On October 20th, I was honoured to be recognized and awarded at the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal ceremony held at the Dundas City Hall. This ceremony honoured twelve exemplary citizens from the Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale riding; the medals were presented by MP David Sweet, in the presence of their family and friends.
I can't explain to you how humbled and actually a little nervous I was. I was in the company of people that I would consider to be heroes. As I sat and waited, around me were veterans and presidents, a child with a heart of gold, artists and people who serve wholeheartedly and selflessly –and I kept thinking, do I really deserve this? Did I really make a difference to anyone? Have I really changed anything? Deserve it or not there's no doubt in my mind that my every goal in life stands to earn this honour. I'd like to think of it as encouragement, a "shahbash" if you will --for the things I've achieved thus far, and a push towards the things I no doubt will achieve in the future.
I immigrated to Canada with my family at a young age. That sentence doesn't quite do justice to the story of our coming to Canada, and what we went through even settling here, but I'll have to share that some other day. However, even at a young age Canada became my everything. My parents had seen the good and the bad in both Pakistan and here; they'd struggled and found success in both nations --but there was something here in Canada that stood out. Freedom.
We always say, Canada really is our land of milk and honey. The love I have for this nation is something that was instilled in me from a young age. Here is the place where I got to explore every activity I wanted --from brownies, gymnastics, soccer, karate, swimming, piano, violin, clarinet, singing, dancing and so much more --to getting to go to Sunday school, can you imagine that? A place where I could learn about my faith safely, make noise, ask questions, have fun --and be taught about Jesus.
I began to volunteer as a young girl into my teens; I volunteered everywhere from soup kitchens, meals-on-wheels services for home-bound disabled and elderly persons, from kids camps and even back at the same Sunday School where I was taught; with political groups --at 13 I was out canvassing all over Southern Ontario; with local organizations religious, cultural and other charities. I love this nation and I had always wanted to make my mark, to return that love.
Still I never forgot where I came from, my cultural heritage was also ever present in my life. I had almost forgot how to speak Urdu/Punjabi so my parents got me interested in Bollywood. I used to watch Indian movies on the weekends often with my Caucasian friends who'd be fascinated with all the colours, clothes and dancing; and soon I'd relearned a mishmash of Indian and Pakistani languages which my parents re-enforced with their own teaching. In high-school I decided that wasn't enough and took Urdu classes, learning to read and write with proper grammar.
I remember all these things and as I look back I'm surprised at the balance my family has created, between our Pakistani heritage and our Canadian selves. It's unique and something that I no doubt believe can be achieved by anyone and everyone who immigrates here; given that they are coming here with the same hope and for the same freedom we sought.
Times were different when I was younger. It's sad that at only twenty-seven I'm ready to talk about the "simpler times"... But I already feel like my youth was a simpler time. Today the world changes far more rapidly, and not always for the better. I never forgot where I came from and I never entirely left it. Seeing what Pakistan has become breaks my heart, and my parents feel the same way. Perhaps that's why we want to make an impact there.
We believe that Christians in Pakistan are literally a light in the dark. This is a light that needs to be strengthened, to be seen. When I look at the people there I feel as though I'm looking at myself, my own family --or how we were before we found our freedom. Christians in Pakistan love their nation as I love Canada. Their patriotism is almost baffling for me, considering what Canada has done for me I wonder what is it that Pakistan has done for them?
Or maybe it just doesn't matter to them?
Here in Canada there is one thing that bothers me, the reality of persecution and intolerance in this world is often ignored, thought of as obscure or insignificant –just because we can’t see it here, yet. Because of this indifference (or ignorance) issues faced in Pakistan; from censorship, to injustice in the legal system, a lack of respect for life, for humans, to religious persecution –they’re beginning to surface here.
That's why I began this blog, why I travel around wherever I am welcome to speak with Canadians of all backgrounds and statuses. For me to be able to share those realities with others –it could just be what prevents Canada from facing them in the future. God has blessed me with a place that I am proud to call home, I am honoured to protect it in my own small way...
Thanks for this Canada.