We asked Elias Chaccour to discuss his experience being a member of our team!

By: Elias Chaccour, PhD Candidate, School of Health Policy, York University
One year later: A reflection on my experience with “Imagining Age-Friendly.”
            One year ago, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting, I joined the “Imagining Age-Friendly ‘Communities within Communities’” project as a doctoral trainee. Needless to say, I did not expect that the second year of my PhD studies would be spent at home. Although the past year has been challenging in every way, working with the “Imagining Age-Friendly” team was an outlet that kept me intellectually stimulated and allowed me to process the pandemic holistically and critically. 
            I decided to pursue a PhD after spending ten years working in the healthcare system, either in the hospital setting or in provincial health organizations. More recently, I had the privilege of working with Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario, where I was engaged in several projects that aimed to create a healthcare system that is more accessible, effective, and culturally safe for Indigenous people in the region. My experiences with northern communities inspired me to return to school and pursue a career as a researcher. After expressing my interests in aging research to Dr. Sean Hillier and Dr. Tamara Daly, they invited me to join the “Imagining Age-Friendly” team and supported me ever since in navigating my PhD studies.
            As an Arabic-speaking Lebanese immigrant to Canada who has experienced years of war as a child, I am interested in understanding how immigrants who have survived trauma experience aging in Canada and how they create meaning through social, cultural, and familial connections. Specifically, I am interested in investigating the strategies that Arabic-speaking immigrant communities use to maintain a sense of meaning and cultural safety for their older adult members. Arabic-speaking people from the Middle East have experienced decades of war, sporadic bouts of violence, and political and economic instability. Also, studies have shown that trauma is highly prevalent among older adults who have survived wars, although many may be asymptomatic. As such, Canadian cities that aspire to be age-friendly should be prepared to offer an environment where these older adults feel safe, connected, and welcomed. Arabic-speaking immigrants in Canada grow old while navigating an intersecting web of cultural and social circumstances that impose various stressors on themselves and their family caregivers. For many immigrants, the family is the primary provider of emotional and social support, and many are reluctant to expand their network of relationships outside of their family, cultural and linguistic communities. Like other displaced groups, Arabic-speaking immigrants face many challenges concerning acculturation and integration into Canadian society. These individuals also come from a culture rooted in the belief that family members are responsible for their older relatives’ wellbeing. As such, I also hope to understand how age-friendly communities can account for the needs of families who care for their older adult members.
            As a doctoral trainee with the “Imagining Age-Friendly” project, I have had the pleasure to work closely with many leading scholars in the fields of aging and health equity. I am grateful for their guidance in navigating my academic career and their support in honing my research skills. Working with this international team has exposed me to various theoretical concepts and increased my understanding of intersectional feminist political economy. Most importantly, the “Imagining Age-Friendly” project has provided me with an intellectual space and a community of peers that encourage me to explore my research interests. Also, the project has facilitated my participation in developing journal publications, knowledge translation activities and conference presentations. Markedly, the project allowed me to participate in the global academic conversation on COVID-19 and the experiences of older adults during the pandemic.
            The “Imagining Age-Friendly” project has allowed me to launch my academic career with sound footing and enjoy the genuine support of a community of researchers who are eager to share their knowledge with me. As I embark on my 3rd year of PhD studies, I reflect on the immense role this team has played in helping me stay focused and supported me in growing professionally even amid a global pandemic. I can only imagine what exciting and enriching experiences we will have once we can meet in person again. 

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