By: Ahmad Galuta
Tell us a little bit about yourself, including your background and upbringing?
"My name is Assma and on social media, I'm known as Assoomiijay for my activism work. I was born in Canada, but I've been raised around the world. So I've lived in Canada, Tunisia, UK, UAE, and Pakistan. So I consider myself a global citizen. I've studied psychology and religion. I've been a marketing director for a few years, but I finally began my mental health coaching and I'm a cancer patient survivor and a mental health advocate."
So you've lived in multiple countries, as you mentioned, including Canada, Tunisia, UAE, England, and Pakistan. How has being in such different cultures and societies impacted your growth and development as a person?
"I think I've changed quite a bit. I grew up very sheltered and had a very narrow point of view about different things, but then I got to experience real-life issues alone and in a country where I don't know anyone. There were challenges that I had to overcome, and that helped change my perspective and outlook on a lot of things. Whether it be different people, different socioeconomic statuses, and then with growth, comes change. So I can see that I've also grown quite a bit. I've learned to adapt between different cultures, especially when it comes to mannerism and behaviors like in the West versus the east, sometimes they contradict themselves. So I've learned to adapt very well when it comes to people and different cultures."
So what motivated you to pursue activism and can you speak a little bit about what you do in that field?
"Growing up as a Muslim Arab in Canada, 9/11 wasn't very easy, especially when you're a Muslim female, you're more visible. I always felt I wasn't entirely Arabic and not entirely Canadian. Yet, I faced quite a bit of Islamophobia. It was my personal experiences that led me to use my existing fashion social media platform to combat Islamophobia and racism through social media experiments and raising awareness. Then in 2014, after beating cancer and witnessing the war in Libya, I decided to use my social media to fight media narratives. So I was using my platform to give a voice to those who have been silenced by the media. I've traveled to the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, the Afghan camps in Pakistan, the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, not just to distribute aid, but more importantly, it was to sit down with the war victims and the refugees and listen to their stories, and then take that and share it with the world. What the truth is. Because I learned that if you want to learn something about a country, a culture of people or religion, whatever it is, you never believe anyone else's opinion, you have to go there and first and experience it firsthand. And that's what led me to join because of my activism. So the humanitarian work and then raising awareness about the truth of what's happening."
We're going to take a step back and talk about when you were a student. What's been the biggest challenge for you as a student? Or have you experienced any hardship during your schooling?
"For me, it was fighting cancer while studying and working full time. I found it very hard to balance everything and especially with trying to keep a healthy positive mindset and when I had the isolation or you know, the uncertainty of the unknown. Also, there was financial pressure and having to go on OSAP which made it quite difficult as well. So overcoming all of this was very difficult. Therapy is one thing that helped me learn coping mechanisms, how to manage the stress, how to organize myself a little bit more, and make sure that I include a bit of self-care as well. That’s why mental health is very important for me because that's what helped me balance everything and keep everything in check."
Yeah, I mean, balancing school and work or just life, in general, is a mission on its own, and then add cancer to that equation would make anything else in your life more difficult. So kudos to you for coming through and coming out the other side stronger. What's been your greatest success or achievement in either school or life?
"I think overcoming cancer, you know, it's all about luck, but it's going through it and trying to remain positive. That was the hard part. That was an achievement for sure because it's all about the mindsets. Also, coming from the background that I come from is one of my greatest achievements and my independence and financial freedom that I created for myself. Dreams like I remember, I wanted to be a model, I got to do. Also, that sense of community where we were going through things collectively and I got to experience that. So that was also a sense of success for me."
According to you, what’s the importance of education and school?
"So for me, I feel like school is an institution or system that prepares people to work. But education is something that could be self-taught. For example, I taught myself how to code and use automation systems simply through YouTube, which kickstarted my marketing degree and experience. So education can be through lectures, through books, or even through life experience. There is an education in schools, but to get an education, it doesn't necessarily have to be confined in a school setting."
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a student today?
"To be honest, I'm not even entirely sure. I think from what I'm seeing on social media students today are quite confused. And there's quite a lot of politics and capitalism that has gotten in the way of their education. So from what I see in the city, what I see on social media, I think the next few years they might be struggling and especially with what's happening with COVID right now. I feel like students will need a lot more help outside the schools. For example, a lot of friends are seeking out tutoring more for their children. Because what's happening in the schools, you know,
reducing the sizes, increasing the sizes. It's just disrupting the kid's education."
Any words of advice or inspiration for young learning minds?
"If you see that someone else was capable of doing something, then you can too. Nothing is stopping you. It's all about just making the effort, having the discipline, and then figuring out the steps of how to get there."