Meet our team

VCST is run by a dedicated board of directors and an Executive Coordinator.

Sarra Abd Alla – Project Manager

Sara is a public health researcher with more than nine years of experience in research and project administration. She holds a MBBS in Medicine and Surgery from the Faculty of Medicine at the Russian State Medical University. Sara also holds a master’s degree in public health and community medicine from the University of Khartoum, Sudan. Recently, she got her certificate in business administration from the University of Victoria. Sara recently worked remotely as a research assistant at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ontario Tech University, scooping reviews for a project on people with serious mental illness. While working in Sudan and finishing the residency in a rural state suffering from civil war, she had the opportunity to work with survivors of torture and violence, especially with children and women.

Álvaro Moreno – Project Lead

Álvaro Moreno has over 25 years of experience in the research, planning, management and evaluation of social and community change projects and programs, both in Canada and Overseas. Areas of experience include participatory research and education, planning and evaluation, human rights education, democratic development, social and community economic development, environmental education, diversity awareness and anti-racism education. Álvaro is currently the Refugee Sponsorship Program Coordinator at the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia. Álvaro holds an MSc in Sociology from the University of Alberta and in his home country (El Salvador) he was an Agricultural Engineer.

Kathryn Collins – Secretary

From a young age, Kathryn has been passionate about human rights and helping those around her. This desire to lend a helping hand lead her to a career in health care. For the last four years, she has worked within the hospital sector as a regulated pharmacy technician, focusing on sterile product preparations. Since becoming involved with VCST, Kathryn is now looking to further her education and shift into the legal field. Her goal is to focus on giving a voice to marginalized groups and break the stigma surrounding immigration and mental health.

Jibril Mohamed – President

Jibril is originally from Ethiopia and came to Canada as a refugee in 2009. He moved to Victoria in 2016 and he immediately became an active member of the Oromo and Ethiopian Community Association, supporting newcomers in all their settlement and community needs.

Jibril also helps individual members of the Oromo and Ethiopian community acting as an interpreter and translator for any medical needs. He is also a member of the Diocese Refugee Committee, supporting the work of the Anglican Refugee Program.

Jibril is blessed with two beautiful kids, one born in Calgary and the other in Victoria.

Ken Agar-Newman – Treasurer

Ken brings with him many years professional experience working as a Registered Nurse. His passion for human rights stems in part from when he traveled overland from London to New Delhi at age eighteen.

He is one of the founding members of VCST and has been involved with a number of projects of relevance to stopping torture including: supporting Article 10 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture in relation to the education of nurses and others; supporting a coherent and clear voice by the nursing profession against specific cases of torture; and establishing a body to ensure oversight in connection with universal standards of nursing (medical) practice related to torture prevention and whistle blowing.

Rick Howard – Member at Large

Rick is a signing officer. Rick is a retired emergency room registered nurse. Throughout his career, he worked with people of all ages that are victims of torture. Having studied anthropology (B.A.) in university, Rick has always been shocked by the readiness of populations to condone inhuman acts. On a personal level, he has worked to engage labour activism amongst hospital nurses to stop the horrendous treatment of people in the last hours of life relegated to a stretcher in a brightly lit busy ER hallway with very minor success. It became a reminder that physicians and nurses are often active participants in institutional acts of torture.

May Shihadeh – Member at Large

May has a master’s degree in Intercultural and International Communication. She is a Community advocate; her role is to advocate for marginalized people and empower refugees from different ethnicities.  In 2021, May was elected as Social Director at British Columbia Muslim Association and nominated to represent the BCMA and the refugee community at Greater Victoria Police Advisory Diversity Committee. In 2018, she was elected as a board member of Victoria Coalition Survivors of Torture, and in July 2022, May was nominated to represent the VCST at the International Academy for Law and Mental Health Congress in Lyon France. She is a research participant at the University of Victoria, working with youth refugees in relation to mental health. May is a director at large at the Gulf Saanich Island Electoral District Associations of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Emily Finnis – Member at Large

Emily Finnis has a passion to help facilitate collective healing in our society. This path has led Emily to be close to completing a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Victoria. Throughout her studies, Emily continues to work in at-risk youth outreach and harm reduction initiatives in the community. With a long term goal of completing a masters in counseling psychology, her desire is to work toward creating inclusive and safer spaces in the mental health field, and to recognize the way trauma impacts the wellness of communities we serve.

Ana Maria Pavon – Member at Large

Ana Maria Pavon Marin has more than 25 years of experience working with immigrants and refugees, non-accompanied minors, and vulnerable populations in Spain and Canada for private and non-profit organizations. She has worked as a lawyer specializing in Human Rights, has been a faculty member in postgraduate studies at the University of Valencia (Spain) and holds a master’s degree in Mediation and Counselling Psychology. Her current focus is on trauma, cultural and multicultural issues, and advocacy. She is a senior registered clinical counsellor, supervisor, and trainer at VICCIR (Vancouver Island Counselling Center for Immigrants and Refugees). In addition to her professional roles, Ana Maria is passionate about community building and promoting unity in diversity. She also volunteers for Restorative Justice Victoria and is a board member of PROMIS (World Professionals for Social Integration)

Frank Cohn – Member at Large

Frank Cohn is the CEO of the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture (VAST). With 20 years of experience in community development, he has taught at various universities and colleges, delivering guest lectures and field instruction. Frank’s training expertise spans multiple languages, and he has positively impacted over 10,000 youth in rural and urban areas across Latin America and Asia. He has also successfully managed international travel exchanges for more than 1,000 young individuals. Notably, Frank spearheaded the establishment and leadership of Global Potential, an organization that empowered 4,000 youths from low-income communities in five countries over nine years. Frank has collaborated with NGOs such as Cool Culture and the YMCA and has provided consulting and advisory services to non-profit organizations. His commendable contributions have earned him recognition as the New Yorker of the Week and the recipient of the Emerging Social Worker Award. Frank holds a BA in Literature and Philosophy from UBC and an MS in Social Work from Columbia University.

Michaela Verdaan – Member at Large

Donna Baird – Member at Large

Sharmarke Dubow – Past President

Sharmarke is a former refugee who fled civil war in Somalia at the age of 8 and spent 20 years seeking safe haven until Canada offered a home in 2012.

Sharmarke cast his first vote in October 20, 2018, and at the same time was elected as a Victoria City Councilor. Sharmarke’s passion and commitment to diversity, inclusion, and building equitable, inclusive and compassionate communities and his work for marginalized communities earned recognition and respect as a community leader and a voice for bold and courageous policies. His outstanding activism has garnered him various awards and recognition including the Victoria Community Leadership Awards in 2017.

Dubow comes with extensive experience serving refugee and immigrant populations and community development. He is the past-president of the VCST has worked at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and the Victoria Immigrant Refugee Services Centre.

At the national level, he was a member of the executive committee of the Canadian Council for Refugees. He has served in various organizations and groups as a volunteer, including the Crime Reduction and Education (CRED) Program Steering Committee for the Pacific Centre Family Services Association and the Victoria Tenant Action Group.

Before moving to Canada, he was a human rights advocate and worked with refugee organizations in North Africa.

He is tireless in his efforts to build relationships, collaborate and bring people together to improve the well-being of communities.

Peter Golden – Board Member Emeritus

Peter worked as a dedicated lawyer for over twenty years in Victoria with an emphasis on immigration and refugee law. He is remembered as a leader and a fierce and loyal advocate for people fleeing hardship and danger. In addition to volunteering for various local organizations Peter travelled abroad to promote international human rights. He also worked as an independent election observer in Mexico and El Salvador. Peter is a founding member of VCST.

Muna Zaidalkilani – Past Executive Coordinator

Muna specializes in trauma informed crisis settlement support and anti-violence work. Muna works with refugees that are survivors of war, torture, abuse, gender-based violence, and persecution including cases on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). Muna worked for several years as a Resettlement Assistance Program Counsellor and Crisis Settlement Worker to help settle the largest refugee resettlement movement in Canadian history – Operation Syrian Refugee (OSR) at Immigration Services Society of BC. She was also part of the Violence Prevention Team at MOSAIC to support refugee and newcomer victims of crime and gender-based violence from within Canada. Muna is the Executive Coordinator of Victoria Coalition for Survivors of Torture. Muna is currently part of two research teams in The University of British Columbia and Victoria University with a focus on the mental health of refugees and newcomers.