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The Woman Behind the Meals: Mama Zari’s Story of Resilience and Service

More about yourself

I am from Iran, and my family is originally from Turkmenistan. My grandfather moved to Iran after the Soviet regime built a strong boundary around Turkmenistan’s borders with Iran. I was very active fighting for women rights during the revolution in Iran in 1983. Eventually, we had to migrate to the Soviet Union. I went to school there and trained to become a medical doctor and specialized as a gynecologist. The money I was making as a doctor was hardly enough, so I worked as a teacher, too.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan opened their borders with Iran. But that was a difficult time as we were pressured by the ruling government in Iran to work with them, threatening our lives and the wellbeing of our family.

Later, we arrived in Canada with the help of the United Nations. When I arrived in Canada on November 15, 2006, I stayed at CCIS’ Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre (MCRC) as a one of the clients. During our stay, I volunteered to help the head cook in the kitchen. When one of the cooks left, the head cook asked the then Manager (they were not called directors then) of the Resettlement and Integration Services (RIS) division, Margaret, to hire me, as she was happy with my work. I told them that I couldn’t speak a word of English, but they told me the clients who come here don’t speak English either and knowing other languages is an asset. I was hired as a cook in February 2007, that is only a few months after I came in, and that’s been my work till date.

The things you are most proud of in your work

I’m proud that everyone, clients and our staff, calls me ‘Mama’ and treats me like a mother. I’m proud that I’m working with refugees and making them happy by feeding them. I like sitting with them, talking to them. I was in the same boat once, so I can comfort them.

What motivates you to keep going?

Helping people motivates me; helping them change their lives. At least, they are in a place where they can be what they want to be and go where their talents take them; their future is guaranteed. I feel the same for my grandkids and clients.

A quote on what the (IWD) International Women’s Day means to you

This day means a lot to me. This day is the recognition that women are equal to men. This day shows the world that women are fighters. I’m so happy we have this day.

A message you would like to send to all the women of CCIS/women out there

Be kind. Always fight for your rights. I hope nobody can stop them. Always smile.

Hobbies you enjoy outside of work that help you unwind and maintain your well-being

Organic gardening. I was a doctor, so I wanted to make people healthy. It is important to have a peaceful life, and nutritious food. The food we eat has lots of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. So, I want to grow pesticide free food for my family, at least. I got inspired by one of CCIS projects, Land of Dreams, where we got a plot of land to grow things. I used to think we cannot grow anything in this cold weather. But I grew potatoes, garlic, pepper and other things. Then I thought I could do this. Probably some day I can grow enough that others can enjoy it too.

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