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‘No One is Talking About It’: Afghan Women’s Fate Worries Woman of the Year Winner

Zainab Sarwari named 19th Welland Heritage Council’s International Woman of the Year

Zainab Sarwari has worked hard to establish a life in Canada since coming to Canada from Afghanistan with her family six years ago.

But she can’t help but think about friends and family she left behind since the Taliban returned to power in May of last year.

“Before the Taliban took over, girls were able to work, and they had the opportunity to go and get an education,” Sarwari said. “They took everything from them.”

Sarwari, who came to Canada not knowing any English, is now a third-year student at Brock University studying medical science with the goal of eventually becoming a doctor.

Her hard work and persistence since arriving in Canada back in 2017 was recognized by the Welland Heritage Council and Multicultural Centre (WHCMC). She was named the group’s International Woman of the Year. It is the 19th time the award has been handed out.

What is happening in Afghanistan has fallen from the headlines since the United States’ chaotic troop withdrawal last year, and Sarwari said it’s important to remember, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day, that women in Afghanistan have had rights we take for granted stripped away.

“I feel like it’s very important for the world to know that because no one is talking about it,” she said. “I know if we all, if we all can come together, we can do something for those girls.”

The award from the WHCMC is special and a genuine surprise, she said.

“If I’m thinking back to six years ago, when I first came here, I didn’t know English at all,” she said. “It was a really hard time, a challenging time. But now I know that working hard now, we can imagine how I can achieve this achievement, which makes me feel very proud. I feel like that like I did something.”

In introducing Sawari, WHCMC executive director Janet Madume spoke about the importance of the theme of International Women’s Day for 2023 — Embrace Equity.

“As we embrace equity, we embrace diversity and inclusion, which in turn drives this helping to reach equality,” Madume said. “I love those two words ‘equity,’ ‘equality.’ They actually mean something different, but they are interconnected.”

She praised Sawari for what she had achieved since coming to Canada.

“I remember like it was yesterday when the whole family came into (the) office,” Madume said. “I remember having a smile, and I remember asking her what she wanted to do in the future. And she happily said, ‘I want to be a doctor.’”

She’s on her way to achieving that goal, Madume added.

Now, she is a medical science student at Brock University and was named to the dean’s honour list in year one.”

The event also featured a keynote address by Lidia Bulaivska, who came to Canada from war-torn Ukraine. In her home country, Bulaivska was a professor and foreign language instructor. In Ukraine, she began her own arts company, Lingual Vaudeville Inc. Now in Canada, she launched the company here in January.

“I made a clear decision to come to this country, which opened its kind heart for the sake of my children’s future,” Bulaivska said. “And all of its citizens accepted us into this big family.”

With business experience, she said she could have easily found a job, but instead, she followed her heart in setting up an arts school here.

“My heart was correct,” she said. “My goal is to make the nature beautiful around me and the people happy. To my mind, the happiness must not be the final destination of everyone. It must be a way of life.”

Source: Niagara This Week