Name: Samra Zafar
Current Industry: Non-profit; Public Speaking; Writing
Current Pursuit: Medical degree at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.
Country of Origin: Pakistan
Moved to Canada: 1999
What gives her a sense of fulfilment: Helping people heal; Helping people survive; Helping people thrive.
Her journey in one word: Resilience
“Meet Samra Zafar – Speaking, writing, and advocating for authentic human connections” are the words to greet you on Samra’s website. But these are not the only words that describe our remarkable December Immigrant of the month.
Samra, currently in her late 30s, is one woman that is deeply passionate about gender equity, inclusion, and human rights, in addition to being an entrepreneur. And that is not without justification. She was a child bride who suffered a decade of abuse, denials, and isolation. From the ashes of broken marriage emerged a tree that has been providing shelter for women who have escaped oppression, for the past years. “Brave Beginnings”, the name of her non-profit organization has helped hundreds of abused women to rebuild their lives and get another shot at life.
Her book: A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose, vividly captures what she faced in her troubled marriage and how she came out of it. Her story is both pathetic and inspiring.
“When I was in Grade 11, shortly after I became a teenager, my mom came into my room one day and announced that there is a marriage proposal for me and that in a few months, I will be getting married to this man who lives in this far away country called Canada.” These were the words that shattered her dreams! They halted the current motion of her life at the time because, true to her mom’s pronouncement, she was shipped off to a strange land, to meet a stranger in the cloak of a husband, like some cheap commodity. (You can read the rest of her awesomely inspiring story in her book.)
And for a little over a decade, she lived her worst nightmare. She suffered verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse from her husband and mother-in-law. No one gave her a chance. Her family didn’t even show any concern or support for her during her most trying period.
Samra felt edged in on all sides.
Her physical body was in a box. But not her mind. She kept dreaming and questioned the status quo…and she got her break!
There is no honor in silence.– Samra Zafar
Samra found her voice the day she graduated from university. Her story went live on a blog and with it came a platform for change. The silence was broken! Eight years down the line, she is still inspiring women from all walks of life. She has mentored hundreds of women who have escaped any kind of abuse or violence. She is a living proof that there is life after adversity and trauma, and she is helping others to realize it for themselves.
What kept her through the years?
Samra says easily: “I kept dreaming. I would always question it in my mind, why should I have a brain when I can’t use it? Why do I have this intelligence?”
- First woman of color to chair the University of Toronto board of Directors, Mississauga campus.
- The first non-traditional woman in the late thirties, coming from a very non-traditional no-science background, woman of colour, single mom to be pursuing a degree in Medicine.
She sees this pursuit as being significant. She believes that because no one has done it before, doesn’t mean she’d be the last. She is rather blazing the trail for others to follow.
- A 2018 Ascend Canada Mentor of the Year Award
- A 2019 Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award
- A 2019 WXN’s Future Leaders Award
- A National Magazine Award nomination in the personal journalism category.
- Board member, Women’s College Hospital Foundation.
- Ambassador for Plan International
- Recognition as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by Women’s Executive Network in 2019.
- Top 100 Award in the Women of Courage category at the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) in November 2021.
- A May 2021 Desmond Parker Outstanding Young Alumni Award at the University of Toronto.
- Over a dozen awards and scholarships from the University of Toronto as a student with the highest distinction.
A Pakistani man wrote to her, telling her that she is the reason he turned down a marriage proposal for his 17-year-old daughter. He elected to send her to university instead. She has more similar experiences as she continues to touch lives.
Zafar daily receives social media messages from strangers she had touched and inspired with her story.
A woman met her at a library event, mentioning to Samra her plan to also leave an abusive marriage. It was a most touching moment for both women.
- Be your own biggest cheerleader. The fact is, people that tell you that you cannot do something, are not showing you your limits. They are rather showing you, their limits. Sometimes, you’ll be surrounded by people who show you your limits and put some kinds of barriers before you. But it’s up to you to be your own biggest motivator.
- Build your own personal cheering squad. These are your chosen family and may not necessarily be from your biological family or circle of friends. These people are those who believe in you and will grant you all the encouragement you lack from those that supposedly are the closest to you. They are your greatest support system.
- Embrace and confront your fear. Courage and bravery don’t mean the absence of fear. It just means: “Yes, I am afraid, but I’m going to do it anyway.” And when you take that step, you are listening to your inner voice.
- Give back and pay forward. This could be achieved through volunteering, mentoring others, serving on non-profitable boards, etc.
- Cultivate relationships. And here is why: We are social beings who cannot survive outside others. We rise when we lift others up.
- Live a life of purpose. For instance, what keeps you awake at night and wakes you up every morning? It is that fire in your belly that never ceases to burn. It is the legacy you want to leave behind when you leave this world. Ask yourself: “If you win $50 million tomorrow and you never have to work a day in your life again, would you still pursue your career?” Your candid answer will guide you to your life’s purpose. In pursuing your purpose, you will never go wrong.
- Strive for excellence. It is the proof of authenticity.
- Be a leader! Leadership is about creating dialogue for change. It is about fighting for progress and acting on what is required; and that is irrespective of where you find yourself.
- Create your own roadmap. Define your own normal and communicate it to your family. This will help you manage and balance work, family, and life more easily. It will help you with focus.
Being a person of influence stems from the extraordinary little things we do. The little things go on to have remarkable ripple effects, one moment at a time. They define who we are. They define our very existence. They define life.
For Samra Zafar, the young wide-eyed teenager that got married to a stranger in her teen years is the true warrior “who fought the hardest battles without any support system…And if she had given up, this woman wouldn’t exist.”
The Immigrant Life celebrates this worthy ambassador of the immigrant community in Canada. Be inspired to be more.
Written by Yinka Bakare