The Pandemic in SAVEC Illustrations
SAVEC recognizes the important role storytelling has in fostering healthy communities. With this understanding, we launched “The Pandemic in SAVEC Illustrations,” a three-month long campaign that explores complex issues faced by South Asians. Each month has a specific theme. For January, the focus is on “Overcoming Hate and Discrimination” – a powerful subject to depict the struggles of volunteers and outreach workers. For February, the theme is “Loss During Uncertain Times” and is centered on the lives that were irrevocably changed by the last year. The campaign will wrap up with “Youth & Education” in March to coincide with the last semester of school. Through these illustrations we see and feel the diverse experiences of people living across Toronto.
“Those first months in Thorncliffe Park prove that even if I didn’t believe in myself there were always people who did and that made all the difference.”
I feel caught between two worlds: never South Asian enough to belong to my parent’s homeland, yet not entirely Canadian. Despite wanting to feel fully accepted in Canada, I would be lying if I said I do.
As my family moved from province to province in the pursuit of becoming financially stable, we were sometimes met with great distaste. Although I have met many accepting people since, the sting of being told to leave the only country I know never really heals.
My identity was a huge source of insecurity and eventually it became the source of my crippling social anxiety. As my anxieties built, my family decided to move from Manitoba to Ontario. The place they chose to relocate to was Thorncliffe Park in Toronto. I owe a lot to this community.
When I think of what empowers me despite the obvious struggles, my support system is always what comes to mind. It is my family letting me know how much they believe in me. The friends that support me. The trust I receive from teachers and community leaders, who openly nurture the potential they see in me. Those first months in Thorncliffe Park prove that even if I didn’t believe in myself there were always people who did and that made all the difference.
When the pandemic hit, I somehow stumbled on the opportunity to lead the Youth of East York – a youth-led organization working to empower youth success within the diverse communities of Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park. With reassurance from my support system, the self-doubt I feel at the prospect of doing something so outside my comfort zone disappears.
Starting an organization during the pandemic and as someone who has faced so many challenges due to discrimination and biases in this society was frightening. It was difficult to get engagement from youth and for them to participate in the events I planned. Admittedly, taking the lead and managing a completely online organization was a challenge.
Even as I write this today, the hints of doubt that almost made me leave this mission incomplete were left completely to ruin as I recalled the people I consider my home, their support allowing me to feel the fear and do it anyway.
As any other story, I’ll end this off with a moral: Dear reader, surround yourself with people that make you a better person, a stronger person, a braver version of yourself.
OVERCOMING HATE & DISCRIMINATION
My name is Ahsen and I work with Bangladeshi-Canadian Community Services.
During my work in pop-up vaccine clinics, I have experienced a lot of hate. Pandemic has been very hard on so many of us, and I want this process to be over just like many.
My parents got COVID-19 and ended up in the hospital. I haven’t seen them in more than two years, and I live in a tiny room all by myself. That is why I got vaccinated as soon as possible and wanted everyone else to be vaccinated with me. However, the doubt and the hate I received were undeniable. People have been going out of their way to say something mean or make us feel uneasy.
So, they try everything to make us question our work. All I do is offer people a chance to register for vaccination or hand out flyers to give more information. I am not forcing anyone. I am not even trying to convince them. All I am trying to do is make it easier for people to get vaccinated if they want to. But when a person comes near you and calls you a murderer out of nowhere, it really gets you down.
I was asked: What if someone I gave a flyer to was killed because of the vaccine? Would I feel guilty? At that moment, there isn’t much I can say to convince him that I’m not murdering anyone. Pandemic has been incredibly difficult, primarily because of the misinformation and how fast it spreads. Seeing so many people being misinformed is heartbreaking as a person who has already struggled to maintain strong mental health. However, I do believe that we will survive this. The only way to be alright is to keep fighting.
“Many have lost their lives, lost loved ones, properties, businesses, jobs and the basics of a social life. I, personally, lost my only source of income at the height of the pandemic.”
LOSS DURING UNCERTAIN TIMES
Pandemic – a word we had only heard of in movies or books. Never having actually experienced it in this day in age, with the great advancement in science and medicine, a pandemic never seemed to be reality until 2019.
Fast forward a couple of years later and the world still hasn’t gotten out of it. Many have lost their lives, lost loved ones, properties, businesses, jobs and the basics of a social life. I, personally, lost my only source of income at the height of the pandemic. May of 2021 was one of the hardest months for me. I lost my only source of income during the second lockdown Toronto has seen. Life became a bit more challenging after that. I had just moved into a new apartment and rent was due in a week, along with insurance, groceries and bills. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I had to do something to change the situation.
All these challenges were not helping my mental health, which was already at a low because of the pandemic. I started to apply to jobs online rigorously and cold calling companies for interviews. I considered going door-to-door to hand out my resume but decided not to because of the lockdown. About a day later, I got a call from one of my friends who proceeded to tell me that his company was organizing a mass hiring event. He put in a good word for me and asked if that was something I would be interested in. I knew that my situation required a platform to pick myself up and dust myself off and try again, so I decided to take the opportunity.
That opportunity now has opened doors for me I didn’t know existed, showed me skills I did not know I had and helped me make connections I didn’t know I needed. A complete 180. In conclusion, the pandemic may seem to be a scary and harsh reality, but there are some blessings in there and hidden opportunities, if one only has the bravery to go and seek it. Life puts you down at times but it’s also there to pick you up in a flash. We just never have to give up.
LOSS DURING UNCERTAIN TIMES
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a unique experience for everyone in the world. Unique to businesses, corporate, and human beings. There was a lot of learning for everyone during these times, and unfortunately, a time of sorrow for those who lost their loved ones.
Luckily, my family and I are protected from the COVID-19 virus and its variants so far. We all follow all government restrictions, take all necessary doses of vaccine, and watch regular updates from the City of Toronto. I have a limited time of 30 minutes everyday to watch the news and get updated. We all take all the necessary precautions to stay protected such as washing hands regularly, and keeping sanitizer in our bags while going out. While it is hard to socialize with family and friends due to the pandemic we came up with safe ways to stay connected. Instead of gathering friends and relatives at home for socializing, we all decided to do video calls at least once in a month. We also share snaps of past gatherings, and playing ANTAKSHRI (song game) on video call.
We lost many relatives in India. We regularly call them to give sympathy. We are also in close contact with our families and friends via video call and text messages. Whenever needed, we also help them financially.
I am a positive person and I can only share the positive things I see due to the pandemic. I have no negative things to share. I find online learning a good resource. I think people have saved a lot of money on transportation,clothing, footwear, make-up, etc. due to people working from home, and I find that the time that was wasted in transportation while going to work is now being utilized well for people. I see a lot of opportunities for a better future and think that we will use our resources more wisely. For instance, If online learning and work from home is taken positively, then a lot of school and office space will be saved and be used for some better initiatives. I also think that for me and anyone else who lost loved ones from the virus learnt lessons to live their life fully, King Size, as we only have one life.
“I attend school every day but I can’t get a feel of that environment. I cannot relate to my teachers as well as I could in-person and I can’t make any healthy social relations with my peers and teachers. All these things extremely affect my mental health.”
YOUTH & EDUCATION
The pandemic was a difficult time for me as a youth. The mandatory precautions by the government to stop the spread of the virus became major barriers in my life.
My family was planning a vacation trip for the summer of 2020 and I was looking forward to it. We were going to go on vacation to another country and explore after a very long time. Unfortunately, that trip got canceled due to the lockdown situation. At the start of the pandemic, I was hopeful and thought things would start getting better soon. But every time life started returning back to normal a variant would come and the lockdown situation would begin again.
I have done school completely online for the past two grades which has resulted in more screen time for me. I want to go outside in the sun and have fun and breathe freely but I, as well as my family, are too afraid to go out without a really good reason or need. There are so many things I want to do, people I want to meet, places I want to explore, but I can’t do any of that. I can’t go shopping freely like I used to due to the restrictions, I cannot meet up with all my friends as we can’t get used to talking to each other while being six feet away, and even if we did where are we supposed to meet and make sure we are safe? I attend school every day but I can’t get a feel of that environment. I cannot relate to my teachers as well as I could in-person and I can’t make any healthy social relations with my peers and teachers.
All these things extremely affect my mental health. It is like I have nothing exciting or worthwhile going on in my life. I sleep, study, eat, and stay on my devices.
YOUTH & EDUCATION
Hello. My name is Hassan and I am a Social Work Educator.
Today I am going to tell my story about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on my profession. When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, I found students were stressed, anxious, isolated, and sometimes overwhelmed with all the COVID related information. Students had to join virtual learning. There was no other option for them. In this context it was very stressful to support and work with students. What I did was I reflected on my teaching style. I am very compassionate about students and their well-being so I was trying to be more mindful. I kept questioning myself about how I could provide the best support to my students.
We know that during this COVID-19 pandemic we are all in the same ocean but not on the same boat. Many students are facing many different barriers, and especially my students. Many children were working part time and studying so I considered this entire perspective. What I did is I started listening to how my students feel and how COVID is impacting them. I was trying to check their wellness at the beginning of each class and how they dealt with isolation, how they dealt with pressure, stress, and especially academic stress. So, we had a discussion in each class and planned how to move ahead, week by week. We discussed how we can cope, plan, work together, and support each other.
I found teaching with compassion and offering solidarity and empathy was very helpful. It helped our students to be resilient, to fight against COVID, and achieve their academic goals.