Immigrants of Distinction Award Recipients
2013 Immigrants of Distinction Award Recipients
2013 Recipient - Mazhar H. (Mike) Shaikh
The eldest of four siblings, Mike Shaikh was born in Pakistan in 1948. In 1977, three years after making Calgary his home and marrying the love of his life, Linda, Mike earned his Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Calgary. In 1980 he obtained his Chartered Accountant (CA) designation, after which he successfully built his CA practice.
Since then, Mike has mentored countless new immigrants, often giving them a start in his firm. In 1993, he started a small oil and gas company, Provident Energy Trust, which at one time had a capitalization of $4 billion. In 2007, Mike was awarded Fellows of the Chartered Accountants, a prestigious honour recognizing his meritorious service to his community and profession. He is also a recipient of numerous awards and accolades including The University of Calgary Distinguished Alumni MAX Award, Alberta Centennial Medal for Outstanding Services and, most recently, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Mike has served on many boards at the provincial, federal, and international levels and raises funds for numerous worthy causes such as The Chartered Accountants’ Education Foundation to aid immigrants, TRW (Teaching, Research and Wellness) Centre in the field of cardiovascular medicine for the University of Calgary, the Shaikh Family Knowledge Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, and CUPS.
Community Service Award
2013 Recipient - Amal Mohamed
Amal has made it a life commitment to help youth find their way to a bright future. As a child, her mother instilled it in her to "always give back," and she did. Growing up as the oldest of seven, she naturally took on the role of a mentor.
Fleeing from an arising war in Kuwait, Amal and her family immigrated to Canada, leaving everything behind. They faced many challenges as newcomers: a lack of support, adaptation and language barriers, and living in low-income housing. Her personal struggles made her more aware of the issues faced by youth in her community. As the older sister of four younger brothers, Amal quickly understood the social difficulties young immigrant males faced.
As founder of the Somali International Youth Board (SIYB), Amal has committed her life to creating awareness around youth-related issues. SIYB offers youth of any ethnicity participation in social awareness and recreational activities. Through the Somali United Basketball League, Amal has established a program for young people aged 16-25.
Her accomplishments include being invited to a conference for “Canadian Wide Initiative To Help High- Risk Somalis” held by Public Safety Canada and establishing a network for young Somali youth in Canada and the United States to play in a national basketball tournament. Amal is currently working towards her Purchasing Management Association of Canada designation and manages to juggle her studies while volunteering numerous hours to support marginalized youth in her community.
Achievement Under 40 Award
2013 Recipient - Hayato Okamitsu
A chef by trade, Hayato Okamitsu grew up in a quiet suburb of Japan just outside of Tokyo and learned to cook from his mother. After completing culinary school, he apprenticed at the Hilton Hotel in Tokyo. One night after work in 1999, Hayato saw “Battle Potato” on Iron Chef, with the challenger being Canada’s Michael Noble. Finding inspiration through Canadian talent, Hayato packed his knives and headed to Vancouver, Canada. Once there, Hayato landed a job with Noble at the Met restaurant and continued working with him for the next two and a half years, until Noble relocated to Calgary, opening Catch restaurant. Hayato wasn’t too far behind.
Six years later, Hayato Okamitsu became Executive Chef of Catch Restaurant and Oyster Bar, a dream come true. In February 2009, Hayato competed against Canada’s top chefs at the Gold Medal Plates competition in Banff, Alberta and after three days of intense competition, Hayato was named “Canada’s Best Chef” of 2009. In August of 2010, Hayato became Culinary Instructor at SAIT in Calgary.
Hadassah Ksienski Distinguished Service Award
2013 Recipient - Umashanie Reddy
Umashanie Reddy, who was born and raised in South Africa, has lived much of her adult life battling adversity. At age 26, Umashanie was diagnosed with stage 4 non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer with a 10 per cent survival rate. On Umashanie’s fortieth birthday, she triumphantly announced that, after several bouts with the disease, she had finally “beaten the odds.” She was a survivor.
In 2005, the Reddy family arrived in Canada. A qualified professional librarian, Umashanie had to start at the bottom, as a part-time daycare assistant earning minimum wage. Undeterred, she began working at the University of Calgary as support staff, where she discovered that a Canadian or U.S. Master’s degree is the prerequisite for professional librarians. Embracing the challenge, she completed a Master of Library Science with distinction at the University of Wisconsin in 2008, winning the Graduate of the Last Decade Award in 2012.
The Calgary Public Library then offered Umashanie the Diversity Services Manager position to manage system priorities for programs and services for immigrants, seniors, persons with disabilities and Aboriginals. Umashanie accepted the position and has used it to enrich the lives of immigrants, winning several awards along the way and establishing herself and the library as the vibrant heart of the immigrant community. Being a daughter of Africa, her social compass can be characterized in the African idiom Ubuntu: “I am because you are,” a word which embodies her philosophy of interconnectedness, togetherness and diversity.
Organizational Diversity Award
2013 Recipient - Agrium
At the heart of its business, Agrium is committed to creating and building a diverse workplace that fosters the cultural differences that its employees bring to the office. Diversity is a collective mixture of visible differences and similarities such as age, gender or race and not-so-visible dimensions such as culture, work style, lifestyle or education. Agrium believes that its success is tied to maintaining and enhancing an inclusive culture where employees contribute to a better understanding of diverse backgrounds.
Agrium is proud of its diversity and is committed to promoting equity and respect for an inclusive workplace. By creating a spiritual space for their employees, Agrium is able to support its business goals.
Lifetime Achievement Award
2013 Recipient - Sid and Bronia Cyngiser
Sidney (Sid) and Bronia Cyngiser immigrated to Canada after the Second World War. Born in Poland, Sid was 15 years old when the war broke out and Bronia was seven. They first met in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany where both were recovering in a hospital. In 1949, Sid made his way to Calgary with Bronia following suit a year later. Since settling here, Sid and Bronia have devoted themselves to speaking about their Holocaust experiences out of the conviction that, through teaching the lessons of that dark chapter of human history, they can help to promote the values of tolerance, understanding and equality.
Since the inception of the annual Holocaust Education Symposium 28 years ago (a joint program of the Calgary Jewish Community Foundation, Mount Royal University and the Calgary Public and Catholic School Boards), held at Mount Royal University, Sid and Bronia Cyngiser have presented their personal history each year to more than 2,700 high school students. This platform allows them to emphasize that all Canadians have a personal responsibility to speak out and protest against all forms of discrimination and racism in our society.
Sid and Bronia have been active and committed volunteers in both the Jewish and broader communities. Sidney has also been a regular speaker at the University of Calgary’s Shad Valley Program and has served on the Executive of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, an organization that promotes dialogue and understanding among different faiths.
Amrita’s passion for medicine started at a young age when she went to a clinic with her father, who worked in an NGO setting in Bangladesh.
At an early age she learned about independence, leadership qualities and how to be a team player as she conducted her studies in boarding schools. Amrita’s family immigrated to Canada in 2009. In high school she discovered her other passion when she joined the City of Calgary as a recreation leader, working with young children and at-risk youth. To combine her two passions she is currently pursuing a bachelor of health sciences degree in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary, her goal being pediatrics.
Amrita has volunteered in a hospital setting for two summers, working with patients and conducting research. In 2012, Amrita spent a month volunteering at a village in northern Thailand, where she taught English to people from various hill tribes in the region. She also took the opportunity to travel extensively through northern Thailand and South Korea. Amrita is currently in the last semester of her bachelor’s degree and hopes to attend medical school in the upcoming academic year. She continues to volunteer at the Children’s Cottage Society and the Students’ Union Wellness Centre and is the co-president of the Health Sciences Students’ Association at the University of Calgary.
Angelica Lai’s life story began in an orphanage in China. Born Su Xiangmei, she was adopted by her devoted single mother, Frankie Eng, at the age of 18 months prior to moving to Calgary. Frankie and Angelica spent six wonderful years together in Calgary with a large extended Eng family. Tragically, when Angelica was seven years old, Frankie became ill with cancer and died within six weeks of diagnosis.
Angelica moved in with her aunt, uncle and eight-year-old cousin, who adopted her within the year. Angelica remained at the Menno Simons Christian School where she had been enrolled, until she graduated in Grade 9. She described her experience in a video that was to describe a significant event in the student’s life for a Grade 9 Language Arts project. With her use of emotion and humour in the video, there was not a dry eye in the audience and she received a mark of 100% for her work.
In order to pursue her interest and passion for science and technology, Angelica chose to attend Ernest Manning High School for its new pre-engineering program. She was very interested in the dynamic, innovative program that provides students with practical hands-on experience in interactive technical lab environments complemented by online simulations.
With the support of Angelica’s loving extended family and the nurturing from her schools, she has progressed through life with resilience, an outstanding personality, and wonderful characteristics.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan Hassan Riaz immigrated to Canada with his family in 1997. As a young boy, Hassan struggled in elementary school, being bullied as an outsider by his classmates. He was misunderstood by his teachers and ridiculed by his peers when asked questions in class. This led Hassan to become quite reserved and not speak in class.
As Hassan’s family became more established, they were able to relocate and Hassan started a new life in a new neighbourhood. His challenges continued when his mother requalified for her medical licence and moved to Ontario for her residency. However, Hassan was able to cherish every moment his family was able to have together. He actively improved his public speaking and became more proficient in English. Today, he volunteers at the ConnectTeen line to help youth against bullying because he wants teens to avoid the struggles he had to endure growing up. To continue to build his bright future, Hassan has also participated in the Junior Achievement program for two years.
Born to a Chinese family in Trondheim, Norway, Henry Su immigrated to Calgary in 1998. In Grade 3, despite a language barrier, Henry was a very strong student and was recommended for the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program.
Henry’s keen interest in science earned him several achievements over the years: a gold medal at the Calgary Science Youth fair by the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta, first place at the First Tech Challenge World Robotics championship, and fourteenth in the country at the Canadian Biology Olympiad competition. Henry also received accolades when he decided to join the debate club to overcome his English-language barriers. He has since helped his team win the Alberta Provincials in Grade 8 and Grade 10 and become a member of the Canadian National Debate Team.
Today Henry is enrolled in the IB diploma program, repeatedly earning the title of Top Student of the Year. He is the school’s debate executive and coach, holding seminars for other students interested in qualifying for the national team. He is also co-chair of the Mayor’s Youth Council and organized the first annual Calgary Youth Volunteer fair. Henry also initiated the Youth Endorsed City Space evaluation for TELUS Spark Science Centre. Henry has maintained a very fine balance between his extracurricular activities and his studies, consistently achieving academic excellence. His future looks very bright.
Empowered by her parents’ value of education and sense of social responsibility, Mariam Awara has become an advocate for education and the rights of others. After immigrating to Canada from Cairo, Mariam struggled in her first year to adjust to the new school system but overcame her challenges when she volunteered at the Cardel summer camps and met new friends. That fall, Mariam was not only enrolled in the International Baccalaureate and Junior Achievement programs, she also joined the Student Council, Amnesty International, Youth Volunteer Corps, Debate Club, and her school newspaper club.
She also founded the school’s anti-bullying committee and campaigned with the Calgary Emergency Women’s Shelter. She co-founded the school’s Make A Change Africa club, setting a goal to raise $10,000 to build a school in Ghana and heighten awareness about the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty in developing countries. Mariam continues to serve on the Youth Central’s Youth of Distinction Awards Steering Committee, as the Student Council’s Special Events Committee chair, and as her school’s representative at the Calgary Board of Education’s Chief Superintendent Youth Advisory Council.
Immigrants of Distinction Awards Previous Recipients
Since the Immigrants of Distinction Awards first began in 1997, Immigrant Services Calgary (then the Calgary Immigrant Aid Society) is proud to have honoured the following individuals for their achievements and contributions to the City of Calgary and its immigrant community.
Hadassah Ksienski Distinguished Service Award
2012. Bob Khan
2011. Tina Merali
2010. Genevieve Balogun
2009. Peter Wong, Q.C.
Arts & Culture Award
2012. Jacek Malec
2011. Shenaaz Nanjii
2010. Karin Richter
2009. Lyn Pflueger
2008. Cecilia Gossen
2007. Vahe Tokmajyan
2006. Alexandra Haeseker
2005. Alina Dabrowska
2004. Umran Sumen
2003. Elizabeth Allen
2002. Siegfried Wieser & Mrs. Joan Xauen Wieser
2001. Angelique Gillespie
2000. Neel de Wit-Wibaut
1999. Helen Seka Owen
1998. Antonia C. Wicherts & Mr. David M. Spriggs
1997. Mark Skalinski, PhD
2012. Baldev Shergill
2010. Bea Twusmasi
2009. Raymond T. Chan
2008. Saad Ibrahim
2007. Lina Castle
2006. Nashir Samanani, Elluminate, Inc.
2005. Abed Itani
2004. Wayne Chiu
2003. Gerald Wood
2002. Chan Yang Kim
2001. Mike Ciccaglione
2000. Said Arrata
1999. John Dasilva
1998. Hatim Zaghloul, Ph.D.
1997. Dan Capitanescu
Community Service Award
2012. Dr. Geetha Ramesh
2011. Dr. Brijendra K. Sood
2010. Ms. Idrees A. Khan
2009. Cesar P. Cala
2008. Dr. Kabir Jivraj
2007. Dr. John Wu
2006. Tseden Dhogonpa
2005. Dinesh Dattani
2004. Ashid Bahl
2003. Vinay Dey
2002. Ms. Baljinder Mann & Mr. Michael Embaie
2001. Vettivelu Nallainayagam, PhD
2000. Chamnan Chap, PhD
1999. Vilma Dawson
1998. Teresa Woo-Paw
1997. Nirmal Dey (Volunteer Service Award)
Distinguished Professional Award
2012. Dr. Bejoy Thomas
2011. Dr. Chirag Shah
2010. Dr. Wael Badowy
2009. Dr.Tadeusz Dabrowski
2008. Dr. Alykhan M. Nanji
2007. Dr. Thaddeus Demong
2006. Margaret Styczynska & Sinisa Sonny Tomic
2005. Daniel Lai, PhD
2004. Hetty Roessingh, PhD
2003. Hans Vogel, PhD & Gamil Tadros,PhD
2002. Wilhelmus (Duffie) VanBalkom, PhD
2001. Taj Jadavji, PhD & Max Coppes, PhD
2000. Elaine Chan
1999. Hans van der Sande, PhD
1998. Henk E.D.J. ter Keurs, PhD
1997. Magdalena Amnestica
Organizational Diversity Award
2011.OMNI Television (Alberta)
2009. Bow Valley College
2008. GlobalFest (Government or Non-Profit)
2008. Haworth Ltd. (Business Category)
2007. Calgary Public Library
2006. Boys & Girls Club of Calgary
2005. Calgary Health Region
2004. Village Square Leisure Centre
2003. Calgary Public Library
2002. Calgary Police Service
2001. The Westin Calgary
2000. Cyberwave Technologies Inc.
1999. Shell Canada Limited
1998. Standen’s Limited
2012. Janriu (Peter) Liu, Silvana Echeverri, Michael Deng, Julia Qin, Vasanth Ranganathan
2011. Koray Demirbag, Meng Zhao, Naanak Sodhi, Patti Wang, Sergiu Lucut
2010. Ms. Daria Tilimpea, Mr. Jethro Cheung, Ms. Malithi Fernando, Ms. Mei Mei Zi (Annie Zheng), Ms. Shayna Ding
2009. Ana Angela Lopez Quiroz, Bani Turkmani, Di Mo, Fariha Ahmed, Valez Lumi
2008. Simon Atem, Hin Man (Ivy) Cheung, Zoe Beatrice Cheung, Sana Tariq, Jane Wu
2007. Alice Chen, Nyail Majock, Eva Ouyang, Joseph Lagasca, Carrol Zhou
2006. Alexsander Dshurkov, Elva Fan, Mahesh Hariharan,
John Reuben Lagasca, Lina Roa
2005. Karen Hyo Min Kang, Shuyang Li, Hong Lu, Sherry Qin, Xiao Wang
2004. Abednego Deng, Yao Li, Vinh Luu, Salil Pradham, Celine Zeng
2003. Natalia Beloukhina, Olga Konwisorz, Jan Owoc, Crystal Rego, Jeremy Torio
2002. Genesis Juat, Eisha Alemao, David Lee, Steven Cheng, Pascal Yu
2001. Dominika Boczula, Shirley Ngo Suet Ho, Jung-Mee Hwang, Danijel Margetic, Sheila Muy Lee Ung
2000. Susan Doan, Nilou Davoudi, Samir Pradhan, Stephen Kung, Casy Wang
1999. Newman Yu Ting Lin, Aly Kassam-Remtulla, Alisa Palic, Wei-ting Chen, Omar Tahmisicic