by Allie Shier
When someone asks Farah Mohamed where she is from, she answers, “I am Canadian.” This is inevitably followed by the question, “But where are you really from?”
When asked this question, Farah typically responds that she has Indian heritage, she is African-born, and she was raised in Canada.
These multiple layers of Farah’s identity do not make Farah less Canadian; rather, they illustrate the varied makeup of our citizenry and the inclusivity of our country.
Farah was born in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, in 1972. Her life began during a tumultuous period of strife and hardship for Ugandans. A year before she was born, Idi Amin declared himself President of the nation and shortly thereafter launched a horrific genocidal campaign. His government expelled nearly all of Uganda’s 80,000 Asian, Indian and Pakistani citizens and massacred 300,000 civilians in total during his eight-year reign. Farah, her parents and her sister were forced to flee their ravaged homeland in seek of refuge.
Farah was only two years old when she first arrived in Canada. She has no recollection of her exodus or any trauma from her family’s journey, as her parents made every effort to insulate their children from the pain they endured. From her parents’ stories, she now knows that it was a difficult transition into Canadian life, accompanied by a range of emotions. The Mohameds felt immensely grateful to have been welcomed into Canada – to them, it was like winning the refugee lottery. Still, they landed here with two young children and no money or job, while still mourning a life left behind in Uganda. Farah’s parents felt fear of the unknown and for their homeland, as well as optimism for a better life and a bright, prosperous future for their daughters. Farah recounts that they weren’t living the American Dream; rather, the Mohameds were living the “Canadian Dream,” uniquely characterized by the welcoming nature and diversity of this nation.
Farah’s parents speak six languages, placing a high premium on education for their children. They gave their daughters the tools they needed to succeed, encouraging Farah and her sister to pursue careers in areas that they are passionate about. From an early age, Farah’s parents taught her to give back to the country that gave their family a fresh start. Farah was inspired by the strong women in her life, especially her mother, who moved to Canada at 23 years of age with nothing. Her mother’s strength motivated her to strive toward fostering social change and the empowerment of females on a global level.
Farah’s family history and settlement in Canada have instilled in her the fundamental values that have inspired her in the way she lives her life. Farah’s unfaltering dedication to social change and her passion for the empowerment of girls and women are clearly motivated by her upbringing.
In 2009, Farah created G(irls) 20 Summit for the Belinda Stronach Foundation. G(irls) 20 is a unique program for young girls modeled after the G20 Summit, focusing on making strategic investments in the skills sets of girls and women. Each summit includes one female aged 18-23 from each delegate country, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, European and African Unions, and the MENA region. Since its inception, G(irls) 20 has evolved into a much larger force, with summits being held each year and more than 40 global partners. The global summit gives delegates the opportunity to work with a coach, to participate in communication, leadership, and technology workshops, and to hear from inspiring keynote speakers. At the end of the summit, the delegates draft a communique that is presented at G20. Delegates have all gone on to make incredible contributions to their communities – for example, one alumnus created a safe space for girls to use as a computer lab in India.
Farah is inspired by this generation – she acknowledges that while today’s youth are confronted with more challenges, they are gifted with confidence, tenacity, innovation, and an unprecedented level of global connectedness. I asked Farah what message she would send to today’s youth. She answered, “Take risks. Take calculated risks. And be smart. You are young; you have time.”
Farah’s commitment to making a positive difference for young females reflects the strong influence that her upbringing and her Canadian values have had on her. As a young woman myself, her story motivates me to utilize the strengths I have as a young person and as a socially conscious individual to foster social change.