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Celebrating Asian Heritage: Students learn from senator Mobina Jaffer’s trials and triumphs as a Canadian senator of South Asian descent

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The month of May was dedicated to celebrating the contributions of Canadians from over 30 countries that make up the Asian and South Asian diaspora. To celebrate Asian Heritage month, the District partnered with the Senate of Canada through the SENgage initiative to host senator Mobina Jaffer. Students from sixteen elementary and high schools across the District heard directly from Jaffer on her life and work experience.

The student-led event began with a land dedication by grade 7 student Alexis Manongdo from Henderson Elementary. Superintendent Helen McGregor and Board Chair Janet Fraser provided opening remarks. As the first Director of Instruction of Asian heritage at the District, Christopher Wong, said a few words about the significance of this month.

Following opening remarks, Grade 11 student, Lance Cabrigas from John Oliver Secondary introduced senator Jaffer and welcomed her to the District.

Jaffer reminded students to be proud of their heritage and remarked on some of the important contributions that Asians have made to the development of Canada. “Like the French and English pioneers, we cannot forget that Asians have helped build this country with their own hands,” she said. She encouraged students to honour their heritage and to hold onto their mother language. “It’s your identity, it’s who you are,” she emphasized.

Grade 7 students Maya Kwei and Kelly Guo from Carnarvon Elementary read questions from their peers for senator Jaffer. They asked about her motivations as a senator and the barriers she faced as a woman of colour. “There were many times where I wanted to give up,” Jaffer told students about her early experiences practicing law. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot achieve your dreams, because you can,” she said.

Grade 7 student Kieran Fong from Wolfe Elementary thanked senator Jaffer for her time and reflected on the importance of hearing from prominent Asian voices.

SENgage provides young people with the opportunity to connect with senators about their work in Parliament. Jaffer has represented British Columbia in the Senate since 2001 and is the first Muslim, African born senator of South Asian descent. She was also the first South Asian female to practice law in Canada. 

“I really enjoyed this experience. It was pretty inspiring to hear all the stories that senator Jaffer shared with us,” said Guo. Many thanks to District staff including Deena Kotak Buckley, the District’s first south Asian female Director of Instruction, for leading students in the organization of this event!

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