Shirin MalekAhmadi remembers her life before she moved to Nova Scotia.
She was was born in Iran, graduated from university there, and for enjoyed life in her country. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War in 1980 had devastating effects.
“We lost our home and we endured terrible hardships,” she says.
After a few years, her husband, through an international company he was working for, was assigned to Dubai, then Hong Kong, and finally, Canada.
In 1999, her husband’s company sent him to Nova Scotia to join one of its foreign locations.
She started volunteering for the Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association (MISA), now known as Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS). She obtained a human-resources diploma to update her education and working background. Then she started to work in human resources, before deciding she wasn’t ready for the full-time work
Next step, she joined Halifax Public Libraries as ESL (English as a second language) coordinator and started that program at Alderney Gate Library from scratch.
She now lives in Bedford and sees how immigration affects a community. “I now live on a street where people from many countries including India, Korea, China, and the Middle East also live and where race and religion play no role in our community,” she says. “Now can enjoy living in a most peaceful setting.”
For the last 11 years, she has been deeply involved in orchestrating the English language courses at the different branches of the Halifax Pubic library including four years at the Bedford branch library.
Two day a week, with the support of 40 volunteers, she effectively coordinates three sessions. Often the sessions are handled one on one. They are valuable resources for people who want to improve their language skills and learn about Canadian culture and customs to make their integration easier.
Her work gets noticed.
“She’s a wonderful advocate for immigrants in our community and is just a very caring and amazing person,” says Hannah Colville, manager of the Bedford branch of the Halifax Public Libraries. “She has a big heart.”
At ISANS, she served as an interpreter and devoted a lot of her time supporting immigrants who required a wide variety of often complex interventions.
She speaks of the personal rewards she has gained from her volunteer work at ISANS. “One young woman from Afghanistan who I helped, earned her GED and then went to community college where she has become a licensed practical nurse,” MalekAhmadi says.
But Shirin’s dedication goes beyond those roles.
She actively supports a food bank in Halifax, Metro Turning Point on Barrington Street, and Phoenix House, a non-profit in Halifax dedicated to helping at-risk and homeless youth
She laughs when she says her car often contains donations for these charitable organizations” My husband calls me a peddler because I do my best to always have things in it I know will be needed at one of these places,” she says.
She’s Muslim, but lives a secular lifestyle. She doesn’t wear a hijab but wants Canadians to respect people from a culture that has religious aspects some may be uncomfortable with. “Wearing a hijab is a choice and nobody has the right to ban it or humiliate the women who wear it, “ she says.
She says she encourages the immigrants she meets to integrate into their new communities, and says she will continue to do her work to help everyone settle in. “I believe it is essential that they do not allow themselves to become isolated from the general population,” she says.