“My dad is a mechanical engineer, but he had to work as a pizza delivery man during his first years in Canada. My mom is a doctor, but she had to work as a cashier in Tim Hortons. My parents worked so hard to build a life for me and my siblings here; that’s put a lot of pressure on my siblings and myself to succeed and make our parents proud. I’ve been writing diary entries since I was in grade six; I have a decade worth of journals. In the diaries, I always reminded myself of my goal of making my parents proud. I would come home exhausted from school and clean the entire house for my mom. I would shovel the snow outside with my brothers and dad. Being Pakistani, the importance of family is greatly emphasized. There’s no such thing as “family life” in Pakistani culture; your family is your life.”
Hafsah is 19, a nursing student at the University of Calgary, a social media ambassador for her school, a behavioural aide for a child with autism, and a henna artist. She also volunteers as a photojournalist with “Humans of UCalgary” (inspired by Humans of New York.) She told me “there is an intrinsic need for humans to feel valued and empowered, especially as part of a community, and that’s what I aim to do with the work I do.” When she is not doing all of the above, she loves finding herself alone in a park, watching the birds fly by and the people walk past. It’s the simple things that make her the happiest. When I asked Hafsah what her proudest achievement is she told me, “running for Vice President in high school. I struggled with insecurity for years as a South Asian Muslim. I hid my brown-stained skin, my lunch that smelled like curry, and my arms that were hairer than my peers. I went from hiding my face in hallways to having it plastered on posters in the hallways. This was the first time I truly I felt confident in my identity. It was my first step in presenting myself to the world, in a sense.” What’s most important to Hafsah is that she always tries. She told me, “It doesn’t matter if I fail or succeed in my efforts, what matters is that I tried my best. This is something that my parents always tell me. It’s emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically exhausting to do that sometimes though, but that just signifies the important of doing so. In Islam, God rewards you for your efforts, regardless of whether they were successful or not.”
What is a fun fact about you that you haven’t told me yet?
“I am a pun master and I stay up to date on all of the latest memes. I am recognized for this in my community, with my friends often reaching out to me to ask me to explain a meme to them.”
What is your favourite quality about yourself?
“I am so empathetic that it hurts my heart- literally. If I see someone crying, I’ll start crying. I feel deeply for other people, which is also why I have a great desire to make people feel happy through the work I do. I feel like I have to constantly remind myself that my work isn’t just to achieve a grade in class, but it’s to enable myself and build my own skills in order to contribute to a community. That is a tough thing to do though, and I often fall short of achieving my goals. Being self-aware and humble enough to recognize your short-coming and to try again is a quality that I have built over the past few years.”