Smiles and Stories: Thoughtful Asma Patel

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Standing the middle of Safeway waiting for my green tea Frappuccino from the Starbucks stand, I was startled by an enthusiastic “Hey!” coming from behind me. Asma, a friendly face from Semiahmoo House Society was approaching me wearing a giant grin. I was surprised that she remembered me, a new summer student, who had shared few interactions with her up until this point. We got into a friendly discussion about chocolate and laughed about our shared inability to stop eating once we’ve started. Through our brief conversation, Asma’s sense of humour, wit and gentle demeanour not only encouraged me to understand her story but made me eager to become her friend.

She began sharing with me her excitement for a new program she is beginning at Kwantlen Polytechnic University this fall and asked me for tips on where to get the perfect backpack after complimenting my blue floral Herschel bag. Considering we are both starting university programs for the first time this September, it was comforting for me to see that Asma shared in both my anticipation and anxiety. However, unlike me, Asma was able to confidently explain her intentions going forward with her education. She explained that she wants to be a voice of hope and encouragement for individuals in university with developmental disabilities. Her goal is to create a group for support on campus where students with disabilities can gather, share their experiences and create new ones together. When I questioned Asma about why she was so passionate about creating a group like this, her response brought tears to my eyes.

“Some people with disabilities are just ignored completely”, she said. “I have an intellectual disability so people treat me normally because they don’t know”; however, she went on to predict that if her disability was visible then “people would act completely differently” and she would “likely be ignored too.”

I was in awe of Asma’s strength, compassion, and ability to recognize the nuances in the treatment of individuals with developmental disabilities. She again reminded me of the reason I wanted to start this blog series. Through her words, it is evident that there is a need for the growth of shared understanding to work towards an inclusive society. I have identified many areas in my personal life and daily interactions where I could attempt to reach a better understanding of others. After naturally developing a friendship with Asma, I think it’s important to let go of the idea that an attempt to include and understand others is charity or altruism. I believe instead, we should make tolerance, acceptance, inclusion and the desire for unity, the updated “status quo” for what we deem human nature.  Instead of agreeing that its human nature to betray, contradict, neglect or ignore, let’s deem it human nature to unite, support, understand and include.

By Jenna Sangha, The Semiahmoo Foundation

UNITI is the partnership of three affiliated societies that have provided important community services for decades. Semiahmoo House Society provides quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in Surrey and White Rock. Peninsula Estates Housing Society provides affordable and inclusive housing that reflects the diversity of our community. The Semiahmoo Foundation assures that UNITI has the recognition, relationships and resources to support an inclusive community. Together we’re stronger!

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