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Meet Neekee

"Someone was there to guide us when we first arrived in Hamilton."
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I do, I do love it.

This is kind of why I started, I'm an immigrant,

and my parents accessed a lot of the social services

when we came here.

And that's how I got really attached to this kind of work

and that's what made me go into social work.

I was born and brought up in Sura Kutrat.

I lived there up until the age of 11 years old.

We lived a simple there, my parents worked hard

to provide for us.

We had really good family and friend support there.

But my parents knew that we weren't living our

full potential there, that there was more for us.

They wanted more for my brother and I.

So it was in July 2001 that we packed our bags

and decided to move to the United States of America.

We already had family there so it would be easier

for us to settle there.

It was a few months later that the 911 tragedy

hit the country.

And we didn't feel safe living in America anymore,

because we identify as Ismaili muslim.

So when I came to Hamilton I was 13 years old.

I am 31 right now.

And it was very hard.

I had left all my friends, all the family support.

I struggled a lot making friends

because I didn't speak english very well

I got bullied a lot in school because I looked different.

I had a really thick accent and I was still learning

and figuring out how to learn english.

In school I struggled a lot because I couldn't understand

what the teachers were saying.

So I fell really behind in school as well.

I remember working really really hard.

I would go home

and kinda prep and read all of the homework that I had

for the next day so that I would have a little bit of an

understanding of what the teachers were saying as

they were talking. So I would do a lot of the work

ahead of time the night before.

I remember one of my teachers pulling me aside one day

and saying that, Neekee we know that you work really hard

you try your best, but we also want you to be a kid.

We want you to go home, play with your friends,

play with your brother, go outside.

One day if you don't do your homework,

it's ok we know that you work really hard.

And I never felt that when I was in India.

There's just so many students in one class

that the teachers don't really know you.

And it felt really nice to know that the teachers see me.

They who I am, they see the

hard work that I'm putting into it.

And that's what motivated me to work harder.

Because I knew that somebody was looking at me

and what I'm doing, and recognizing

all that work that I'm putting into.

It's actually helpful to where I want to be in the future.

So, eventually I did make friends,

I learned english and I was able to

get into McMaster University in their BAB program.

And that was the motivation that I had,

that I had really good teachers when I first came here.

Who supported me, who were very patient with me as

I learned english.

As I went through all of these milestones,

Initially it was very, very hard but,

later in life it did become easier.

I think the first where Hamilton truly felt like home

is within our Ismaili community.

So within our local Mosque, or Jamatkhana

We have a really close knit community.

Where we all get together for prayers

and we are really there for each other.

So it was really nice to see that some of the

members of the mosque that have been here for a long time.

They were able to guide us through the

entire settlement process.

Where to look for housing, how to apply for credit cards,

the banking.

That's how we were able to get used to living in Hamilton,

because they had opened up their homes,

they were our co-signers even when we

had looked for an apartment.

Because we weren't able to get an apartment otherwise

we had no history here.

So I think it really,

I really felt included at that time,

because someone was there to guide us.

Someone was looking out for us, they were there to guide us,

they referred us to settlement agencies.

Our experience in the overall Hamilton community,

within our Jamatkhana, has been so positive.

We truly felt safe here because they opened up their homes

for us, you know no one really does that,

you know you don't really hear that

to opening up to strangers.

But that's what's good about Hamilton

people are so nice, they're so kind.

That we really felt included into the community,

we were given opportunities to advance ourselves.

We were given jobs here, and it really helped us settle.

Because moving to another country for the second time,

it is hard.

My family and I, we didn't speak much english,

we didn't know anybody here,

and their education from back home didn't quite count,

so they had to work at survival jobs at that time.

My parents worked really really hard , I remember my parents

working different shifts, waking up early in the morning

coming home late at night.

And it was to provided for my brother and I so that,

we don't have to do that when we grow older.

It really felt, it felt good seeing that this kind of

community still exists, this kind of support still exists

within Hamilton, that people are able to help each other out

and see each other succeed.

My name is Neekee Virani

and to me, Hamilton is an inclusive place to call home.

Inspired by her own childhood experience of immigration and belonging, Neekee is a Social Worker at YWCA Hamilton helping newcomer women settle in Canada. Through her work, she passionately gives back to the settlement services community that was once critical in helping her family navigate life as newcomers.

Seeking new opportunities, her family emigrated from Gujarat, India to the United States in 2001 when Neekee was only eleven years old. Being part of the Ismaili Muslim community, the family felt unsafe in the wake of growing Islamophobia after the September 11 attacks. They moved to Hamilton in 2003 where they found a welcoming environment to settle in and a supportive community in their local Ismaili Jamatkhana.

Migration Context: 

Informal Networks

Whether from their own communities, faith-based organizations, non-profits or government, immigrants and refugees have often relied on informal networks to facilitate their settlement in Canada. These networks sometimes act as a source of referral to formal, funded services. 

Historically, ethnic neighbourhoods or enclaves provided settings where newcomers could live, work, shop, worship and socialize. Through these networks –which included corner stores, factories, churches, secular halls and the like–immigrants learned who to trust, where to seek assistance and what was useful about politics and government. 

Today, Hamilton is home to hundreds of informal networks that help newcomers settle, including faith communities, social clubs, student organizations, businesses (especially groceries), ethnic media, and of course family and friends.

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