Immigrants of Distinction Award Recipients 2015
Arts and Culture Award: Vania Dimitrova
This lady not only “brings her gifts forward” she is “paying her gifts forward”
Vania Dimitrova is an internationally recognized artist who has resided in Calgary for the last 16 years. Her artwork has been displayed over the years in many public and private art galleries in Bulgaria, Malta, New York, and Canada. Her inspiration is often drawn from her life experience as an immigrant as well from the books she reads.
Originally from Bulgaria, she began studying art and playing piano from a very young age. At the age of 14, she was selected as a top student in the admission competition at the art school Tcanko Lavernov, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She then went on to complete her Master’s degree at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Vania’s gift is her ability to pass down her experience as an artist to the younger generations, thus encouraging them to develop their imaginations and sense of creativity. She has been working as a volunteer at the Earl Grey and Sunalta schools, helping to foster a sense of art among the students there. For the last four years, she has organized private art programs for both schools as well as for Elbow Park Elementary School. Between 2005 and 2010, she was the founder/organizer of the Christmas fund-raising event at St. Peter the Aleut Orthodox Church, the proceeds of which were donated to the church building fund.
Business Award: Girish Agrawal
Humble beginnings to financial freedom—and this young achiever wants it for everyone
Girish Agrawal first came to Canada with virtually nothing. Since then, he has helped thousands of Canadians better their own financial futures. Described by many as an extremely dedicated individual, he is always willing to lend a helping hand.
Since moving to Canada, Girish has achieved several career goals, including that of Chartered Accountant (CA) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP). It is no surprise that he was nominated for Top 40 under 40 in 2008. Girish has built a successful financial practice from scratch at the Investors Group, employing a team of associates. As one of the top-performing advisors at the Investors Group, Girish devotes his time to teaching the public about saving and investing, and shares his knowledge through speaking engagements with charitable groups. He is always willing to volunteer to help others and make an impact.
Born in Mumbai, later raised in Delhi, Girish began working at age five to help contribute to the family finances, and thus learned the value of perseverance at an early age. He is an inspiration to everyone around him, a beacon who has helped shine a light on and improve the lives of numerous individuals and businesses in Calgary.
Community Service Award: Gurmit Sarpal
This community leader understands that in helping others we help ourselves
Gurmit Sarpal has made the world around her a better place to live. She is revered within her community on how anyone can live an exemplary life.
In the late 70’s, Gurmit immigrated to Canada. Aside from the cultural shock she experienced upon arrival, she was also battling severe depression. To combat this black cloud, Gurmit took it upon herself to change her life by becoming involved in the community. From teaching traditional Indian music to children to writing health and spirituality articles for South Asian newspapers and radio shows, she completely transformed her outlook and influenced those around her. It wasn’t long before she was approached with an offer of her own mental and physical health program on South Asian radio and television. In 2006, Gurmit founded the Royal Women Cultural Association, which has empowered hundreds of immigrant women to come forward to end tolerance for domestic abuse and violence. She has helped increase their self-esteem and nurture their artistic talents. Gumit also volunteers her time with Alberta Health Services as a community health advocate. Before immigrating to Canada, she completed her nursing degree and uses her background to facilitate workshops such as “Better Choice, Better Health.”
Gurmit has dedicated her life to enabling those in need. As a natural role model in the communities she touches, she is the person to remind us to reach out to others in need.
Achievement Under 40: Ariam Wolde-Giorgis
A young advocate for greater inclusive community.
Ariam Wolde-Giorgis, age 26, is an over-achiever, and that’s wonderful, especially as her energies are directed at building a more inclusive Calgary community. As an employee and volunteer of the Federation of Calgary Communities, she has developed solid working relationships with the City of Calgary, the United Way, Ethno Cultural Council of Calgary, Sunrise Community Resource Centre and other local community associations. Ariam connects people in need with those who can help. A case in point is the pilot program called “Engage U,” which engages residents in community life, identifies areas of need within the community, and builds strong relationships to address those needs.
She is also an active member of Calgary’s Eritrean community, directing women to health and financial-support services and building lesson plans for, and acting as mentor to, the Eritrean Language School. In addition, Ariam has also launched a student awards program to motivate, encourage and preserve Eritrean language learning.
Her passion for building an inclusive community stems from her family’s own migration experience. In 1992, when she was three years old, Ariam and her family arrived as refugees from Eritrea. Ariam is a remarkable young woman with a maturity beyond her years. Congratulations and best wishes for continued success in building a more inclusive Calgary community.
Lifetime Achievement: Dr. Chan Wirasinghe
An internationally recognized civil engineer who is building civil engineering itself
From a young boy growing up in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Dr. Chan Wirasinghe had a vision for building. This was not just limited to studying engineering, which he did at the University of Ceylon and later on obtaining his MSc and doctoral degree in transportation engineering from the University of California at Berkley. Dr. Wirasinghe’s vision for building extended to building a first-class engineering school with an international reputation. During his tenure as Dean of the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, he most certainly propelled the faculty to the leadership status it enjoys today. Accomplishments while Dean include the 100 per cent increase of both undergraduate and graduate engineering enrolments, the expansion to two additional teaching buildings (with a third being donated), and existing programs enhanced, several of which are nationally and internationally renowned.
His ambitions for building (or rebuilding in this case) continued to founding the International Institute for Infrastructure Renewal and Reconstruction, which was the result of the 2004 Tsunami. The institute is an international consortium of 20 universities that provide leadership in research, education, planning, design and implementation in disaster affected or underdeveloped regions.
For his extensive accomplishments, Dr. Chan is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2000 Alberta Premier’s Silver Award of Excellence, the City of Calgary’s Citizen of the Year Award in 2006 and APEGA’s 2008 Volunteer Service Award.
Organizational Diversity: Rogers
Rogers Communications Inc. is a diversified Canadian communications and media company. It is Canada’s largest provider of wireless voice and data communications services and one of Canada’s leading providers of cable television, high speed Internet and telephony services. Through Rogers Media, the company is engaged in radio and television broadcasting, televised shopping, magazines and trade publications, sports entertainment, and digital media.
Rogers strives to promote diversity as part of their corporate culture. Rogers boasts a very culturally diverse workforce including 33 per cent visible minorities, and 45 per cent women. In addition, Rogers has implemented many innovative practices, policies and, programs to improve workplace diversity, such as Rogers Pride, Rogers Women’s Network, and the company’s Diversity Leadership Council.
In 2013 and 2014, Rogers was named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for its leadership in creating a diverse and equitable environment for employees, customers, and the community. Every year, Rogers hires thousands of Canadians to help build diverse, high-performing teams, and the company is committed to establishing a work environment that respects – and celebrates – difference.
Hadassah Ksienski Distinguished Service: Carolina Dalgleish
She brings an abundance of joy and laughter to any room
Carolina is the type of person who can transform a room with her laughter, abundant joy, and caring personality. She facilitates positive change in others, and her favourite saying is “It’s all good.” Her empathetic nature has a ripple effect on everything she does.
When the recession hit in the 90’s Carolina lost her job, along with many other professionals. She became a volunteer at Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and later at the Women’s Centre. Unaware that this involvement would change her life and become her calling, Carolina found her volunteerism slowly turning into a full-time career. At the Women’s Centre, Carolina was sought out by many women because she spoke Spanish. In no time, women came from all over to see Carolina at the Women’s Centre. Humorously, her colleagues compared her to Britney Spears - “a victim of her own success” - her support so valued in the community that she could barely manage the work load. Carolina is a member of the Immigrant Advisory Table, a group of individuals passionate about building Calgary as a welcoming community. As a dedicated member of this team she helped create their three-year strategic plan.
Carolina and her family left Chile for political reasons when she was a young girl, arriving to Canada in the early 70’s when little help was available for newcomers. As the oldest child, Carolina took on a great responsibility by helping her parents navigate their new homeland. It’s because of dedicated workers like Carolina that these critical services for new immigrants exist.
Youth Scholarship Award
If there was a science to integrating as a new immigrant, this youth has discovered it
Mahtab Dhaliwal has an impressive list of accomplishments, and driven to add to that list via her thirst for learning and passion for the sciences, which she inherited from her parents. Both her mother and father earned their Master’s degrees in India and were teachers prior to immigrating to Canada.
When her family immigrated to Canada, Mahtab was in Grade 6 and with basic understanding of English. Today she maintains honours with distinction across all her high school subjects and is President of the Environment, Math AND Physics Clubs. She is also a member of the Kings’ Own Calgary Regiment Band and Vice-Captain of the field hockey varsity team. But, Mahtab has discovered the secret formula for true integration as a new immigrant. In addition to her academics, social, music and sporting clubs, she volunteers at the TELUS Spark Science Centre and is a valuable member of the centre’s research team.
Part of the science of integration is paying it forward; she co-founded the Ohana Café, which offers new immigrant students counselling and workshops to help them settle into their new city and new school environment. Mahtab provides an authentic welcome, appreciating that her own new immigrant experience and lessons learned could be as effective or even more so, than the typical school orientation programs.
Is that instinct or scientific discovery? Regardless, Mahtab is fuelled to tap into the endless opportunities that she sees are available to her in Canada. She plans to pursue a career in theoretical physics.
If volunteering could be a lifetime career, this youth would apply... and get the ‘job’
Although Nilufer Hasanova is currently studying to become a paediatric nurse at the University of Calgary, if volunteering could be a job, she may actually be tempted to switch. Nilufer’s friends would say she would give her limbs to charity if she could. And, when most young people are choosing skiing, hockey, music as free time pursuits, she is working on the next fundraising initiative. Favourite pastime (and present time): giving back to her community and the tens of thousands of Canadian dollars she’s raised for local charities is testament to this.
Nilufer founded the non-profit organization Hope for Home, whose mandate is to financially support orphanages in developing countries. In addition to Hope for Home, she is actively involved with the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth, a non-profit organization helping immigrant youth in Calgary to adapt to Canadian life. As a spokesperson for the organization, she readily shares her own migration from Azerbaijan via Turkey story with other immigrant youth and families. If that wasn’t impressive enough (or exhaustive of her time), she regularly grows out her own hair and donates it to Angel Hair for Kids, raising money for cancer research.
She has given back tenfold since moving to Canada in 2005, including to her single-parent family. Nilufer has held part-time jobs from a young age to support the family and acted as translator for her mother to help her more easily acclimatize to living in Calgary (Nilufer having mastered English fluency within seven months of arriving in Calgary). Nilufer is known to donate money that she may not even have, saying “well I will just work a little harder this month; they need it more than I do.”
Syeda Kinza Rizvi
A champion for spreading the word to stop the spread
Syeda Kinza Rizvi is using her education, research, career and volunteering to spreading the knowledge about medicine to stop the spread of diseases, like cervical cancer and heart diseases.
Kinza is currently enrolled in the Master’s of Science Program, with a specialization in Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary. Her thesis and research is about identifying barriers to cervical cancer screening in South Asian Muslim female immigrants. She has already presented her research at local and national conferences, and recently received a scholarship from the Western Regional Training Centre. She volunteers at Canadian Immigrant Women Association as a Youth Mentor for young girls and as a guest speaker for cervical cancer screening awareness, and at Immigrant Services Calgary, as a translator. She also works part-time as a Research Assistant for influenza surveillance in Alberta in the Family Medicine department at the University of Calgary.
Having migrated from Pakistan when she was 14, Kinza took up this personal campaign very quickly - almost as quickly as starting high school which was day one of arriving in Canada! She has been described as empathetic, humanitarian and compassionate, and no doubt, we add a positive influencer. Kinza’s life goal is to specialize in cardiology to help stop the spread of heart disease in our society.
Inspiring the leaders of tomorrow with her scientific mind
Vidhya Bavanala has made an astounding impact on the community of Calgary in the short three years she has been in Canada,
arriving from her native India. As theme director of Calgary World Health Organization and an active member of Model UN, and driven by her first-hand experience with poverty and social justice, Vidhya dedicates her efforts to health advocacy, helping to create solutions that enhance global health by using diplomacy, collaboration and speech to inspire change at a national and international level. As the co-president of Heart and Stroke Foundation Students’ Association, she takes an active role by organizing “Coping with Stress” and CPR workshops on campus.
At the young age of 17, Vidhya graduated from SAIT’s pharmacy assistant program. She is currently a second year student in the Bachelors of Health Sciences program, majoring in biomedical sciences at Cummings School of Medicine. Her research in psychology at the Mathison Institute for Mental Health and Research aims at identifying predictors of antidepressants in patients suffering from Major Depressive Disorder. She has presented her findings at various symposiums and looks forward to publishing more of her work in the near future.
An infectious energy that draws everyone close!
Ziad Paracha is a Swedish-born Pakistani Canadian who arrived to Canada in 2003 with his seven-member family. He speaks numerous languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Hindko, and English.
People are drawn to Ziad because of his abundant joy and outgoing personality. He uplifts the spirits of everyone he comes in contact with and is a strong asset to the Newcomers Orientation Week (NOW) program with the Calgary Bridge Foundation For Youth. A five-year active volunteer with NOW, he has led numerous events and activities for new immigrants and given them the sense of belonging and specialness that every newcomer needs to thrive in unfamiliar surroundings.
Ziad is also involved with Ascovime, an international non-profit organization that provides medical aid to third-world countries, mainly Africa. He is a co-founder and current president of Ascovime Canada, a branch of the parent organization founded in 2008 by a Cameroonian doctor. In 2014, he visited Cameroon where he helped doctors provide medical care and treatment to rural villagers in remote areas. Ziad’s passion for helping those in medical need doesn’t stop here. He also volunteers his time at the Foothills Hospital Long Term Patient Care in their Neurological Rehabilitation Unit, organizing activities for patients suffering from strokes, spinal injuries, and brain injuries but also offering old-fashioned TLC and sympathy. At the University of Calgary he is president of the Orphan Sponsorship Program, which raises awareness for orphans and lobbies to abolish the cycle of poverty and abuse around the world.
Past Recipients: IDA2014