Born in Uganda, East Africa I am of South Asian decent with ancestral roots from Gujarat, India. In October 1972, I arrived in Canada as a Refugee during the Ugandan Asian crisis when Idi Amin ousted all the Asians within 90 days, leaving many families in distress.
My family and I were one of the lucky few that managed to find our home in Canada. An Air Canada flight, full of Asian refugees, was shrouded with winter clothing upon arrival on a cold snowy day. I remember that day vividly; many families with tears of joy and relief found themselves under the protection and loving welcome of Canada. I remember thinking one day I will reciprocate this love.
My new life began in Vancouver, British Colombia where at the age of sixteen, I was enrolled at New Westminster High school. My first accomplishment was an article I wrote, which was featured in the Vancouver Sun, titled “Thanks a million Idi Amin.” This article was in fact the first essay I wrote for my English class, my teacher had walked me straight to the editor’s office and suggested I submit it to the Vancouver Sun.
Settlement was vital to the needs of my family so after high school, I could not afford to pay tuition towards University education. Unlike today, we did not have agencies providing services or support to families. Being the eldest of three siblings I had to make sacrifices and compromise. With great enthusiasm and dedication to help my family I took on restaurant jobs and clerk jobs. For me, working and getting paid 90 cents an hour was a great thrill.
Volunteering or sewa, an intrinsic value to our Ismaili Muslim community, gave me great confidence and inner strength to face adversities like acute discrimination to visible minorities in those days. Voluntary service since then has been my passion. It propelled my integration and gave me the self-esteem, a much needed component to my young adulthood.
My life turned around to be more grounded and secure as I married my husband Nadir and moved to Calgary in 1988. I enjoyed being a “stay at home” mom with two sons. I continued voluntary work with children first and then supporting women. In my mature days when the children were at University I found myself supporting seniors with casual grocery shopping and accompanying them to medical appointments.
In January 2007, F.O.C.U.S on seniors was established and was inspired by my widowed mother suffering from acute depression and our spiritual guide’s special wish for his Golden Jubilee celebration to focus on the aged and the weak. I found myself magnetically drawn into this area of work. A consummated approach to all the life skills I had derived from my volunteering experiences gave me a new definition to my insights to develop this grassroots initiative. F.O.C.U.S on seniors will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and I am so proud of how far it has come.
My work has been recognised on numerous occasions. In 2007, I was awarded Top 25 Immigrants in Vancouver and nominated as top 3 Immigrants of Distinction in Calgary.
My Imam and spiritual father H.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan and my family’s support has made me who I am today. A self-taught woman supported and cheered by many to keep going. I am truly grateful to be able to serve my country and my community.