THREE South Asians were among the six who received the Alumni UBC Achievement Awards.
Future Alumnus Award
SALINA Dharamsi has already established an impressive record of academic achievement, leadership and community service. As well as being a familiar face on the local volunteering scene, she has travelled to Guatemala, India and Rwanda, where she worked and learned side-by-side with local people on community development projects.
In 2010 she was admitted into the highly competitive accounting co-op education program at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, and was soon identified as a top recruit by KPMG. She completed three work terms as a chartered accountant articling student and in 2011 was one of only two Canadian interns selected to complete a one-month rotation in corporate finance in Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of KPMG’s Global Internship Program. She is a keen participant in the company’s volunteering opportunities, especially those with an international focus, and represented KPMG at a UBC initiative in Phalaborwa, South Africa, teaching local entrepreneurs marketing, finance and accounting skills. In Guatemala, she helped develop children’s literacy and health awareness. More recently, she travelled to Udaipur, India, to participate in projects with Free the Children.
Passionate about international development and diplomacy, she was selected from among hundreds of candidates as one of six youth ambassadors for World Vision Canada and participated in a leadership forum with Rwandan, Tanzanian and Congolese youth. She was a panelist and youth facilitator for two United Nations debates in New York and Geneva, and was the sole Canadian student delegate at the Peace Conference of Youth held in Japan last year.
Dharamsi has also been extremely active in her local community. She has facilitated a conference on healthy living for inner-city students, tutored children with learning disabilities and raised money for literacy. She has also been a regular volunteer for AIDS Vancouver, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, BC Ismaili Volunteer Corps, the Canadian Cancer Society and UBC Meal Exchange, which collects canned goods for local food banks, and was a mentor in UBC’s Emerging Leaders program. In 2011, Dharamsi was featured as a “local hero” on the cover of The Province newspaper.
Since being selected as recipient for Future Alumnus Award, Dharamsi has graduated from UBC and is currently enrolled in the Master of Professional Accounting program at the Edwards School of Business in Saskatchewan. In recognition of her community involvement and significant contributions, she has received a BC Community Achievement Medallion and a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Faculty Community Service Award
IN 1996 Dr. Muhammad (“Mo”) Iqbal retired from UBC’s department of Mechanical Engineering after enjoying a distinguished career specializing in solar power. After 30 years contributing to education and research in Canada, he now devotes himself to creating opportunities for disadvantaged communities in Pakistan, his country of birth.
Iqbal grew up in modest circumstances in a village near Islamabad, but his academic promise meant he was able to receive an education through scholarships and bursaries. In an environment that was largely hostile to the idea of educating females, he helped his two younger sisters secure an education as well. His support for them was an indication of what would come later, on a much larger scale.
In 1999 Iqbal and his wife, Diane Fast, established the family-based Maria-Helena Foundation (MHF) to provide educational opportunities to disadvantaged children in Pakistan, notably to girls. The logistical and cultural barriers to establishing this endeavor were daunting, but, crucially, Iqbal was able finding the right local partners to work with and set up a board in Vancouver as a base of advice and support.
To date the organization has established several self-sustaining primary schools and two libraries serving more than 3,500 pupils. All the teachers are female. A further 450 very impoverished students are receiving education at temporary home-based primary schools with one teacher, with the foundation paying fees and salaries. In addition, a medical clinic is providing approximately 80 people with low-cost treatments, and two training centres are teaching girls and women needlecraft and sewing.
This has been achieved with limited resources that, especially in the early days, came mostly out of Iqbal’s own pocket. He quickly learned to wring out every cent for its full worth. Nowadays, the foundation has charitable status and receives funding from individual donors and organizations such as the United Way. Each year, a recent UBC graduate in Political Science spends a year with Iqbal at the Maria-Helena Foundation to train for work in International Development, with seven students so far benefitting from this experience.
Iqbal’s desire to help his country of birth is not limited to education. In 2010, at the age of 80, he completed Vancouver’s Grouse Grind hike 20 times to raise funds for Pakistani flood victims. He is a generous and compassionate individual with a deep belief in social justice – a practicing humanitarian who is committed to action and change.
Global Citizenship Award
THE history of Asian immigration to Canada is characterized by prejudice, discrimination and exclusion. When Dr. Gurdev Gill arrived in Vancouver from India’s Punjab region in 1949 immigration policy was still biased towards Europeans and residents of South Asian origin were not treated as equal members of society.
Gill became a citizen in 1954, but the 1950s and 60s continued to present human rights issues for minorities. Over the years he has been centrally involved in several organizations that support new immigrants from South Asia, helping them adapt to Canadian culture and promoting equality and intercultural understanding.
In 1957, Gill became the first Indo-Canadian to graduate in medicine from UBC and subsequently the first to practice medicine in Canada. As a student, he co-founded the East India Student Association and served as its first secretary. During the 1960s he lobbied government in his official capacity as president of the East Indian Welfare Association. In 1970, the Khalsa Diwan Society, under his leadership, raised funds to build a Sikh temple on Ross Street in Vancouver, an important resource for the Indo-Canadian community.
In 1976, Gill founded the Indo-Canadian Friendship Society of BC. Initially focused on improving race relations in Canada, from the mid-1990s the organization has set its sights on improving living conditions for rural communities
in Punjab. Since India’s sanitation is recognized as among the worst in the world, the projects have focused on providing clean, running drinking water, and building underground sewage systems and waste water treatment plants. The result is a marked decrease in disease – especially gastroenteritis, responsible for 400,000 deaths in India annually.
Starting with Kharoudi village, where Gill was born, projects have so far been carried out in 16 communities at a cost of approximately $3M. As well as improved sanitation, they have introduced solar street lighting and computer education in schools. Along with the health benefits, Gill is happy to report improvements in gender equality, education, governance and employment.
Gill achieved all this with grass roots support, fending off corruption by insisting on as much transparency in the process as possible and keeping costs low. Now retired from his New Westminster practice, he spends half the year living in India overseeing projects.
Gill’s work has improved the quality of life for thousands of people in India and Canada and his global citizenship has helped to foster a stronger and more inclusive society. In 1990 Dr. Gill became the first Indo-Canadian to receive the Order of BC. On the 125th anniversary of confederation, he received a commemorative medal from the Government of Canada. He received an honorary degree from UBC in 1996.