New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 14:35

Feeling Like a Stranger at Home

Commentary by Laska Paré in Toronto

“If you were born in Canada, you won!” was the catchphrase that came to mind during my flight's turbulent descent into Toronto airport. The next thing I knew, flight EK 241 was making harsh contact with the runway, followed by the pilot’s announcement: “Welcome to Toronto Pearson International Airport.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Am I really here? After twenty-nine months, am I finally back?

I stood up slowly, as you do after a 14-hour flight and let out a big sigh of relief.

I was back in Canada, my home and native land.

As I trudged through the airport, I considered how elated my grandma would be. During my time away, she always made it a point to end our calls by reminding me that people around the world were dying to get into Canada, hoping to create stable opportunities for themselves and their families.

And there I was, instead, gallivanting to every developing Asian country I could locate on a map. 

The birthright lottery

Having won the birthright lottery, that is, a Canadian passport, I've always felt as if it was my duty and responsibility to understand the value of my citizenship. My grandma was right – people risk their lives for a chance to have a decent life in Canada.

But, I've also always wanted to know more about the struggle of newcomers and perhaps gain a better understanding of how immigrants and dual citizens identify once they are in Canada. Do they identify as strangers? Does Canada ever truly feel like their home?

Two and a half years have passed since I set foot on Canadian soil. For some, that seems like a lifetime to go without seeing family, friends, or a house pet.

But after living across Asia and witnessing the sacrifices people make to provide for their family – seeing their spouses and children on a short holiday once a year, if that, for example – my absence and sacrifice seem very brief and insignificant.  

Defining Strangers at Home

A "stranger" is an individual who does not belong as her position in a group is determined by the fact that she has not belonged to it from the beginning. A "home" may be understood to be a place where individuals experience a sense of security and are comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Therefore, feeling like a stranger suggests that an individual does not identify with the people around him, and consequently, does not belong or does not feel accepted in the place that he identifies as home.

As I took my place in the "citizen" queue in the customs hall, I couldn’t help but feel as if something was wrong.

By now, I knew bits of several languages, had become accustomed to eating rice with my hands, greeted people by saying “Namaste” and mastered the skill of washing my hair upside-down in a bucket. My norms, customs and mannerisms would come across as abnormal to the rest of my native, Canadian comrades. For the first time, I felt like a stranger at home.

Understanding the Other

The customs officer signaled that it was okay for me to approach the counter. He flipped through my passport – pages now filled with stamps and visas – and without a question about my two-and-a-half-year absence, waved me through with a jaunty, “Welcome home.”

I looked back at the long line of anxious visitors, hands filled with papers and documents. Not only had I travelled all over Asia without struggle, but I was able to come “home” after an extended trip and not be questioned about my absence.

It was in that moment that I understood why all the sacrifice and risk was worth the chance in Canada.

Now settled in Toronto, not a day goes by when I don’t feel grateful for my citizenship.

While I’m still adjusting to life in the city, there’s no question I’ve gained a better understanding of how new immigrants and dual citizens may feel upon their arrival in Canada, as I now identify with countries and ethnic groups not part of my country of origin.

After so much sacrifice in the hopes for a better life, the ambiguity around identity and desire to identify with one’s new “home” must be difficult for new residents. Building a new life is one thing; however, reconstructing one’s sense of belonging to a nation must require time. 

As I greeted my uncle in the arrivals hall and looked around at the room filled with diverse faces, I realized that to identify as a stranger is to empathize with all Canadians – because diversity has built our land.

An experienced mentor to women in business and the youth, Laska has an unshakeable passion for writing. Inspired by helping people realize their human potential, when not coaching a client or sitting at her computer creating engaging content, you will find her outside seeking adventure.

Published in Arts & Culture
Monday, 02 May 2016 13:00

Nepal Missing a Teachable Moment

Commentary by Laska Paré in Kathmandu, Nepal

Just over a year ago (April, 25, 2015), a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, bringing this country to its knees. Word spread immediately around the globe and several countries and charitable organizations began to fund-raise, donate relief materials, deploy search-and-rescue teams and send medical personnel to assist this country, best known as home to Mount Everest.

As an expat living in Kathmandu who was here during the earthquake, and watching this small country rebuild itself over the last 12 months, I’ve been asking myself, “What’s actually happened?”

Billions of dollars were donated and put into the hands of organizations in the hope of making a difference. So, why a year later, are people still living in displacement camps and tents?

To provide some perspective, the average person in Nepal lives on less than US$1 dollar a day, which means for US$10, I can comfortably feed myself for a week and have extra to splurge at the movies. So, if billions of dollars were donated for relief, why are people still struggling to get food and living under tarps? The monsoon season is almost here, meaning three to four months of pouring rain and little relief work.

Distribution of aid

The Nepali Prime Minister directed that funds sent from outside Nepal for relief must be re-routed to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, as this would ensure proper distribution of aid, especially to the neglected and most affected communities. Although the government has vowed to fight corruption related to earthquake relief, reports indicate that funds are being used for political considerations. And given the country's history, it’s difficult to assume corruption hasn’t played a role.

Over the past year, I’ve spoken to several foreign volunteers who came to Nepal at their own expense to bring relief themselves. The issue I’ve heard most often is that government and relief organizations are not working together. In addition, one volunteer from Canada working with All Hands in Sindhupalchowk, one of the worst affected districts, expressed his frustration about how this disaster is not being utilized as an opportunity to develop and educate the people.

He asked to remain anonymous but said, “We [foreigners] come in here and do everything, but teach nothing. I’ve been building this guy’s house for the last two months and he’s just standing there watching me. We should be teaching the people and educating them instead of simply doing the work. I don’t mind helping — that’s what I came here to do — but we should utilize this opportunity and invite the locals to join us.”

“We [foreigners] come in here and do everything, but teach nothing. I’ve been building this guy’s house for the last two months and he’s just standing there watching me. We should be teaching the people and educating them instead of simply doing the work. I don’t mind helping — that’s what I came here to do — but we should utilize this opportunity and invite the locals to join us.”

High-rise buildings

In Nepal, it’s a status symbol to have a ‘tall’ house, and it’s common for homes to be four storeys or higher. I spoke to Rabina Gurung, a local registered nurse living in Kathmandu, who said she believes the earthquake itself was an opportunity for education: “Before earthquake, people used to make and design their own house. But now they want a plan and to hire the right people. I think now people see a tall house is a bad idea and they need a good foundation by professionals.”

Bimal Osti, a father and manager of the Moonlight Children’s Home (MCH) — an organization that provides housing to abandoned girls in Nepal — agreed and shared, “After the earthquake, people started to see the benefits of a small house. Smaller is better, and now they see that. People are proud of their small houses.”

But what about the Nepal government?

As Sam Adhikari (pictured), a hotel owner in Pokhara, said, “It’s not the government’s job to teach and educate people. We need to be more serious and conscious ourselves. We need to be more responsible. We should not wait for the government. If the government is not going to do anything, then the people need to prepare themselves.”

As the months pass, relief organizations continue to work and assist those in temporary housing, while the government attempts to centralize authority over relief funds.

So where does that leave Nepal?

"Nepal has no problem"

Over the last year I’ve become very close to the culture and the people. After learning more about Nepal’s history and living the ongoing struggle of earthquakes and aftershocks, fuel shortages, and daily scheduled power outages which can last for more than 12 hours, I believe the country and its people are slowly developing.

As Adhikari put it, “The problem with Nepal is Nepal has no problem.”

The culture and of in Nepal are very relaxed, calm and unruffled. While this is something that makes Nepal special, it doesn’t necessarily allow society to progress and develop.

As Akash Sarki, a local business owner, mentioned, “We just try to minimize our costs and stay with what we have; never reaching for anything more and never having a problem about anything.”

While the shift has been gradual (post-quake), I believe things are beginning to change for this small, landlocked country since the signing of a New Constitution last fall, after many years of debate.

Bikash Gyawali, a local IT entrepreneur, believes a lot of change has come because of the Internet.

“The Internet world is beginning to make its mark in Nepal. It’s giving people access they never had before. Seeing what’s on the outside is reason itself to want to grow and develop.”

While I agree with Adhikari that we all need to take responsibility for ourselves, I also believe the local government needs to implement an education campaign so people can adopt new daily practices, especially in the villages where electricity and the Internet are not always available. The Nepali government could help its people faster if aid can be transparently administered, working hand-in-hand with NGOs and other relief organizations.


Canadian-born Laska currently lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, writing, life-coaching, and pursuing her passion for mountaineering. She arrived in Nepal in April 2015, days before the quake. Over the last year, Laska has volunteered her time in schools, offering counsel and motivational workshops to assist students dealing with post-traumatic stress caused by the earthquake. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

SABITA Shrestha of Surrey along with her friend Eva Pradhan of Richmond recently returned home after three weeks of earthquake relief work in Nepal. Moved by the utter destruction caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of April 25 and the subsequent one of magnitude 7.4 on May 12, Shrestha, along with Pradhan, left Vancouver on May 13 on a humanitarian mission to Nepal.

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Published in India

BY SHAMANDEEP SINGH Sikhi Awareness Foundation, Canada TWO of Sikhi Awareness Foundation’s sevadaars left Canada for Nepal on May 12. It was decided by our organization to focus on rebuilding houses. Fundraisers were done at the local gurdwaras in Vancouver and $24,000 was raised by the sangat. While SAF’s Canada team was […]

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Published in National
Saturday, 30 May 2015 06:01

Thanks To BC Sikh Community

The BC Sikh community helped raise nearly $180,000 for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25 which has led to the already staggering number of over 8,000 deaths. Many of our friends and families have lost their lives or got injured and hundreds of thousand [...]

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Published in National

The death toll in Nepal's devastating earthquake crossed 8,000 this week amidst fears that millions of dollars in aid from around the world, including Canada, may be seized by the government.

The Nepalese government’s decision to route earthquake donations through the bank account of the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund has been a public relations disaster, introducing suspicions about the politicisation of aid even if there is no evidence of foul play, reports said.

The Government of Canada immediately responded to the April 25 quake with a $5-million contribution to provide life-saving assistance through experienced humanitarian organizations. Among the groups of experts sent by more than 30 nations were search and rescue teams, national disaster response units, paramedics, military forces and dog search units.

International aid donors expressed alarm this week after the Nepal government warned that all donations to help its earthquake victims must be made to its Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Fund, British media reported.

“The Fund seeks to provide a one-window service to the affected people by consolidating amounts, avoiding duplication of effort, and ensuring proportional and equitable access to relief by needy victims in all affected [areas].” - Narayan Gopal Malego, secretary of the Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Fund

The announcement was seen as an attempt by the ruling Nepal Congress Party to seize control of millions of pounds of aid donations being sent from around the world and raised fears that it could be allocated for political considerations rather than humanitarian need. 

A senior UN official, who asked not to be named so he could speak more freely, said that some in the international development community fear that “distribution will be dictated by politicians and patronage.”

Of particular concern is the fact that the government intends to monitor spending through the deployment of officials to electoral constituencies as well as the districts.

“It stinks of politicisation. There’s no logic to it,” the UN official told IRIN.

The Government's Ruling

The Nepalese government has tried to explain the rationale behind its decision. “The Fund seeks to provide a one-window service to the affected people by consolidating amounts, avoiding duplication of effort, and ensuring proportional and equitable access to relief by needy victims in all affected [areas],” Narayan Gopal Malego, secretary of the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, said in a statement on May 2.

“While the government appreciates any and all genuine initiatives to help victims, it also has a duty to regulate the raising of public funds and contribution in the name of disaster, so that benevolent donations are not misused and the rights of victims are protected,” the statement said. 

The government is trying to prevent bogus organisations - which emerge in every disaster – from making money off the back of the 25 April earthquake, which killed more than 7,300 people and destroyed or damaged 366,220 homes.

Malego’s statement stressed that the fund “cannot be used to provide donations or any other administrative and overhead costs, including facilities and allowances to civil servants or other office-holders.” It also said the fund would be audited annually by the auditor-general.

Respected Nepali Times editor Kunda Dixit has tried to allay the concerns voiced in the international media. “Firstly, let us be clear: registered NGOs can receive funds from outside the country,” he wrote in a blog on Saturday.

“The government has declared that any funds sent from outside the country to NGOs who were created solely for earthquake relief will be re-routed to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. NGOs with existing registrations prior to the earthquake are unaffected by this rule. Funds to these NGOs will not be seized.” 

Local “community-based organisations with ties to the affected villages” will be unaffected by the government’s ruling.

“These smaller organisations can leverage even relatively small donations incredibly well because they understand Nepal, are run by Nepalis, and are committed to taking care of their own communities. These organisations need and can utilise quickly small donations provided by the Nepali diaspora and other supporters,” Dixit wrote.

But the government’s decision has raised eyebrows over the potential for misuse of the funds.

Malego’s statement stressed that the fund “cannot be used to provide donations or any other administrative and overhead costs, including facilities and allowances to civil servants or other office-holders.” It also said the fund would be audited annually by the auditor-general.

The government is insisting that the district level is the proper focus for aid distribution, allowing local officials to determine relief priorities based on local knowledge.

Canada's Part in Relief Efforts

A statement from the Nepal home ministry put the number of injured at 17,866. The April 25 quake, the worst to hit Nepal after 1934, led to widespread destruction across the country.

Kathmandu alone accounts for 1,222 fatalities. Of these, the bodies of 1,200 victims have been handed over to their relatives. The remaining 22 bodies are yet to be identified.

According to the District Disaster Management Committee, a total of 4,634 people were injured in the capital. Of these, 2,862 have returned home after treatment in hospitals.

Canadian disaster teams are also on the ground in Nepal, helping with relief efforts for the thousands of people left injured and homeless.

In addition to the Red Cross, here are some of the other agencies taking donations from Canadians:

  • UNICEF Canada is taking donations to help children and their families affected by the earthquake.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières — or Doctors Without Borders — is deploying eight medical teams to the affected area.
  • World Vision has rescue teams in Nepal with a focus on shelter, education, water, hygiene, distribution of non-food items as well as child protection. 
  • Save the Children has a focus on helping the most vulnerable children in the affected area.
  • OXFAM is on site to ensure people in the affected areas have food and water.
  • The World Food Programme is taking donations for people in the affected area.
  • The Salvation Army has aid workers en route to Nepal to assist other relief efforts.
  • Habitat for Humanity will help people with its expertise in home building and community re-building.
  • Canadian Medical Assistance Teams mobilized its assistance team to Nepal. It is accepting money and Aeroplan miles.
  • CARE Canada has workers on the ground to help with immediate, life-saving needs.
  • Plan Canada is helping children and families affected by the disaster.
  • SOS Children's Villages is on the ground to help unaccompanied and displaced children and their families.
  • Samaritan's Purse has emergency staff and partners on the ground in Nepal.
  • The Canadian government has said that it will match donations by Canadians to registered charities doing work in Nepal dollar-for-dollar until May 25.

Published in Partnership with South Asian Post.

Published in International

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson, International Development Minister Christian Paradis and Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular) Lynne Yelich on Tuesday, on behalf of all Canadians, offered their sincere condolences to the people of Nepal who have lost loved ones in Tuesday’s earthquake. They said in a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with […]

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Published in National

CHRISTIAN Paradis, Minister of International Development, on Friday announced the shipment of emergency relief supplies to Nepal to help meet the immediate needs of people affected by the earthquake. Since the beginning of the week, Canada, through its Strategic Partnership with the Canadian Red Cross, has shipped the following supplies to Nepal from Foreign Affairs, Trade […]

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Published in National

Mount Everest before and after earthquake. Image courtesy – Live Science

News East West

The last month’s earthquake pushed India up to 10 feet under Nepal. And the

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Published in International

Kathmandu (IANS): Nepal on Thursday said the powerful earthquake which rocked the Himalayan nation last month has claimed 7,802 lives, but the Nepal Red Cross Society put the toll at 8,413. The home ministry said another 15,911 people were injured in the April 25 temblor which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale. A home ministry […]

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Published in International
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