When home will not let you speak justice to all
Guest post by Maryam Ahmed
I’ve always been interested in travelling and living abroad. I thank my parents for passing on that bug. I grew up hearing stories of my mum and dad roaming all over Africa, Europe, and Asia doing all sorts of wild things. Not surprisingly, I aspired to do the same. And I have, to some degree.
Growing up in a multi-cultural environment and being a visible minority has been the reason for my curiosity in different cultures. Although there have been times where I struggled with the thought of being different, I have come to learn the beauty of diversity.
Here is my story. I am a second-year master’s student. I’m doing my Master’s in Leadership Studies (MED). I love coffee, adventures, and people; and if you had talked to me a year ago about issues of social justice like the global refugee crisis, I probably would have expressed to you how unfortunate it was. I would not have had any way to respond and tangibly make a difference.
Last year, I booked an appointment with a career educator through the Career Services office at UVic. I made sure to put my age and nationality on my resume. This is how a typical resume is supposed to look like in the UAE job market. After spending a few seconds scanning my resume, the career educator said that I don’t have to put my age and nationality on my resume. His response blew my mind away. He further explained that it doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are coming from; what matters is the experience that I can bring to the workplace. This incident opened the door of curiosity to question the systems of injustices.
Let me take you back in time. I was born and raised up in Sharjah, one of the seven cities/emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). For me, it was normal that a great part of my extended family lived outside of the country. As a kid, I never really questioned why they had left.
My ancestors immigrated a long time ago from Yemen to Kenya, and then from Kenya to UAE. So, UAE for me is love, is family, is belonging. It is home, and it will always be. I have a loving family, and a safe home. However, as I grew older, I began to understand why so many people had left. The population of the UAE in 2016 is 9 million, according to UN estimates. Out of the 9 million, the foreigners contributed to around 7 million with the Emirati Nationals holding a population of 2 million.
The UAE is committed to providing social justice to all its citizens (the 2 million Emiratis). The clash starts when the discussion of social justice is extended to non citizens in UAE.
Many people argue that those who have lived there for most of their lives, own property, contribute actively to the well-being of the country should be granted citizenship. It is indeed strange to have lived there for 40 or 50 years (including my own family), owned a house, and have to leave when you reach retirement age.
To clarify, UAE doesn’t offer expatriates permanent residency like many other countries in the world. Until now, the government has resisted the pressure to open up citizenship to expatriates for fear that this would dilute Emirati culture and national identity and put a huge strain on social welfare schemes that are primarily enjoyed by the citizens, who make up a small percentage of the total population.
It’s those kinds of systems that led me to becoming not only more conscious of the world I live in, but to take up arms and fight back against injustices. I knew what was wrong and what was right growing up, but since I came to Canada in 2015 and expanded my world, I realized that it wasn’t as simple as that. While I would like to say that my passion for social justice came from being grounded as an active student and speaker in Victoria, it grew from a sense of self-reflection.
I became very interested in social justice and started deconstructing my own identity, in order to better understand the other’s struggles on a more complex level. My study abroad experience at UVic helped me to grow into a more mature and open-minded human being. I believe God has placed it on my heart to respond—to use my gifts and talents, to use my time and energy, and to use my voice to seek justice for people being affected wit injustices.
Now, whenever an opportunity arises to raise my voice and take actions towards issues of social justice, I embrace my freedom of speech and express myself as a human being. Acting and speaking out justice for all is a right that was taken away in a place I call home, but it calls me a “foreigner” after living on its land for more than 20 years.
We cannot wait for the world to change — it will not magically happen. We must work individually to start the cycle and move towards our vision. Our future well-being depends not on our selfishness, but our generosity, our sense of justice, and our willingness to invest in all children, not just our own.
In socially divided times, we all need to be present and here for one another, and stand up for justice for all individuals. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead