, I was in my home applying for more job opportunities, when I got an email telling me I had a job offer. Time stopped, I re-read the email again word by word, I was thrilled but not surprised, as I had felt during the interview that the committee was very satisfied with my performance.
I got the job from the first interview. I sent Anat an email to tell her ‘Mission accomplished, your work paid off. You helped me.’ Kimiyaa helped me to reach this stage. They didn’t give me the job, but each thing helped me to fill a gap, to be closer to getting a job. The mentorship gave me not a step, but a jump to getting a job."
Anat: "I was just super happy for him and super happy that it worked out because it does show that if you work hard, you can achieve your goal. Mohammed has a profession and passion and his determination led him to find a great job, which perfectly matches his skills. It was amazing that he can now pursue his passions and relatively speaking, he found a job about three and a half months after we began the mentorship, which was very quick. He received an offer on his first interview – which was not a miracle, because he worked extremely hard for it. What I was happy about is that Mohammed accomplished so much by himself, as no one pulling the strings behind the scenes.
He wrote the application and he excelled in the interview."
What did Kimiyaa give you beyond professional mentorship?
Anat: "I hope we will be staying touch beyond the mentorship. It is a life-changing moment for him and it was extremely fulfilling for me. At my day-to-day work at the office, I engage with big clients and it is difficult to create such a personal relationship. It is very difficult to make a difference so quickly therefore, for me, the whole journey felt immensely rewarding."
Mohammed: "I am proud that I'm different, our differences make us unique. I don't want to hide my identity, to be melted inside the British culture. I want to be who I am. We try to do everything to improve our chances to give back to society. To be normal people. Before I found work, I’d look at my neighbours and envy them because they had a job, whereas I was dependent on state help. I'm not here to be a heavy load on your country. I want to participate. I want to be helpful. Now I can stop being shy about answering people what I’m doing here, which is a really important factor. For me, I’m happy to have more courage to answer anyone where I’m working. I won’t be shy if anyone asks me ‘what is your job?’ I am ready for that question. Ask me where I work. Ask me."