“I want to tell our story. Housing is a big problem – for everyone. If you can get something from your community it’s your obligation to give something back,” Safia, Habitat Home Owner.
Foreseeing an uncertain future in their homeland of Pakistan, and with the hopes of providing better opportunities for their children, Safia and Athar decided to move their family to Canada. In Pakistan, Safia was a teacher with a graduate degree in mathematics. Upon arriving in Canada, she found herself having to upgrade her degree, and was soon accepted to a Master’s program in mathematics at the University of Guelph, where the family relocated in 2013.
“We didn’t have a car at the time, and I often had to take my three year old with me to campus,” Safia explained. “Even in the worst snow storms, I’d push the stroller all the way to the university, where, thank God, he was able to go to daycare while I attended my classes.” After her Masters, she went straight into a PhD.
With Safia on campus all day, and childcare being a priority for the family, Athar was restricted to looking for shift work. In the first few years, he found employment in a number of entry-level positions – a baker at Tim Hortons or a shelf stocker at No Frills. It was difficult for Athar managing shift work and providing childcare while Safia was away at school, but the family managed to make it work. Athar is proud to now be working at Cargill in Guelph, looking after Receiving and providing support at the Front Desk. ”I’m now able to work during the daytime, and I can once again spend the evenings with my family,” Athar shared.
Their home has provided Safia and Athar a safe and decent place to raise their children, and helped them get ahead in achieving some important family milestones – but, more importantly, it has allowed them to fulfill one of the values most important to them: to give back and to build community. “What we are getting from the community – we have to give that back. As much as we can do, whether it’s for our neighbourhood, or our city. What we can do is contribute,” Athar explained. Safia agreed, “for me, it is the education which I have received from this community and this city, and, as a teacher, it’s what I can now return and give back.”
The idea of meaningfully contributing to their community is something that has extended to other aspects of their life, as well. The husband and wife have both worked as volunteers during the previous two municipal elections. Safia has also spent time serving on a Committee of Council on a volunteer basis. “I have learned so much about the political processes in the city. It helps me connect with other communities. It helps me give back,” she explained. Their sons are both active in their own communities, as well. While their eldest is now off at University, pursuing a degree in Hospitality & Tourism Management, their younger son is involved in the high school newspaper and a number of athletics.
Safia and Athar, their family, and their pursuit to contribute to their community, are an example of what can be achieved when barriers to housing are removed; these are hardworking people who are invested in their community, and contributing to the livelihood of this city in so many ways. “Home is where you live, peacefully. Where you’re secure, where you’re living with your loved ones, where you have food on your table,” Safia explained. “The feeling of home is necessary for everybody – to have a personal connection to a space where you can live comfortably. This is what allows you to move forward with positivity, and to grow – not just us, but everyone.”