MLO program celebrates its 30th anniversary

MLO program celebrates its 30th anniversary

Personal Experience of MLOs 


Tell us when you first joined the MLO Program.
I started as a floater in 1997, and became full time MLO, in September 2000.

Family and friends across the province have on occasion reached out to let me know they have seen my photo on the (MLO) brochure…

What do you like most about your work?
On the human side, when I serve and interact with immigrants and refugees, who want to adjust and integrate into Canadian society, I feel satisfied and happy. It gives me a sense of achievement and my work is valued and appreciated. It brings me joy to run in to some of my previous clients and see how well they have adjusted to Canadian society. I also enjoy the collaborative approach in my role, the weekly meetings of sharing different ideas and approaches to the job. On the point of a sense of belonging, I must say I work with colleagues and managers who make me feel appreciated and acknowledged. Finally, I believe I have a good work-life balance although the transition to work-from-home has been hard on me, I miss the in-person interaction with clients.

Can you share your favorite memory?
One of my favorite memories was being the face of the MLO program and having my photo appear in the MLO brochure. I was in the middle of a group discussion with young immigrant students at a middle school when the photo was taken. Family and friends across the province have on occasion reached out to let me know they have seen my photo on the brochure.

How do you define success in the MLO Program?
I define success in in the MLO program in couple of ways. At the program level, the fact that the MLO program has spread across the nation from what started as pilot project in Ottawa. It shows the importance of our program in integrating new immigrants and refugees into Canadian life. On a personal level, I define success of the program when I receive feedback from parents and their grown-up children who I had helped when they first arrived in Canada. I find it to be rewarding and a testament to the program’s core values.


What is it like to be an MLO? 
After 2 years of volunteering in the library and in ESL classes, I joined the MLO program in 2000. Before that, I had worked as a teacher and as a Public Relations Liaison abroad. I have always valued both of these jobs as I have always enjoyed very good interpersonal skills and have deeply cared about the welfare of my students.

What do you like most about your work?
Moving to Ottawa and becoming an MLO in OCISO allowed me to leverage these interpersonal skills, and along with my educational background I was able to successfully outreach and follow up with my clients. I valued learning and parents’ effective involvement which made me sensitive and responsive to the students’ and parents’ needs, appreciative of their skills however humble they were.

(…) parents were encouraged to participate, speak in their own language and make their opinions heard (at a school committee). They were empowered and felt that they had an input in their children’s futures, something that was not always possible in the countries they came from…

Can you share your favorite memory?
At the beginning of my career as an MLO, I was very fortunate to have the guidance and support of the school principals as well as some of the staff. We focused on creating opportunities to engage immigrant parents in school committees, especially in the school improvement plan. One of these committees was called “Code of Conduct” and it was composed specifically for that school, where a number of culturally diverse newly arrived parents were encouraged to participate, speak in their own language and make their opinions heard. They were empowered and felt that they had an input in their children’s futures, something that was not always possible in the countries they came from.

How do you define success in the MLO Program?
I look back and am more appreciative than before of the fact that success is not about walking alone to achieve, it’s about sharing the road with others. I have shared the road with some OCISO colleagues and along the way I am proud to say in addition to the many successes we had, we were also able to benefit from many lessons learnt. I believe that success is not an outcome, it is an input, a value that each of us adds to our workplace and community to the benefit of the students’ welfare and the parents journey of settlement and integration in their second homeland.

Some of OCISO colleagues and I collaborated by going together to mosques and universities highlighting OCISO programs. Along with my colleagues, our clients and school staff, we are proud to note that we had several examples of successful inclusion activities when my adult clients were there when needed.


How did you become an MLO? 
My children and I arrived in Ottawa in November 1992. After settling down and registering the kids in schools, a friend of the family who worked at OCISO asked me if I would be interested in volunteering with OCISO so that I could gain Canadian experience. I continued volunteering with OCISO. Back then, there were two boards of Education. With newcomers coming to Ottawa on daily basis, the Carleton Board of Education needed people who spoke different languages.  One day I saw a job posting for Multicultural Liaison Officers, at the time there were many Arabic and Somali speaking people coming to Canada. I applied for the positions, had an interview, and I was accepted.

“But you people just arrived from Somalia.”  (…) before the war in Somalia we had the same grey ugly looking buildings called schools.

What do you like most about your work?
Knowing that I am helping those who lost every thing and went through the same hell of suffering and losing their livelihood and loved ones like my relatives in Somalia went through, I feel their pain and that I can comfort them in any way I can and make them feel safe.

One of the teachers at my youngest daughter’s school gave the students an assignment. My daughter was in grade 5 at the time and she worked very hard at this assignment, she even made us go to a photocopy store to make the cover page look very colourful. After she submitted the assignment, I asked my daughter how it went. The teacher told her that she is not going to mark the assignment until she tells her who wrote it. I then asked to make an appointment with the teacher to discuss the issue. I met the teacher with my daughter; I then gave my daughter a paper and a pencil and asked her to write about whatever comes to her mind. I started to make small talk with the teacher asking how my daughter is doing in school. When I saw that my daughter wrote a full page, I just passed the paper to the teacher without saying anything. That was a Kodak moment, the teacher’s mouth dropped. She could not believe that a little girl who is new to Canada could write in English. (My daughter spoke Arabic, Somali and English). She kept saying “But you people just arrived from Somalia.”  I then asked the teacher if maybe it would be a good idea if she goes and checks her Family Reception Centre assessments. When the teacher came back with the assessment, she was still surprised. I then explained to her that first of all we did not come straight from Somalia; second, even if we did, before the war in Somalia we had the same grey ugly looking buildings called schools. In Somalia there were schools that taught English, Arabic and Italian.

Can you share your favorite memory?
There was  a family of 4 who came from the UAE: father, mother, son and daughter. They came to see me one morning they were upset, especially the son, because according to his age he was in Grade 11. In a year he would have graduated, but his English was at Grade 10, which meant he would have to stay for 3 years instead of 2. While all of his friends would go to university, he would still be in high school. The father had a business in the UAE, so he has to go back after kids settle in school. I then asked the father since he was going back, why not take his son with him, let him finish high school, then do the TOEFL test over there. After a long conversation they agreed for the son to go with his father and apply for the university from the Emirates. The mother and the  daughter were in Ottawa so they were giving me updates. Two years later, the son and his mother came to visit me at the school: that was the best day to see how happy the boy was. He graduated, did the exam and got accepted in Carleton University to study engineering. This is my favourite memory.


Tell us about when you joined the program?
I started the MLO program in December 1991 and I was one of the first 3 MLOs hired by Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and OCISO.

(…) the parents did not give up on their son… (He) graduated from high school and went to the university. He is now an IT professional working for the government.

What do you like most about your work?
What I like most about my work is meeting and helping families from all over the world.

Would you share with us your favourite memory?
Working as an MLO for 30 years, I have so many memories, but my favourite one is of a male student who was in a special class. His parents, despite a language barrier, worked very hard to help him at home with schoolwork. Friends of family told them that he might not finish school and would probably end up on social assistance, but the parents did not give up on their son. Throughout the student’s school years, I helped parents communicate with school staff and service providers.  With good work ethics, determination and dedication from the student and his family, the student graduated from high school and went to the university. He is now an IT professional working for the government.

How do you define success in the MLO program?
I define success in many different areas. Seeing students graduate from high school and go on to postsecondary education, families integrating into the Canadian society, but still keeping their own culture and values, students giving back to community by volunteering, mentoring or helping newcomers, parents getting involved in school councils and being empowered to reach out to community agencies for support and to self-advocate, school staff being more sensitive and understanding towards different cultures, and being a witness to see the MLO’s program lasting for 30 years and many more years to come.


When did you join the program?
I joined in September 1997.

What do you like most about your work?
I find helping people and learning from the others to be very rewarding.

What is your favourite memory?
To see where the program started and where it is today. It started as a one-person program and has grown so much as it became popular in other provinces and served as a model in service delivery to immigration and the education system.

How do you define success in the MLO Program?
Its popularity and the acknowledged service the program represents


Tell us about how you joined the program.
When I joined the MLO program, it looked as an exciting role and I was genuinely interested in. It was an exciting challenge to get to grips with more communities in general, and the school community in particular.

What do you like most about your work?
I like my work because everyone shares the same vision, and is dedicated to OCISO’s mission. This truly creates a family environment where everybody is there for each other.

Can you share your favourite memory with us?
My favourite memories are the ones that shape us and memories that matter. The time spent with colleagues in nature is a precious resource, but this year has been harder to come by. A few years back we got together in the Gatineau Park, and that was one of my favourite memories throughout the years I have been working as an MLO.

How do you define success in the MLO program?
I define success in the MLO program as practicing my passion, and having a positive impact on the lives of  newcomers. This is by providing hope, encouragement, and inspiring them to think and act in ways that they may not have considered before their arrival to Canada.

Information about the MLO Program

Created in 1991, OCISO’s Multicultural Liaison Officer (MLO) Program addresses the settlement needs of immigrant and refugee families in Ottawa schools. The goal of the MLO Program is to help ensure the successful integration of newcomer children and their families in Ottawa schools.

The program takes a three-pronged approach that involves the student, the family and the wider school community.  OCISO runs this program in partnership with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB). MLOs are known in the settlement sector as Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS).

The MLO program goals are:

  • Support newcomer students and their families to navigate the education system and access settlement and other services in the community. MLOs provide needs and assets assessment, referrals, information sessions, and orientation.
  • Provide direct support in situations involving students, their families and the schools. By providing language and cultural interpretation between the schools and the newcomer families.
  • Create a welcoming environment for newcomer families, by working with schools and other community and partners organizations.
  • Support institutional change & culturally compatible services for newcomers.

This program is funded by IRCC, OCDSB and OCSB.

Program by the numbers

# of clients served last year (2020-2021) : 2,861

# of MLOs working full time and part time: 26

# of Ottawa schools MLO services were provided: 166 

# of languages spoken by MLOs: 14

(These are: Arabic, Somali, Mandarin, Cantonese, Mandarin, Amharic, Tigrinya, Vietnamese, Nepali, Russian, Urdu, Punjabi, Farsi, Pashto. We also offer interpretation services through our Community Facilitators in languages not spoken by MLOs.)

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Our Mission!

OCISO supports immigrants through the journey of making Canada their home by providing creative and responsive programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, by building community through mutual respect and partnerships, and by fostering healthy and inclusive spaces for open dialogue and healing.

What we do 🙂

We are community based non-profit organization that has been providing services in Ottawa since 1978. We are motivated by the stories of new immigrants, and we are there every stage of the journey. OCISO directly serves over 10,000 immigrants and refugees every year. Our work is augmented by the generous efforts of our enthusiastic, caring and talented staff, volunteers, both established and new Canadians.