Arts & Culture(Archives)
Photo by JM Photography
You would be remiss to underestimate Zaid Sulaiman’s soft spokenness, and seemingly taciturn ways. He is capable of envisioning, pitching, executing, and launching major projects, and he does so for the sake of the Wood Buffalo community.
Zaid, 44, is the founder (well, co-founder along with his wife) and president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Fort McMurray (PCA). He has been in town for eight years now, and is already becoming an integral part of the local non-profit, and political scene.
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, Zaid completed his LLB from Islamia Law College in 1998 before securing his masters in economics as an off-campus student. He then joined the Income Tax Department (that’s Pakistan’s CRA, by the way) and then landed the coveted position of becoming an assistant manager for the National Bank of Pakistan.
Things were pretty nice but monotonous in Zaid’s life till he met Nargis, who turned out to be, well, hard to ignore.
“I was attending her sister’s wedding when I saw her,” he shares shyly, with a slight smile.
We had to coax this one out of him. Yes, it was her caring nature that was the reason for the attraction. The duo fell in love, contrary to the then very common arranged marriage route most people followed. He waited another five years to make himself fully established at work, before tying the knot in 1996.
“I had to be able to give her a good life. So I worked hard, and waited to get married.”
The desire for a better future for his family – the couple then had two children – inspired him to apply for the Skilled Workers Program, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada initiative, which allows people to contribute to the Canadian economy based on their professional abilities. Zaid applied as an accountant, and was all set to make either Vancouver or Toronto home – the big cities most Pakistanis, or even non-Canadians have heard about - when his brother-in-law who lives in Fort McMurray asked him to give the town a try.
“I landed in Fort McMurray on February 12, 2005. It was a moment of realizing that I had just arrived in -34C from +34C. I was shocked,” he recalls.
However, the shock subsided soon. His focus on the positive, a major part of his personality, helped him realize that at -22 C - Toronto was not much better either.
“I was ready to work hard, and start from scratch. I had left the position of regional manager for the entire city of Karachi (population 21.2 million as of last year) and found myself working at Mac’s convenience store, whose owner is now a dear friend,” shares Zaid pensively.
Today, he does night audit for the Fort McMurray Hotel Group, and is the payable accountant for AA Accounting, a private company. Despite working two jobs, volunteering is never far from his mind.
And, the zeal to volunteer goes back to his family. His parents and older brother were volunteers. His father was in the Royal Army in London, and when the family moved to Pakistan, Zaid lost his father at two. He has three brothers, one of whom passed away in 2007 due to an accident, and a sister.
His deceased brother, who was a high court lawyer and a community volunteer, helped put together gargantuan cultural events - it was his ideal as well. Six years later, the pain in his voice when talking about him is pretty evident. However, he changes the topic quickly, and we let him.
Locally, he not only runs the PCA, now four years old and about 350 members strong, he also volunteers for the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party of Alberta and is a past vice president of the PC party’s local chapter. Politics is a passion of his, and Zaid can easily see himself running for municipal positions down the road.
It’s hard to believe that Zaid has any free time with two jobs, and a full volunteer portfolio. Nevertheless, he makes every effort to spend weekends with his family, and can often be seen toting his girls around community events. Playing basketball and squash are his other favourite activities.
Last year he won the Citizen Recognition Program - Mayor and Council’s Toast of Champions Award in the Cultural Achievement category.
“It felt very good. The concept was spot on. Promoting culture – both the Pakistani, and in general, is what I’m all about,” he explains.
His children are also following their dad’s footsteps. Hussain, 14, and Hamna, 9 can already be seen helping at PCA’s events. Haniya, 4, will catch up soon. And, lest you think these are small occasions. They are well-attended by Mayor Melissa Blake, and many council members, and see hundreds from the local Pakistani community in attendance. In addition, this year saw Mian Akbar Gul Zeb in attendance, who is the high commissioner of Pakistan for Canada, a major coup for the nascent group.
“Pakistan Canada Association of Fort McMurray’s future is bright. We are planning to have elections soon, and while future leadership may change, PCA’s platform won’t. Multiculturalism is super important. Volunteering is in my genes. But, this is not about me. It’s about Pakistan; and to get Fort McMurray to know us, which they do now. This is about Wood Buffalo’s harmony, and coming together as a community,” he enthused.
We couldn’t agree more!