Together Project

Meet Volunteer & Second-Generation Afghan-Canadian Wali Aziz


“Once you have five, ten years of experience in your field, you’ll have someone you can refer a newcomer to”


At Together Project, some of our volunteers are the children of immigrants who join our Welcome Group Program as a way to give back to their community. 

To find out more about second-generation immigrant volunteers, we spoke to 29-year-old Wali Aziz, an Afghan-Canadian born in Toronto. 

Afghan-Canadian Roots

Despite being raised in Toronto, Wali was brought up with a strong sense of his Afghan heritage. 

“My parents left Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviets in the late 80s, and after going to India, they came to Canada in the early 90s, and then they had me,” he said. “I’ve never been back, but when my parents raised me, they said, ‘You’re Afghan first and you’re Canadian second.’ As proud as I am to be Canadian and to have blessings here, I’m still proud of my heritage.”

After the Fall of Kabul, Wali felt a need to help newcomers who were fleeing the Taliban.

“I was looking for ways to volunteer with Afghans in the GTA,” he said. “No matter what, after August 2021, I wanted to do something.”

His day job helped him see how he could provide important assistance to others. 

“I was a production manager at the time, and so I did a lot of interviews to bring people onto my team, and there were a lot of new immigrants,” he said. “I realized I could contribute by helping people with interviews, getting them ready with speaking and job coaching.” 

Strengths as a Second-Generation Volunteer

Wali was drawn to Together Project due to the collective nature of the Welcome Group Program.

“I saw that Together Project was more diverse than other places, and I liked that with the Welcome Group model, people could work to their strengths because they’re helping others as a group,” he said.

Wali notes that while some second-generation individuals may be reluctant to volunteer with newcomers because of a lack of connection to their culture, everyone has something to give.

“I know it’s daunting because you don’t feel like you can relate as much, and I know imposter syndrome is really big with millennials and Gen Z,” he said. “But at the end of the day, just remember: everyone has strengths.”

For Wali, one of the biggest strengths of a second-generation immigrant is their networks. 

In one of his matches, he reached out to the spouse of a friend— someone he hadn’t spoken to in five years— in order to get professional assistance for a newcomer.

“Once you have five, ten years of experience in your field, you’ll have someone you can refer a newcomer to,” Wali said. “It’s not necessarily someone you talk to everyday, but it’s someone you can reach out to on their behalf. As much as you have imposter syndrome, you have something to give. And you’ll find that you already have a network of people who are happy to help.” 

Opportunities for the Next Generation

When Wali meets newcomers who are having difficulties adjusting, he focuses on the future opportunities that wouldn’t have been available to their families in Afghanistan. 

“For the children – especially for girls – the opportunities they’ll have here versus under a regime are huge. Their futures will be so different here.”

He knows that as a Canadian-born member of the diaspora, he might not always be able to relate, but he is willing to make an effort. 

“Speaking to them as a second-generation Afghan, I know that there may be sociocultural norms that I don’t really understand, but the newcomers see that I’m trying, and that makes all the difference.”

Advice for Non-Afghan Volunteers

For non-Afghan volunteers who are helping Afghan newcomer families for the first time, Wali said that patience and respect are key.

“If they have a language barrier, you have to be patient with their communication. The jokes will be different, and you’re going to have to speak clearly. I speak Farsi at a solid fifty percent, so when they see that I’m trying, that makes them feel more comfortable.”

Wali says that showing respect and warmth is important through the use of one particular word: jan.

“Afghan culture has a lot of innate respect,” he said. “Calling someone by their first name isn’t nice enough– with Afghans, everyone is ‘jan’, meaning my dear. If men are talking to women and they don’t know each other, it’s more formal than ‘jan.’ But if it’s men talking to each other, or women talking to each other, we’d use ‘jan’ right away. You say it after their name, so for example, I’d be called ‘Wali jan.’”

Also, he recommends that volunteers be prepared for Afghan hospitality. “You might want to meet up for coffee, and then an Afghan newcomer will try to treat you, saying that you’re their guest. The higher level of comfort they feel with you, the more they’ll show that hospitality for sure.”

Supporting New Beginnings

Lastly, Wali advises all volunteers to have a “good listening ear” when it comes to Afghan newcomers. 

“They have such unique stories about what they’ve been through to get to Canada,” he said. “Ask them how their lives were affected by August 2021. So many people’s lives are still impacted by what happened back home, so listening to their stories, first and foremost, is so important.”

As a Welcome Group Program volunteer, Wali feels lucky to be able to see families in the early stages of their new Canadian lives.

“Canadian culture is much less family-oriented than Afghan culture, so I love seeing these big, beautiful families coming to Canada and having so much hope,” he said. 

“As much as it is difficult and expensive here, my goal is just to be a positive presence in these people’s lives. I appreciate seeing their new beginning start.”

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