Imagine arriving alone in a foreign country thousands of miles from your home in Bangladesh – just 22 years old, a refugee with limited English and no money.
That was the reality for Towhid Noman when he arrived in London, Ont., in 1983. Eventually, he was able to attend Western and complete a degree in math and statistics. As a student, he supported himself by working at two jobs 35 hours every weekend. The extra money enabled him to support his siblings as they too emigrated and got an education. He spent much of his scarce free time helping others in his immigrant community.
Noman went on to complete teacher training at the University of Windsor and then joined the Toronto District School Board in 1994, where he is now a special needs teacher. The habit of volunteering with his community continued in the larger south Asian community of Toronto. Noman gives generously of his time as a tutor, counsellor, mentor, advocate and organizer with a variety of social service and immigrant settlement organizations. “Since I struggled myself, I always felt that the next generation of immigrants should not struggle,” he says. “Coming from Bangladesh I have seen how people in developing countries suffer every day. My heart cries, and I feel that I should be involved.”
Recognizing unmet needs in his community, Noman launched the Ontario Bangladeshi Educators Community Support Service in 2005, and the Canadian Bangladeshi Parents Advisory Council in 2010. He has published a book explaining the Canadian educational system to south Asian parents and written hundreds of articles on social issues relevant to his community. He conducts several workshops each year and offers one-on-one counselling on a daily basis. He is often called upon to provide a bridge between the cultures of south Asia and Canada, and foster mutual understanding. Two of the four levels of his family home in east Toronto are devoted to office and counselling space and a community resource centre.
Among the many young people Noman has mentored is Araf Khaled, who won the prestigious TD Canada Trust Community Leadership Scholarship in 2011. “The community is highly indebted to this great dynamo,” says Khaled. “His vision has transformed the lives of thousands and I have no doubt that his spirit, charisma and talent will continue to make a great difference.”
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