Salima Kerai-Sayani

Supporting positive child and youth development among elementary school children in Karachi, Pakistan
Eva Oberle
Faculty of Medicine graduate award
Cordula and Gunter Paetzold Fellowship
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I aspire to plant a seed for a society where every child is given an equal opportunity to reach their full human potential and grow into healthy, socially, and ethically responsible citizens, eager to contribute to their society. This aspiration stems from my life experiences of growing up in Pakistan and witnessing first-hand the struggles of living in poverty. I envisaged how adverse physical and socio-economic conditions led to reduced opportunities for children and youth in terms of their health, education, and employment prospects. These experiences invigorated my passion to pursue a professional course with the goal of promoting child development and wellbeing for children in Pakistan. Also, the decision of embarking upon this journey of pursuing a graduate degree is a step towards self-fulfillment, to feed my intellectual curiosity of knowing the unknown and what I can achieve as a woman – to become a role model for my daughter and other girls – of what a woman can achieve despite challenges of living and growing up in a society entrenched with gender biases.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

UBC’s doctoral program in Population and Public Health, and its unique divisions such as ‘Health in Populations’ that seeks to answer scientific questions that address determinants of population health throughout the life course from birth to death, is something that sparks my interest. I am always pondered upon questions like What is it that can be constructive across the lifespan of individuals and lead to a change in societal behaviour, learning and health for the better? How can we reduce poverty, social inequities, and promote human development to improve the human experience of living on this earth?

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) has a uniquely collaborative and interdisciplinary research center called ‘Human Early Learning Partnership’ (HELP), where researchers are doing some groundbreaking research in understanding and addressing some of the complex human development problems. The work at HELP perfectly matches my research interest. I am interested in investigating ways in which the well-being of children living in resource-poor countries can be promoted. What are the assets and strength factors that can be enhanced to help underprivileged children thrive in adversity?

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

The unique mix of nature’s beauty with urban infrastructure - which is unmatched in the world. I was and am constantly pleased by the beautiful landscapes, scenic views of sea/ocean and mountains, enchanting forest trails, serene beaches, sounds of nature such as the chirping of the birds, colour and fragrance of blooming of flowers, co-existence with wildlife such as raccoons, squirrels, pacific tree frogs, just to name a few have always mesmerized my senses. I also liked the positive vibe of this city where people try to stay active. I have seen people of all age groups and colours indulging in all kinds of sports and physical activities. Besides, the idea of open spaces, parks, schools, grocery shops and other necessities within a walkable distance is commendable and sets examples for other cities to follow.

The School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) has a uniquely collaborative and interdisciplinary research center called ‘Human Early Learning Partnership’ (HELP), where researchers are doing some groundbreaking research in understanding and addressing some of the complex human development problems.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

I had the privilege of getting a world-class education, i.e. both my university degrees, in Nursing and Epidemiology and Biostatistics, from the internationally renowned Aga Khan University in Pakistan. It prepared me with unique ways to address the healthcare needs of the under-served and vulnerable population groups. It fostered and developed leadership capacity alongside research skills, through its training, to be able to analyze and respond to public health challenges of the region. My time spent at AKU engendered compassion, and empathy for the suffering and conditions in which humans of the world are living in and humility with a sense of responsibility to give back support to the community, country and world at large for a sustainable physical, social and cultural environment. Getting accepted into a highly competitive Ph.D. in Population and Public Health program at UBC and moving to Vancouver in the summer of 2019 from Karachi with my young family to embark upon this doctoral journey is a leap forward towards achieving my goal. Being a new immigrant alongside juggling the responsibilities of being a mother of a toddler and a full-time student at UBC was all quite challenging and made me feel overwhelmed and vulnerable. However, the process provided me with an opportunity to face my fears and pushed me to explore all kinds of resources and develop resiliency. Completing the academic and professional requirements of the program along with balancing all other responsibilities without being daunted, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, felt like a test of my grit and dedication. Nevertheless, it compelled me to learn to find new ways to manage studies and research work as well as volunteer my time and passion for teaching. This led me to redesign my strategy and take on project-based commitments. Each of these academic, professional, and personal experiences in my life have prepared me to succeed as a doctoral student who can put learning into perspective and conduct proposed research that can advance scholarship aligned with my ultimate goal of promoting child development for disadvantaged children in Pakistan.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Try to capitalize on social support and resources that one’s peer’s/friends/family/community has to offer. At times life and things seem blurry, life seems tough and daunting and small tasks/work/assignments appear to be overwhelming. Take one day at a time. Every day is progress. Try to be present and live each moment. Acknowledge your struggles, emotions and state of physical health and mind. Narrate a positive of your life to yourself. Take breaks and pauses. Be open to learning new things. Read and read; Read other than your subject expertise. Talk about ideas, passion, subjects that inspire you and give you energy. Every person’s journey is unique, there is no comparison. Life is not a race with any person or race against time. Give and share; Be kind and generous. Things that make us feel light, make us feel happy. And be physically active. Face your fears. Remember you got this. You will eventually get there but with grace.


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