Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

From Refugee To Government Minister

"He [father] and everyone he was with were killed. She [mother] made a decision that is probably the hardest decision she ever made, and she picked us up and brought us [three young daughters] halfway around the world."
"I do think of [my father] often, and I did think of him on election night, and I really hope that I make him proud. I think all immigrants, all refugees leave their homeland for a better future for their kids and their grandkids. In this country, Canada, dreams like that do come true. It was a very special moment [election outcome]."
"Whether you're a girl or woman in Iran, as many Afghan refugees are, or if you're in Afghanistan, we weren't allowed to go outside alone. You always had to be supervised, and we didn't understand."
"So many people believed in me; they're counting on me. That means something. Yeah, that means something."
"From a very young age, I knew that someday, I would do something to make things better for others. I know how precious this gift of democracy is, and I also know how easily it can just be taken away, almost overnight. So, it's a privilege, it's a great privilege."
"They [Canadian Immigration] took in a widow and three daughters as refugees 20 years ago, showed them kindness. Twenty years later, at the heart of everything I do every day for the next four years [as a Parliamentarian] is a genuine desire to return that kindness."
Maryam Monsef, recently elected Peterborough-Kawartha Liberal Member of Parliament

Maryam Monsef during her first day in Ottawa as MP for Peterborough-Kawartha
Maryam Monsef during her first day in Ottawa as MP for Peterborough-Kawartha kawarthaNOW®.com

Quite the achievement, that. A young girl, her two sisters and her 23-year-old mother recently widowed at the conclusion to the Soviet-Afghan war, and just as the Afghan Taliban were coming to power, made the fateful decision to leave everything behind; extended family, friends, familiar culture and language, country of origin in chaos, and begin anew. They had fled from Afghanistan to live as refugees in Iran when life in Afghanistan became impossible.

And the primary reason for that state of affairs was that at age 3, Maryam Monsef, her mother and her two sisters were left without their father, and husband. He had been killed at the border between Iran and Afghanistan, in a crossfire, while transporting goods, as an import-export businessman across the border; the classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. From Iran they travelled to Pakistan and then on to Jordan.

They arrived in Canada as refugees in 1996 when Maryam was eleven years of age, joining an uncle in Peterborough. That journey produced for Canada its first-ever Afghanistan-born member of Parliament. She won her seat on October 19 in the general election that brought the Liberal Party of Canada back into governance. She remembers when she was new to Canada, marvelling that she would be permitted to go outside to play by herself.

Living in Peterborough her childhood became a normal Canadian experience. She learned how to ride a bicycle. She learned to speak English in quick-time: "When it's sink or swim, when you realize that there's actually no other way but to learn, you learn quickly. We learned watching news anchors", she explained. And she understood at a young age that outside school hours, if she wanted money to buy things with, she could earn it.

At age thirteen she began delivering the Peterborough newspaper. She would also knock on neighbourhood doors to sell coupon books which would earn her half the sales profit her industry generated. "I did quite well. It was my first experience door-knocking in Peterborough. I'm a results-oriented person. Those were good results", she laughed in an interview. That introduction to door-knocking stood her in good stead when she ran for Parliament, and won.

Before that, however, she attended Trent University, focusing on biology and earned a bachelor of science degree in psychology. Campus politics attracted her, and before long she began appearing at Peterborough city hall to watch the proceedings at municipal council meetings. She recalls that after her father died, her grandfather became the father figure for their little family, encouraging her to learn, to do whatever she could manage to help make the world a better place. 

That advice, her penchant for politics and her enthusiasm led her to run for city mayor. The campaign whetted her appetite for politics, though she finished second in the mayoral campaign. And that campaign endowed her with a sense of self-confidence, convincing her to make an effort to run in the federal political campaign. And now she has been appointed by the new Liberal leader and now Prime Minister of Canada, to the cabinet ministerial post of Minister of Democratic Institutions.

Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef being sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on (photo: CBC Television)
Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef being sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on (photo: CBC Television)

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