Education: Steaming Hot Biryani Fuels Desire to Succeed

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“If only Tupperware grew on trees – then perhaps I could have plucked a few every time my daughter went away to university.”

Having to continuously replenish her container collection is perhaps the only regret that Gulshan Wadiwalla has about allowing her daughter to study at Montreal’s McGill University.

“I love the way my mum cooks meat biryani and baked chicken, so a visit home would mean stacking away containers full of food in a cooler box for future consumption,” says her daughter Mehereen now working on her doctorate at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

The journey from Beacon House High school in Karachi, Pakistan to Toronto’s prestigious Hospital for Sick Children has been long and tedious for the Wadiwalla family who came to Canada in 1997. Having settled in Mississauga, their struggle seemed two-fold. “It was hard work. Not only were we job-hunting ourselves, but were trying to get our only child admitted to university in Canada,” says Wadiwalla. “But looking back over the years, I would do it ten times over, as what we have given our daughter is priceless – a solid Canadian education, one we could not have dreamed of getting in Pakistan.”

Many newcomers to Canada not only want their children to succeed at university but to also remain debt-free. When Nalibai and Rony Bamboat’s daughter was ready for university, they were sure of one thing, they would pay for her education. “We readjusted our budget and our lifestyle. When my daughter did not qualify for OSAP we sold our family van to pay for the initial cost of education. My husband scaled down to a small car and I began to use public transit to and from work.”

Few years later, to help finance their son’s education, Bamboat took on a weekend job in addition to a regular job she holds, to be able to meet the added expense. Like many newcomers to Canada they came with limited means. According to Statistics Canada’s 2005
Longitudinal Survey on Immigrants in Canada, more than 85 percent of refugees have no savings upon arrival in Canada, while 50 percent of immigrants in the skilled economic immigrant category have savings that exceed $15,000. Strapped for cash, the Bamboats who live in Brampton, Ontario, would have preferred if their children studied in the Greater Toronto Area. But the parents gave in.

“We came to Canada when our children were already in middle school. We did not have the opportunity to put away money in an RESP. The only option we have is student financing from banks and we as parents have been paying down their student loans, as we do not want them to graduate with a huge debt load.”

Both the Bamboats (who came to Canada from Pakistan) and Wadiwallas put a high value on their children getting a postsecondary education. As a result, their kids are on their way to pursuing doctorates in their respective field of study. Statistics Canada 2006 census reveals that parents play an important role in the higher education of children. Youth who felt that their parents expected them to go on to postsecondary education were much more likely to do so than those who felt their parents did not expect them to go on (67 percent as compared with 34 percent).

As more and more educated newcomers make Canada their home (31 percent of immigrant males are more likely to have completed a university degree as compared to 18 percent of Canadian-born men.

Similarly, 21 percent of immigrant women had a university degree as compared to 17 percent for Canadian-born women. Statistics Canada 2006) parents expect that their children will take advantage of the opportunities that they have in their adopted country.

“Right at the outset we made it very clear to our children, if you study and maintain your grades we will pay for your education. But if you slack and fool around, then you are pretty much on your own,” says Bamboat.

Not much seems to have changed in immigrant attitudes towards a higher education. “Fifty years ago when I came to British Columbia I had one goal and that was to offer my kids the best that life had to offer in this great country. I gave them what I call a million-dollar education. Now I see my kids doing the same thing with their children,” says Dr. Framroze Nariman Balsara, a retired Professor of Law from York University, who came to Canada from India in the early 1960’s.

The grandfather of five lives in a Mississauga senior building and at 91 years of age feels that his mission in life is accomplished. The seeds of a good education that he planted in his children half a century ago are being passed on to the next. Wadiwalla fondly reminisces about her daughter not bringing back empty Tupperware from Montréal and Bamboat still uses transit to and from her way to work, but they have no regrets.

“I told my children 30 years ago that in Canada you have everything you need to succeed. If you cannot do it here, you cannot do it anywhere,” adds Balsara as he goes off to take his afternoon nap.

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