My Thick Accent

Triumph Over Adversity: Ugandan Refugee Stories | Ft. Rossbina Nathoo Ep. 036

July 06, 2023 Gurasis Singh Season 1 Episode 36
My Thick Accent
Triumph Over Adversity: Ugandan Refugee Stories | Ft. Rossbina Nathoo Ep. 036
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Join Gurasis and Rossbina as they venture into the past, immersing you in the true stories of Ugandan refugees. Experience the heartache of displacement, as we unravel the historical background of the Asian immigration to Uganda and the unsettling processes that unfolded. Listen to the poignant memories, laced with fear and uncertainty, but also the glimmer of hope embedded in the narratives of each refugee.

Celebrate with us the rich tapestry woven by the Asian diaspora in Canada. Hear from Rossbina, co-founder of F.O.C.U.S. On Seniors. An initiative catered to elderly citizens in Calgary, their unique take on Canada Day celebrations and our guest's personal mission to elevate the quality of life for senior citizens, a testament to her gratitude towards Canada.
So, lend your ears to these narratives of resilience, hope, and the unyielding human spirit.

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Gurasis:

Hi, this is Gurasis Singh and you're listening to My Thick Action Podcast. Okay, imagine this You are living in a country where you have a stable job, a comfortable home and a thriving business. Life is seemingly peaceful and secure. But then everything, everything changes in an instant. The president of the country issues a devastating order expelling you and thousands of others who share your heritage. You are given a mere 90 days to leave your home, forced to abandon everything you have worked for your property, your belongings, your livelihood all snatched away.

Gurasis:

Well, 50 years ago, this happened with the residents of Uganda, when their president, idi Amin, in 1970s, ordered the expulsion of 80,000 Asians, many of whom were the descendants of indentured servants, and laborers from India were given just 90 days to leave the country. It is a harrowing ordeal, filled with uncertainty and fear. Yet, amidst the chaos, a glimmer of hope emerges as Canada, along with other nations, opens its doors to embrace those seeking refuge, and my guest today is one of those 50,000 refugees who were welcomed by Canada And, like many others, she found Solace, resilience and the opportunity to rebuild her life in a new land. Please welcome Rossbina.

Rossbina:

Thank you, Gurasis.

Gurasis:

Hi, Rossbina, welcome to the podcast. I'm very glad to have you on the podcast and I'm very excited for you to share the whole experience and, at the same time, educate us for all that you, along with many others, have gone through. So, rosbina, let's just start from the start. Before you moved or I would say you were forced to move to Canada, you spent your initial 15 years of your life in Uganda. Tell us a little bit about your life there before the expulsion was announced.

Rossbina:

So, Gurasis, yeah, thank you very much for this background that you've given us on this Ugandan expulsion crisis. First of all, so I was only a teenager when we were expelled from Uganda, but I would like to share these sentiments with all the elders who have probably passed on now or are no more in this world And as an aging now into senior hood, there has been 50 years that we need to reflect back on. So, first of all, these last 50 years that we are celebrating as Canadians and being and celebrating Canada as our home, that is truly magnificent. Those were the best years of my life, but prior to that, the childhood memories don't leave you.

Rossbina:

The childhood memories about going to school, having your friends, enjoying your pets, enjoying simple things in life, you know, like playing hide and seek in your neighborhood. We did not have technology at that time, we had very simple toys to play with And it was more interaction amongst neighbors, friends, where we had absolutely no barriers. We were not shielded with religion or faiths or colors at that time. Okay, so everything was very hunky-dory, you know, we were young and we ran around the streets. We never worried about kidnapping or being assaulted or things like that. I think we led a pretty good, safe lifestyle. We had great education.

Rossbina:

We used to attend the Agakhan schools in Uganda, in Kampala, where I was born. I was raised I was born in Masaka, in a small town not far away from Kampala, and my parents worked very hard, as you said. You know, we were the ancestral lineage from our great grandparents who had traveled in their dows, their rocky boats, to get across from India to the east coast of Africa, where settlement occurred, starting in Zanzibar as the entry port and then from there, asians dispersed in different East African countries, as there are so opportunities in Uganda, in Kenya and in Tanzania. But these were all different protectorates. There was the German protectorate and there was the British protectorate and Uganda was under the British protectorate. So English became more of the influence and the colonization started in Uganda.

Gurasis:

You talked about protectorates right, And I remember you sharing something else, also being subjects and protectorates. Can you educate us a little bit about that?

Rossbina:

Yeah, so when the time came to determine who were the rightful residents of Uganda or the rightful citizens of Uganda, there was a whole process families had to go through before Uganda could accept who was going to be able to stay and who was not going to be able to stay in the country. And this process meant that there were certain people. The historical background was that there were certain people who had entered Uganda. Now I don't remember the exact dates, but in the 1900s if Indians had immigrated to Uganda at a certain date, they were considered to be subjects of the British Empire And people who had immigrated or out of birth, I guess residential process, as generations progressed. After a certain date they were categorized as British protectorates because at a certain point Uganda gained its independence And after that the residents became protectorates.

Rossbina:

So there were these two categories of subjects and protectorates. So my family was really a protectorate because we were the I think the third or the fourth generation in Uganda And based on that category, we had to leave Uganda. There was no protection regardless, and the subjects, the British subjects, had to be accepted by Britain. Right And British protectorates had, or rather were given the opportunity of other Canadian or rather other British countries under the British Empire as protectorates were given the opportunity to take in the refugees.

Gurasis:

Thank you for explaining that Again. You know we always come across these new terms and I would like to learn more about it as well. As you know, tell my listeners more and more about it. So it's basically the division of, like a certain date, the people who were a kind of part of Uganda, like us, from a certain date, before a certain date, were subjects and the ones who were left, like after a certain date, were protectorates. So then, in 1972, you know the president announced this that you have 90 days for all Asians to kind of leave the country. Do you have? I remember you telling me you were just like 14 or 15. Do you have any memory? Do you recall any memory of that moment when that announcement was made?

Rossbina:

Yes, so we were in our homes. There was already a lot of turmoil and a lot of unrest that was happening in the city.

Rossbina:

A lot of whispers of be careful, stay in your homes. There is a political instability in our city And so our parents of course ensured that we did not run around freely or carelessly on the roads. We managed to go to school like normal students, but there was extra precaution. I think our parents were very vigilant about protecting when we were going back and forth to school. So we had what you called Askaris, or informal African security people who used to be employed by the Asians. So we had Askaris, we had informal chefs, we had informal what you call domestic help.

Rossbina:

So those were the kind of people who became our immediate family because we had employed them and for them it was their bread and butter. But more than that, we had built relationships with them. So they ensured that when they walked with us to school they protected us. So that was kind of nice to see that this relationship was about persons and humanity and not about, oh you, brown people at a local level. But at the political level, yes, we were seen as brown and as Asians and that we had to leave. So I remember times when we, if there was a knock at the door and if the police came or somebody came to make any inquiries or strangers came at the door, my parents told us to go and hide in a loft area, which was considered to be a Russian storage area, and we would hide in with our groceries and the sacks of rice and potatoes that were stored in the upper roof in the dark area, and then they would come and get us after people had left.

Gurasis:

So what was it Like they were? they were, What were the people at that time like? coming and checking on the families? Was that a situation there?

Rossbina:

Yes, there were police. There was, yeah, all sorts of inquiries coming to the homes where they felt suspicious about certain homes, either about Asians or that particular family planning or getting ready to leave in which case they would come at the door and want to loot the family from their jewelry, from the cash, you know things like that. So, but we were quite protected from all this external information by parents because they did not want to load us with too much stress.

Gurasis:

Absolutely yeah.

Rossbina:

As parents, they wanted to make sure that we felt secured and not much was said then, but it was after the fact, in a few years, that we understood how much stress our parents had gone through.

Gurasis:

Yeah, absolutely. I think if you were a teen at that time, i can't even imagine the state of mind of that tiny kid. You know at that moment And I think I remember you were sharing that your siblings were way younger than you like 10 years and I think two, three years younger than you And they would also be like in a certain dilemma, that what is happening? that why am I leaving my favorite toys behind, or why am I not going to see my friends anymore, or why am I not going to come back to this school I'm studying in anymore, and that could be a nightmare for them for sure. So my next question to you would be you know, then it was in October 1972. It was a day of a blizzard when you landed in Canada and you landed with tropical clothes. Tell us a story behind that tropical clothes, and how was your first day like?

Rossbina:

Yes. So Uganda is right on the equator, so our weather pattern is very tropical. It's always warm, hot, rainy season, etc. We had never seen snow. But the school that I went to we learned a lot of geography, and to hear about us going to Canada was a thrill. It became an adventure. It was like a dream come true, not knowing the reason why we were going to Canada. So we just knew that all the wonderful things in these developed countries about skyscrapers and elevators and escalators and huge shopping malls and things like that, that was the concept as a child. As a teenager, the weather did not dawn on us. So when we had to pack two bags per person, which was the allowance?

Rossbina:

Yeah, 44 pounds, that's it. That was our allowance per person to take whatever we wanted to take. So as a young child, perhaps my books were more precious, my story books, maybe my little trinkets of jewelry And favorite clothes that were like sun dresses Very, very basic, because I came from an average family. We were not a wealthy family, we were an average family.

Rossbina:

But, we were not poor either, so very simple things mattered to me. So this fantasy of, oh yeah, everything is great, we are flying on an airplane And it's a wonderful experience to go overseas, so, yeah, so those were the kind of tropical clothes I came with. Of course, for my father, photographs, memories, things like that were more important to him. Perhaps his tools, because he used to repair his car and just a few things like that Those were more important to him.

Rossbina:

For my mom at one point she wanted to bring her sewing machine because that was gifted to her as a wedding present from her father, and so with what little we had I think that's what she wanted to transport is her sewing machine, which came years later to find that it was almost like an antique piece Years later, because sewing machines in a developed country are much more efficient and modern than that old fashioned pedal driven sewing machine. So that was kind of funny.

Gurasis:

Yeah, yeah, but still it has been a. We are seeing it from like a 15 years old's perspective. You know you're telling about your understanding of the situation at that time, but do you again I'm going to emphasize on that Do you recall what were your parents' reactions to certain situations? or what were their expressions on their faces? like, like you said, they had to leave their possessions and I'm sure you would have had your house there that you will never see again, that property that belongs to you. You won't be able to see it again. Do you have any memory of that?

Rossbina:

Yes, you're absolutely correct. Leaving a home, leaving all your memories, your belongings, your all your life's work, and, yes, the struggles that you put through that was very sad indeed. Everything had to be left behind in the blink of an eye And life security became most important, saving ourselves rather than the material things. But as a child, what was most sentimental and most emotional for me was leaving our cat behind. You know, that was very, very sad, and I remember writing an essay to pass my English language class in high school because I needed to graduate in the last three months, because I was a Canadian graduate, a Canadian student graduate in high school, and the only way my teacher could give me marks was he gave me an opportunity to write a freestyle essay and to write about my experiences coming to Canada.

Rossbina:

But as I'm writing my essay or my story, yes, i was very emotional, i was crying at that time. So, although I had these wonderful things that had come to Canada, the fact that I had left my cat behind, that was very emotional to me and very precious. So things like that, you know, through storytelling, i think that was a process of healing too, absolutely As a child. So whoever this teacher was, he was phenomenal, that he led me as a student to grieve that separation and that loss through writing, which was very important to be able to talk about it, you know, yeah.

Gurasis:

Yes, you're just learning to process all that is happening around you is also very essential.

Rossbina:

Yeah, Right, because the reality struck upon arrival into Canada and as we were given opportunities to talk in front of our class and to share our experience who we were as Ugandans And how we have now come to Canada And how are we going to be welcomed as refugees in a classroom full of students who are also 15 years old and 14 years old, who don't even have a concept today of where Nigeria is or where perhaps a city in Canada is, of course, You know, because the level of education is so poor that for them to understand that, where is Uganda?

Rossbina:

who is this person, you know, kind of thing. It was a lot to process for both sides of the fence.

Gurasis:

I definitely want to go a little more into the cultural shock aspect of it, but I just want to go back for a quick moment regarding, like, the people who were moving here. So first, like, out of 80,000, not every application was accepted And I believe just few years before 1972, i believe it was like 1967 or so Canada introduced this point system for the first time in the world. Any country had done that. Do you have any knowledge of that? I believe you were supposed to have at least 50 points out of 100, at least entered Canada back then. Do you have any knowledge of, like, what were the requirements or what those 50 points consists of?

Rossbina:

No, I'm not to be honest. At that time I was not aware of what this point system required. But 6,000 refugees were accepted into Canada at that time And I believe there were people who could first of all speak English number one, people who had young families and people who were probably single moms with children. I think based on humanitarian criteria, Canada has always been that way. But towards the D-Day, I think, they relaxed some of these rules because they knew the danger and they realized how serious Idi Amin was about killing everybody who was left behind. So Canada at that point did relax many, many rules to the point where perhaps they were further analyzed and tweaked and proclated to become a better policy, because it was a learning experience for them, for the ministers and the government at that time, which was Prime Minister Elliot Trudeau's Liberal Party and the government in position at that time. And, yes, so over the years it was refined and became more open.

Gurasis:

So I was reading this one of the stories of a couple and their name were Rai and Shanta Sojani. I'm not sure if you are aware of them. I was reading their story and they wrote in their story that no sound was more welcome for them than the lo-ham of the aircraft's engine when they took that flight. And they said that as the flight took off from the runway in Antebebe, uganda, so did the burden that weighed heavy on their shoulders And that, i think, clearly articulates the kind of environment they were trying to live in.

Gurasis:

The repercussion of everything that was happening in that country And I think this also kind of little bit represents signifies the pain that they were going through while surviving in those 90 days. And so, along with that, another thing, the person Shanta. She said that some of the barriers she and her family faced in finding housing and employment, and including the world, world harassment, she said they were also telling their children that our skin is brown and we have to work very hard. I want to know from you that this sentence played any role by the time when you moved to Canada.

Rossbina:

So when we came to Canada, you're asking from the Canadian perspective, correct?

Rossbina:

Absolutely yeah Right so for Canadians, it was a new thing also to see a surge of so-called Asians or brown people come into the country And, yes, they were very, very protective about their jobs, about their income, about their land, their space, And in the beginning we were not welcome at all. They would brand us as pikes go home, they would give us derogatory looks and not be welcoming at all. But I think that was a lot to do with ignorance, Like they were not educated enough to say that.

Rossbina:

Okay, who are these people and what is really happening? And Asians generally were very hardworking. They saw opportunity here, you know, and there was this energy that they wanted to be successful. And I don't know about other faith-based groups, but in the Ismaili Muslim community, which I belong to, our spiritual father, his Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, had played a very, very important role in negotiating the numbers of Asians that can be accepted into Canada. So he had promised Canada that the Ismaili Muslim community would not be a burden to Canada And that once we were on our feet given six months or two a year that we would promise to repay all our air flight costs, which we did. We promised to pay our hotel accommodations upon arrival here until we were able to secure jobs and any other such expenses. That was a burden on the government And sure enough, yes, like my family, we were able to pay all of it in one year. And following the Ugandan expulsion, the ripple effect occurred in Tanzania and Kenya as well, and so a lot of people took that opportunity to migrate And it became a flourishing country where Asians started to contribute to Canada.

Rossbina:

So, whether you were of Sikh faith or whether you were of Christian faith or whether you were Buddhist, regardless of what nationality or ethnic origin you were from, whether you were Chinese or whether you were Punjabi or whether you were a Goan. We all worked hard to regain our security and prove to Canada that we were not what they had thought we would be. We were not what they you know like from the boonies or from the jungles where we lived with animals or we lived in huts or things like that. You know that we were an educated population, that we all spoke English, which to this day has been the greatest gift that I can possess. I bet I don't have education. I don't have university education because I could never afford to put myself through university, but throughout, as I grew up here in Vancouver and in Calgary, it was my volunteerism that became my school of learning. Although I could not attend university, i never had that formal education of acquiring a degree in anything, but it was my volunteer work and my ability to express myself and to influence people in English that has given me the credit to the success that I am experiencing today.

Rossbina:

I love my life. I'm in a very comfortable position at this point. I married a wealthy man and I continue to volunteer, which is my passion And I found a way to fulfill my promise because as a teenager, when we were accepted or when we were received in Montreal at long point army barracks I remember me being in awe, thinking how kind of these people to give us coats and boots and mittens all for free. And I told myself at that point as a teenager one day I will give back to Canada. And when I came to that maturity and I found myself that this is how I wanted to give back was through volunteerism that I had experienced success in a material format. I married a wealthy man who worked very hard to become wealthy here And he permitted me to live my dream of to continue to volunteer, which I did throughout my life. And today I run a non profit organization which came from that inspiration and that desire to help our seniors in the community.

Gurasis:

Yeah, i definitely want to talk more about you know, this organization that you have started, but I just want to just be in a circle back on the point where you were telling us about your experience of studying in a classroom and, you know, getting those eyes and and having those experiences where people not that aware in a classroom, about different cultures and beliefs, so to say. But I wanted to tell us, like a little bit, about any memorable stories or anecdotes that highlight the intersection of your cultural heritage and your journey as a refugee in Canada.

Rossbina:

Well, one of the first things that come into my mind are donuts. Oh, my goodness, going into, we were given what you call breaks, not recess, as we called it recess was the British word where we had a long, a good hour to play and and enjoy free time. But these breaks were in between And so why people are? while the students would transit from one subject to another subject as we moved into different classrooms, they would be eating donuts in the hallways, and that was fascinating to me, thinking you're allowed to eat like this. Yeah, that freedom and the freedom of choice to be able to express yourself. So that was quite an eye opener for me, and so I to adopted being able to eat donuts and I enjoyed that experience. You know, to be with them, and at a certain point, yes, there was so much freedom in the classrooms that I would see the other students have their feet on their desks And being rowdy, things like that, which we had not experienced in Uganda as British schools, because we always had a monitor and our behavior was always checked.

Gurasis:

I'm not sure you are even allowed to do that today in a classroom, but you know it is disrespectful.

Rossbina:

Yeah, but that happened. This was in my high school And before the teachers come, yes, that there was all sorts of rowdiness that was going on jumping on the tables, skipping from one chair to the other.

Gurasis:

It was like before, when a when no professor is in the classroom, it's then. okay, then I understand. I think I have seen that I've witnessed, is I've witnessed myself those situations? Okay, now I understand.

Rossbina:

Right, And when the teacher did arrive, I don't know if it completely settled you know, but anyhow, that was my first impression of being in the classroom. The other, the other thing that that stuck in my head was having lockers. We were given this padlocks. Yeah.

Rossbina:

And we were given this little space to put our belongings in there. Our lunch, maybe, or yeah, this, this idea of taking lunch to school, that that was interesting because in Uganda, in the city where I come from, in Kampala, school was at a walking distance, so we used to walk back home for lunch. The concept of being able to take a bagged lunch to school, which was not our traditional cultural food, but it it comprised of sandwiches and water or juice or something like that, a packaged item that would sustain us through the day, So that was quite amusing And we looked forward to taking different sandwiches to school. So, and not to go home for lunch, because we had an opportunity to mingle more with friends and make friends and play a little more at the playgrounds, rather than going home and coming back again.

Rossbina:

You know yeah so that that was an interesting concept. So these lockers with padlocks, oh my goodness, i never mastered it, but you have to go left to go right and you have to finally come to a center. Absolutely.

Rossbina:

I had lots of challenges with that, but I remember my classmates showing me with patience how to open the lockers. So that was another thing. And the other thing that really fascinated me at that time was the accessibility of candy bars. We call it candy here, but these were sweets. I love chocolates even to this day. So to be able to acquire a chocolate bar in this mind concept of currency at that time it was only 10 cents a bar, Whereas in Uganda it was 100 shillings We could not afford a chocolate bar over there. But this concept of 10 cents, which was perhaps an equivalent to 100 shillings there, I don't know, But the access of 10 cents was very doable. So here, yes, I was enjoying my chocolates and my donuts and all those wonderful things.

Gurasis:

You talked about food and I think I always talk about food a lot on my podcast because it's always interesting to know about different foods that people eat, even though your family was of Indian origin. but did you guys used to eat the regular staple Indian food at your house in Uganda, or was it like something else?

Rossbina:

In Uganda we always had Indian cultural food. However, because we lived in Africa and we had access to the staples of homegrown agriculture there, a lot of it became a fusion of foods and flavors.

Rossbina:

So a lot of our food East African food is with coconut for instance, although we use our traditional spices, the Asian spices of the Masala and the turmerics and chili pepper, and all that with the African fusion. yes, it became quite interesting. So today in Canada, if you had to explore different cuisines, there was this the fine difference between a Punjabi cuisine as opposed to an East African cuisine or as opposed to South Indian cuisine. Very different flavors, and that is the richness and the celebration of diversity in our country. To appreciate that even we did not know, because all we knew at then was the East African food and the Gujarati food. But over here we learned how to differentiate the different flavors.

Rossbina:

So that's, interesting.

Gurasis:

yes, Apart from that, were there any moments or incidents that stood out to you as difficult or surprising to adjust to?

Rossbina:

Definitely university education for me. I did not have the money. We came from small schools, small in the sense, small classroom size, so we were not more than 25 or 30 students in each classroom and our schools were more compact. So all of a sudden, if this opportunity, or when this opportunity came by for me to attend UBC, which was in Vancouver, and I only had three months of high school education from New Westminster High School And this New Westminster High School was huge, oh my goodness. It went from grade one to grade 12. It was a huge school And just to get used to that atmosphere was a little overwhelming.

Rossbina:

So after three months, after I graduated as a high school Canadian student and I applied to go to university, that campus was like a city within a city. That was very hard for me to grasp and to be able to now walk buildings, faculty buildings in which case sometimes it took us 20 minutes to get to walk from one building to another And just driving into the campus, because I remember my teacher supporting me with car rides and she would drive for ages until we'd come to a parking lot and then she would point me out the building that I was going to. Oh, my goodness that was very overwhelming.

Rossbina:

And I just I could not go through that for some reason. And even the tuition, paying fees that was a new concept. My parents could not afford to pay my fees, as we were new refugees, we were just rebuilding our lives and university fees were very high. And so, after that first year university experience, i was a dropout. I only had about six months of that experience going to university And I told myself no, i would not be able to do this. And, being the eldest in the family, i did take on part time jobs to see if I could put myself through university, and that became very difficult because finding a job and working at a job became more of a thrill than actually going to university. Here I was earning cash, money that I could do something with it. I was able to contribute to the rent to the house or able to buy myself that simple chocolate that I would want. That personal freedom for right, instead of asking for it.

Gurasis:

What kind of jobs you took on.

Rossbina:

So my very first job was working at McDonald's. I must say that that was the best experience, because at that time McDonald's used to give this training that the customer always comes first. You never argue with the customer, that they are always right. And if they, if you heard any complaints about the food, you simply accepted it, took that bag, trashed it right away and replaced it with a new serving, a fresh serving. So customer service, the hospitality that was ingrained in me right away, became my career henceforth, you know, to work with the hospitality industry And my other job after that, because I was a very people person, i liked to interact and I, and because my English was good and I loved the concept of travel, because that was a bug in me somewhere.

Rossbina:

You know, as a growing child, that I wanted to see the world. You know, going to UK for, for for your further studies was such a novelty and only the wealthy students would were able to travel to UK and go to university and school over there, and my family could never afford to send me there. And here I was, you know, experiencing or having this opportunity now to go to university and experience, you know, upgraded education, but I was not able to afford it And instead the cash became more loved, you know. And so I worked around the clock. You know, i worked in hotels as a front desk receptionist at the Hyatt Hotel, but I started off being a switchboard operator And pretty soon they saw the promise in me and they promoted me to the front desk. From that I became a tour guide of Vancouver in the bus And my experience following that career path into the hospitality led me to, in my older years, to tell myself that, okay, since I love traveling and I did my travel as a teenager, at my first opportunity I traveled Europe.

Rossbina:

I came back and I told myself I know what I wanna do now. I was going to become a travel consultant And with this travel consultancy, the challenges that you go through working for employers where they want to replace you after so many years, or as a business person they feel that, okay, there wasn't much income created in the business led me to changing jobs a couple of times, to finally owning my own place. So I owned and I started my own travel agency with my friend who would encourage me to say my gosh, rosbina, you have so much talent, you have so much to give. I think you'd be better off running your own place, and so two of us became partners and we ran our agency, which I called Orbit Travel, and many, many people still remember me in Vancouver for those years of service that I offered as a travel consultant.

Gurasis:

Yes, sounds very, very inspiring. You did not give up at any stage of a life, i believe. Everything that came your way, every hurdle, you have crossed it, you have gone past through it and you have achieved it, whatever you wanted to. I absolutely love your story, rosbina, it's a pleasure having you on the podcast. I would say And tell me, after how long did your refugee status change to a resident? I believe Yes.

Rossbina:

So within three years. We were all refugees here until the three years. So the PR changed into the Canadian citizenship right away at that time. But things are a little bit different now.

Gurasis:

Oh, yeah, very different.

Rossbina:

Certain refugees come with immediate status, right, but so things were tweaked along the way And let me tell you that Canada has come a long, long way with its immigration strategy because in those years, in the 70s, we did not have enough immigrant service providing agencies, service providing agencies to guide us. So we were like the blind and defaulted, like in my case. I became a dropout student from university, so, and many individuals could not practice their careers from being what do you call physicians and engineers.

Rossbina:

they ended up doing other kind of roles jobs, labor, jobs or management jobs And they created their own businesses and became business people rather than following their careers. So that was that resilience that we all experienced. But today Canada has developed many, many, many different types of service providing agencies to support children, families, youths, women, seniors, newcomers like professionals, people who come with degrees from international countries international countries. They get supported now with accreditation. So these were the words we had never heard about at that time, but now it's a big thing And also because, as we are aging and we are more exposed to the reality of the working class people or the real life people as opposed to the children, we are now being exposed to all this and we develop our vocabulary accordingly. But definitely today's refugees and immigrants have a definite advantage than what we had many, many years ago.

Gurasis:

I mean, of course, back then, like I said, it was just for the first time they came up with this point system immigration and I think they were dealing with refugees, probably for the first time in the history. So that's why I think Canada has come a long way, and I think for the better. it has definitely made things very easy for immigrants to immigrate here. That has become more welcoming and just to hold the pathway of becoming a citizen is also, i would say, easier. what it was like 50 years ago probably? Speaking of 50 years, tell us about that event. I think you were telling me that you celebrated your completion of 50 years in Canada, the whole 50,000 people who end up moving here. Tell us about that.

Rossbina:

So this year depicts our 50 years of settlement in Canada And since the beginning of the year different communities, different ethnic groups in different cities nationally have been celebrating reunions. They've been reminiscing about their hometown or they have traveled back to go and visit to see what it's like.

Rossbina:

Because after I got married and after I had my two children about 14, 15 years ago, I too, was able to travel back to Uganda with my husband and my children to educate them to where we were from, to show them the roots, and it was a very emotional experience. The moment I went by my school over there, i remember breaking down and I was crying And I told myself why is this happening to me? I could not understand. When I went back to we lived, our home, which was now surrounded by overgrown trees and unkept vegetation because it was neglected. It was all run down and I told myself, oh my God, we lived here, things like that. So it was a very emotional experience for me then. So I can understand how many people enjoyed reminiscing and reliving their childhood or their memories, and many, many films, lots of books have been written by these Asians as personal experiences. His historians have written biographies.

Rossbina:

One young fellow in Edmonton by the name of Alim Karmali did a film, a documentary film on, and it's called Throne into Canada. So it was quite an interesting preview. When we watched this film last, i would say was it August, september, i can't remember, but it has captivated this experience of the Ugandan expulsion and the testimonials of what people went through. And then, of course, we have had many or several television prominent people who have traveled back with their parents and have filmed and have told stories and have been able to broadcast it on television. So perhaps the education about the Ugandan expulsion is a little more, or the awareness is more now than what it was before. I do remember, however, that after our three years of being in Canada, ottawa had created a symposium, the Ugandan symposium where they had archived many, many photographs from different individuals and memories and stories.

Rossbina:

So I remember giving my story, my newspaper article, my essay of Thanks a Million, idi Amin. it is archived in the Ugandan symposium museum, there historical museum, and I was also reading that it's even in the Carlton University's library.

Gurasis:

A lot of those archives and stories are mentioned in there.

Rossbina:

Exactly, And just yesterday the Ismaili community is celebrating the 50 years of the Ismaili settlement in Canada. So we have this traveling exhibition that's going across Canada And this is not only about the Ugandan settlement, but it's the settlement of the Afghan people, the Syrians who belong to that Ismaili Muslim faith who also came, and how we ended up supporting their settlement through our learnings And yeah, so it's quite interesting. It was very beautiful yesterday to see a whole perspective and how everybody feels this gratitude of being in a welcoming country and being able to pursue their dreams and opportunities to explore.

Gurasis:

And I think, all in all, it was a blessing in disguise and it all worked in your favor, yeah.

Rossbina:

Definitely, of course, because I remember when we traveled to Uganda and the immigration person, he looks at our passport and he says Oh, you are born here, because it says born your Canadian passport, your birthplace. Okay.

Rossbina:

And the immigration officer. He was a black African. He says My goodness, welcome back to Uganda. Maybe you should be staying here with us again, you know? and to that I responded very truthfully, saying that no, canada is our home now. Wonderful things have happened, this was a good life here in Uganda, but it cannot exceed what we are living through in Canada and what Canada is offering us now. So that that was quite a rebuttal there.

Gurasis:

So, speaking of offerings in Canada, you have also not stopped, and, like you said, you promised to your 15 years old self when you came here, and you said that you were overwhelmed by the acts of kindness that people were showing towards you. You said to yourself that one day I will return this kindness to Canada. And something else you mentioned to me earlier, which was that wishes do come true. That was my wish, and especially when wishes are dreamt with good intentions. And so that's what was we now led you to start focus on seniors, to enhance the quality of life of seniors by inspiring, supporting and integrating older adults and engaging them in a holistic program that enriches their mind, body and spirit. That's what I read, that's what I know. Tell us all about it that you can share with our listeners and with me.

Rossbina:

Oh yeah, focus on seniors is my baby now for sure. I have two grown boys in their 30s now who are independent, doing their own thing, workwise, but that led me to having an empty nest once they finished university and they were gone. Yeah, and I continued my volunteering because volunteering is, as you understand, in your faith, in the Sikh community, it's a sehwa And that is the word we also share with the Ismaili Muslim community. The word sehwa is is true, volunteerism, but it's faith based. That aligned this sehwa that we do internally in our churches and in our mosques and our temples. It made me to understand, or work a little more deeper into my feelings, to say that I would like to spread this sehwa externally now.

Rossbina:

No, i did not know the word about the nonprofit at that point. What was a charitable organization? I had never heard of that until I actually defaulted into that, you know, because I told myself that my mother was going through a post trauma depression, my father had passed away and she was going through all this medical issues and understanding her aging now as a mature person, as an adult person who also has children. Now I started to see clarity with life and I decided that that's what I needed to do was to support seniors that we had fallen through the cracks, especially the Ugandan Asians. They had worked very, very hard through all this time that they were in Canada. It took them 30, 40 years to experience success and stability in their lives. Today's immigrant will experience success within 10 years and immigration is working towards achieving success within 5 to 7 years now, so the gap is closing. But our Asian seniors went through a very rough time by working very hard in the 40 years that they had. So they lost out on the integration piece, on enjoying life as Canadians and benefiting from certain, i would say, material benefits or financial benefits being Canadians, because we were always led to believe never to take from the government. So, yes, and here is another aging person that I saw things a little bit differently and I told myself no, i am here to give myself of my time, my knowledge and my energy. And so when I started to volunteer for my mother and the neighborhood seniors, pretty soon I found my path. That was my compass And because, by through my volunteering, i was always a religious education teacher, i did volunteer work, i did community work All these experiences led me to think that, yes, seniors were like children. I had all this knowledge and this was all transferable skills And to this day I thank my community for giving me opportunities to work in certain aspects of community development within our faith-based area and how I was then able to translate my knowledge into external volunteering, which I thoroughly enjoy.

Rossbina:

So the word focus is an acronym F, dot, o, dot, c, dot, u, dot, s, dot. That's an acronym And that was deliberately chosen from my faith-based teachings. What is my faith teaching me here? Yes, f is to foster friendships with other people. O is for opportunities for personal growth. Always remain in continual learning cycle. Learning never stops. See for community involvement. How are you going to integrate yourself? How are you going to continue to volunteer? So community involvement is through volunteering and I will be that role model as long as I can speak.

Rossbina:

U is for unity. Isn't that what Canada is all about? Whether you're a Sikh, whether you're a Chinese person, whether you're an African, nigerian, whether you're Christian, does it really matter? We need to be a united Canada And synergy. I can't do this by myself. This may be my vision and my mission, but I need other people around me to help me expedite my mission and vision. So I need other nonprofit organizations, other collaborations, business people, other volunteers to support me in my endeavor. So I feel very blessed that I have found this niche and that I have found this extremely fulfilling compass in my life, that I would not trade it for any education today, because this is my education hands on and I'm very grateful for this divine grace that I have accepted this seva, this volunteer work that I do And I love it. It makes me wake up to it every single day with a new look or a new inspiration or a new insight.

Gurasis:

For the non-Indians or the people who don't understand the meaning of the word seva. it actually means a selfless service And it's been a. I think it's such a phenomenal initiative that you have started and something you said in the beginning, which is so true that often, when younger members of the house are out working or studying, seniors find themselves at home and isolated. And I think that is where the focus on seniors comes in And, like I said, for the synergy to happen, you need people to join your mission and vision. So where did people can connect with you, Rasbeena?

Rossbina:

So focus on seniors is not a visible organization at the moment. The reason being is I work from my home. I've used up my garage space to every closet to the whole of my lower level area. Everything around focus on seniors. So people don't see me as a business At the moment. People hear of us through our interactions with various events. So because we are not clinical, we are not here to take on social workers' jobs or psychology or doctors' jobs. We are not clinical that way. However, we are community developers. So when we focus on seniors, our programs, we ensure that we are offering social, educational, recreational and cross-cultural activities. And why do we do this? Because we want to inspire and develop our seniors intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. So if you were to have a cross-cultural activity and say, for example, i will do a visit to the Guru Dwarah with them, that is a spiritual enhancement as well as a cross-cultural enhancement. Absolutely. If we went to visit a Jewish synagogue, that's exactly what it is. It's a learning component, it's a cross-cultural activity.

Rossbina:

Upcoming July 1st is Canada Day. Normally. Traditionally, we would celebrate Canada Day as Canada Day Canadians. This time, asian Heritage Month is collaborating with our City of Calgary to say that we would love to celebrate Canada Day with you, but let's have an Asian component to say how have Asians contributed to Calgary and to Canada Number one? and to ask Asians and to ask ourselves what would be Canada without you? I think that is such a profound statement What would Canada be without me today? So, in a very small way, i would reply to it oh my God, yeah, i have definitely contributed to Canada.

Rossbina:

I have definitely contributed to my community, my neighbourhood here, by supporting our seniors. So that is a great feeling, yes, and if every individual asked that question like, look at you today, look at how much time you are spending in what you are trying to create, bringing awareness to different cross-cultural ethno-cultural communities or to Canada in general, that is spreading education, and you could give yourself a little tap on your shoulder to congratulate yourself, to say this is what I am doing to contribute to Canada.

Gurasis:

Yeah, absolutely Thank you for saying that. But even like, a initial question was like where can people connect with you? If anybody wants to join you, where they can connect with you?

Rossbina:

Yes, so we have just developed our website. It's called FocusOnSeniorsca. We have our email address. We have a phone number, the traditional way, because not everybody can navigate websites and Facebooks and Instagrams and whatnot, which we have that social media development occurring, they can also reach us traditionally with our phone. So we have all these different ways of doing so. I do want to mention, gurah Singh, that we are co-ed, meaning we do serve both men and women. Number one What we are working on, or wish we could develop this, are different translation modes on the website where people can understand, which we have not grown to that yet. We need volunteers to help us create translations, but we have a lot of photos, pictorials and visuals to assist. Say, for example, an Afghan person who cannot speak English at all or cannot recognize numbers, but hopefully, through word of mouth or through a referral, they will be attracted to connect with FocusOnSeniors And then we use Hindi as our common language base to work with them.

Rossbina:

But yes, we work on a one-to-one, as well as small initiatives with 10-15 persons to as large as 300 and 500 collaborative events.

Gurasis:

And to all my listeners. links to check the F. O. C. U. S. On Seniors website and other can be found in the show notes. So, Rossbina, now we are in the final segment of the podcast. I call it 'Beneath the Accent' because we are knowing each other beneath the accent. I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. You can answer them in one word, or a sentence, or house, or whatever you feel like. The idea is just to know more about you. So the first question is what's this one habit you adopted that has changed your life? Being open? Is this something you recently bought that you now regret?

Rossbina:

I don't have much regret because I'm not a shopper, i'm not materialistic. Yeah, i don't invest in gold and jewelry and things like that. I'm not that person at all. No, i don't regret buying anything.

Gurasis:

So what's next on your bucket list?

Rossbina:

Boy, do I have lots to say about that. I definitely want to grow this organization that started informally FocusOnSeniors. I want to leave it as a legacy. I really want to see this organization grow And whatever it takes, i know that an organization will not survive truly as a volunteer-based organization. It will need staff, it needs sustainability And I want to grow it. So first things first. Yes, i definitely need an executive director to take over and with that formal leadership, somebody has to pay this educated executive director to move the organization to a direction of legacy and sustainability. So I need help. I need people to mentor me now, to say okay, rosbeena, we are here behind you, go for this.

Gurasis:

That's very modest of you to say that you need mentor now.

Rossbina:

No, i do seriously, because now this organization has to be run as a business, as a nonprofit, sustainable organization, although 80% of it is SEWA. it cannot thrive just on that now. And, of course, travel. I need to travel somewhere. I'm so desperately wanting a cultural experience. I haven't had a chance to travel anywhere and I love traveling.

Gurasis:

So who's your go-to person when you feel stuck?

Rossbina:

Oh my gosh, there are several people I will think of, but truly it would be within myself. It's a little prayer in silence, and funny enough, because I'm so convinced that this is a divine grace, that this blessing has been bestowed on me, that I will get my answers from the creator. He led me to doing this. I will get answers from that, but without me to cliche about it. Yes, we need human direction, and the kind of people I will look towards are definitely people who are experts in these fields And I will find my way. So there is no one specific person, but on an ongoing basis, different people come into your lives And they just appear and solve these problems for you, and I call that divine grace.

Gurasis:

Beautiful answer. Love that. Okay, are there any movies, raspina, that you'd like to watch over and over again?

Rossbina:

Yes, name few. Lately I have gotten into these Turkish movies. Oh, my goodness, i think because as a faith-based, as a Muslim person, i can share a little bit of historical culture in them. Number one there are some words sometimes match our Indian words. There is also the filming or the story lines behind some of these Turkish episodes. They're so beautiful, very family-oriented, like, for example, there were 300 episodes on this last film, or the episodes that I watched on YouTube. It was called Bride of Istanbul And wow, what a beautiful series it was. And then the other one was more historical, which was Ertugrul Renaissance, and that showed how it was a group of these few people, heroes of Islam, of the Ottoman Empire how they saved Turkey.

Rossbina:

So I love watching historical films, yeah, and definitely I'm not too much into fiction, very much cultural. Yes, i love to watch things like that.

Gurasis:

And if you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Rossbina:

Oh, i dream of Jeannie. If I could have a twitch in my nose and one of those things that she used to do and poof. Everything comes to reality. That would be my superpower if I had to have that.

Gurasis:

Describe Canada in one word or a sentence.

Rossbina:

Beloved. I wrote a poem actually on this title. It was called Beloved, so my poem was titled Beloved, and I wrote this as a Canadian and as an Israeli Muslim Okay, thanking both my worlds, my physical world and my spiritual world.

Gurasis:

So, finally, if you could leave me with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Rossbina:

I would say live for today, for today, don't have any regrets, because regrets are learning experiences, but to repeat them would be stupid, absolutely And just. yeah, i'm a little airheaded, but, yes, travel the world. I would want to travel lots. Yeah. I love everybody. Yeah, i miss traveling.

Gurasis:

Awesome, thank you. Thank you so much, roswina, for being on the podcast, sharing your story and educating us a little more. Thank you so much for being on the podcast and adding value to my listeners. Thank you.

Rossbina:

Thank you so much for your time, grasses. It was quite an engaging episode. Absolutely, yeah, good, well done.

Gurasis:

Hey listener, thank you for making it to the end. I highly, highly appreciate you listening to the podcast. Subscribe to the podcast if you haven't as yet, and please share with your friends or anybody you think would like it. And, like I always say, we encourage you to follow your heart but also ask. On Instagram, the handle is my thick accent. You can also leave us a review or write to us at hello at my thick accentcom. So stay tuned and let's continue knowing each other beneath the accent.

Expulsion of Asians From Uganda
Emotional Experiences and Canadian Immigration
Immigrant Experiences in Canada
Adjusting to New Environments and Careers
F.O.C.U.S. on Seniors
Celebrating Asian Contributions to Canada
Beneath The Accent