“The BEFA program recognizes skills and experience, in order to be certified and recognized in Canada,” says Iraqi-born Basma Sahib, now with Architecture49 in Halifax. “It’s an alternative path for a foreign architect coming into the country.”
Without the BEFA program, architects like Sahib—whose training and experience took place in another country—might have found that the road to certification in Canada meant retraining, possibly even a four-year degree that duplicated their previous education, no matter how many years of experience they brought with them and then another three or more years as an Intern Architect.
Sahib, who graduated from the University of Technology in Baghdad in 1988, had already accrued years of experience before leaving Iraq for Canada in 1996—a way to escape the turmoil of her homeland. “I started working with an architecture firm in Halifax, but it was as a draftsperson, or technician—not an architect, she says. “The firm acknowledged that I have an architecture degree and experience, but they couldn’t hire me as an architect.”
At the time, school records in Iraq were still being digitized, making it nearly impossible for Sahib to obtain all the paperwork she’d need. “All the people involved with BEFA, from the coordinator to everybody else behind the scenes, were very helpful. They realized the challenges that I was going through, and provided all the help they could to make the process as smooth as possible.”
With the necessary paperwork finally delivered from Iraq, Sahib says, “I was approved for the initial submission, and started the process of getting evaluated based on 12 competencies. I was asked to submit examples and narratives that demonstrate how my skills met the criteria that they’re looking for. This was all done online.”
Once her submission was approved, Sahib was invited to an interview with a panel of architects. “They went through my application, my competencies, and any outstanding questions they had,” she says. “The meeting was very good. I enjoyed and appreciated all the feedback the panel gave me.”
Ultimately, Sahib was awarded the certification she needs to call herself an architect in Canada. “This meant I was given a chance to take on more and bigger projects, with more oversight, and to be a project manager,” she says. “I’d been happy just being in an architecture firm, but I didn’t really have the prospect of being anything more. The BEFA program opened that door for me. I was able to reach a personal goal, and I achieved it because of the BEFA program. It has made a dream come true for me.”
Sahib is now giving back to the profession in Nova Scotia. She is an active member of NSAA’s Internationally Educated Architect Working Group and is beginning a two-year term on the NSAA’s Council.