What Being a Member of a Diaspora Taught Me

By: Rabiya Asad, Marketing Fellow at Addis Ideas

Citizenship is a word that is not limited to the borders of a country. Even as we migrate to other countries, we have a duty to give back to our roots. And if you are like me, a member of the diaspora whose birthplace is heavily affected by economic instability, not only do you have a responsibility to contribute to development efforts in your country of origin, but you are also placed in a special position to do so.

I remember the first time I went back to Pakistan for a family visit after having immigrated to Canada. Aside from the heat and humidity that struck me as being different from the cold Canadian temperatures, it was the poverty that surrounded me that shook me to my core. At every red light, a little kid would run over to our car and try to clean our windshield or sell us some snacks in hopes of earning money. When we arrived at my grandparent’s house, there too, a little boy aged 10 or 11, ran over to grab our luggage and welcomed us in. As the days went on, I saw him run around and do household chores while the rest of my cousins went to school and spent time with friends. I need not worry, I was told, as his family was well paid for the work our little domestic helper did for us.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of the huge differences in economic classes that had struck me; it was the fact that I had forgotten all about them. It was the fact that so many Pakistani citizens had forgotten about them. As a society, we had accepted that child labor and poverty were okay. And not only had we internalized these concepts, we had taken part in furthering the cycle of child labor and poverty by hiring children for work instead of empowering them with education, and the tools they needed to lead a successful life.

And then I had a moment of pause. As an immigrant, I had seen the struggles that my parents experienced as they tried to break language barriers and make ends meet in a country that would not always recognize their foreign qualifications. And yet, we still managed to be middle class citizens. As an immigrant family, we went through some rough times, but never so rough that my parents had to imagine taking me out of school. As a member of a visible minority, I faced discrimination every now and then, but for the most part, I was still able to dream about achieving my goals.

The difference between my country of origin and the country I had immigrated to was this: one society had accepted poverty, illiteracy and child labor as the norm. And as a disapora member unaccustomed to pervasive poverty, I could not accept that poverty anywhere in the world was okay and I could not let others do so either.

I don’t speak for other members of the diaspora, but what I can say with confidence is that some of the most brilliant minds in this world are disempowered and left without a voice. When I talked to some of the illiterate children in Pakistan, including those that had been hired by members of my own family to perform domestic chores, I was inspired by the creativity, innovation and thirst of knowledge that was bubbling inside their brains. I didn’t feel sorry for them. I felt sorry for Pakistan and the world at large for having lost out on so much intellectual capital. Who knows, for example, how scientific research for so many uncured diseases could have advanced if every individual in this world had the same opportunity to access education?

As diaspora members, we have to realize the exchange of ideas that can occur between the society we came from and the society we are now a part of, and how this exchange can benefit both societies. We have to be a bridge through which great ideas for scientific, economic and social progress flow. Most importantly, we have to provide platforms for individuals in both societies to communicate their ideas and contribute to the advancement of this world.

It was this realization — that each one of us deserves the opportunity to succeed and contribute to the progress of this world — that inspired me to join Addis Ideas, Africa’s first “ideas engine”. It’s a collaborative work space for African nationals and diaspora members who want to improve their communities. If you are a member of a diaspora, I encourage you to join me in building power within our communities to make this world a better place. The world is in need of more bridges and we are the perfect engineers to construct them.