Hakim Feerasta and his wife, Nilofer, came to Toronto in the summer of 1973. The multicultural, pluralistic, vibrant society, welcoming of people of different nationalities and ethnicities, and the cultural and culinary delights and the positive energy they experienced made them feel that they had found a perfect place to call “home”.
They applied for Canadian residency upon returning to Cornell University, where Hakim was studying for his MBA. He recalls seeing ads on the TV inviting people to come and discover “Ontario” and saying to himself, “yes, yes, I am waiting to come to discover and be part of Canada”.
In September of 1974, they came to Canada and started their lives in Toronto, almost immediately becoming an integral part of the diverse and pluralistic Canadian society.
Hakim and Nilofer were fascinated to be eating Gyros, served by staff of Asian and European nationalities, at an Indian owned outlet in a Canadian mall. From where they came, they hardly encountered or knew about people of nationalities or faith other than their own. He knew them mostly through the Hollywood movies. Through personal encounters with these people, he realized that though they look different from himself and each other and practiced different faiths, they shared similar hopes, expectations and desires. Each of them, he realized, had rich histories, cultures, and had contributed to the betterment of the world we live in. Their presence created so many more opportunities, made lives richer and made living in Canada so fulfilling.
While working with IBM Canada, Hakim was recruited by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in 1978 to lead its operations in Pakistan, and in 1994 was sent to Tajikistan to head AKF and later serve as the Aga Khan Development Network’s Diplomatic representative there.
Hakim was sent to help people who came from varied backgrounds, had different life experiences, and lived in very different geo-political and cultural environments. Formidable challenges!
The ethics of his Shia Ismaili faith and experience of living and working in the diverse and pluralistic Canadian society enabled Hakim to see beyond the obvious differences. So working together, they developed approaches to harness their energies and talents, and resources of the public, private and civil societies. Together they laid a foundation that powered journeys towards long-term and self-sustaining development for millions in the program areas and beyond.
AKF’s initial efforts in Pakistan were focused on enabling the people in the mountainous areas of Pakistan - one of the poorest people in the world - to build “capacities” to get on to the “highway” of self-fulfillment and sustainable development.
The initial focus in Tajikistan was to provide essential humanitarian assistance, partly supported by the people of Canada, to help the population survive the chaos and bloody civil war that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. The goal was to rebuild and reform the Soviet era institutions and wean the people and societies from their “learned dependencies” and enable them to negotiate better future for themselves and their families in a market-driven democratic society.
Hakim was appointed Warden for the Canadians in Tajikistan, and at the invitation of the Kazakhstan based Ambassador of Canada to Tajikistan, hosted Canada Day reception for Ministers and officials of the Government of Tajikistan, representatives of the diplomatic community, international and civil society organizations and media.
Upon returning to Canada after an exciting and fulfilling 30 years abroad, Hakim served on the Board of CRRF and currently sits on the Advisory Committee of the Board of New Israel Fund, Canada.
Hakim was born in Myanmar in a Gujarati-Katchi family and lived in Bangladesh, Pakistan and the USA.
Happy 150th Birthday Canada.