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Leaving Tanzania with my parents and sister was meant to better our lives. My father, a professional accountant, and my wonderful mom, with a pocketful of hopes and dreams, came to Canada to begin a new life. I was a teen, felt ready for anything, and confident in my family.
I remember when it first hit me that our dreams were to be tempered by realities that we had little control over. In high school, I wanted to join my school’s volleyball team. My dad looked up from the consent form, saying, “I will gladly sign, but I do not have the $20 they require”. I was not angry, or sad; I just wanted to help. So I got a job delivering paper, without a bike, proper shoes or gloves, walking my route in all weathers.
Despite my father’s experience, he could not find a job, as his experience was not accepted in Canada; my mother had no work experience and did not speak English. Suddenly, my father collapsed, unconscious from oral complications, and had to receive an emergency root canal that strained our budget and savings. I got another paper round, this time with my mom, dad and sister helping. Along the route, my parents would collect cans from people’s recycle bins, to recycle them for change. Seeing how helpless my parents were, I sought employment, to the detriment of my studies. I often thought back on how in Tanzania I had always been a top student.
Finally, my father got a night-shift gas station job. Still, he was unable to complete equivalency courses, as the money was not enough. While he never openly expressed his sense of helplessness, his eyes spoke volumes.
Nothing could prepare us for the accident in December of ’97. My mother and sister had been grocery shopping. As they were crossing at a crosswalk, a speeding car hit them. My father and I were at home when the police called, but could not get to them quickly as we had no car. A neighbor drove us to the scene of the accident, but all we could do was watch as my mother and sister were driven away in an ambulance. At the hospital, even through her pain, my mother lamented the groceries she had lost. It would be two years before she could walk on her own.
My two part-time jobs brought in enough money to get our first computer and put a down payment on a used car. I entered college optimistic, but shortly thereafter, my uncle died, leaving my mother devastated. Her health deteriorated and she developed a cyst in her stomach. For the next two years, I was by her side, taking her to every appointment. My mother’s parents passing, and four other family members dying shortly thereafter, added to my mother’s trials. While Canadian healthcare is free, medications are not, and the cost was significant.
For my part, all of my efforts to try to keep my family afloat financially forced me to drop out of college due to poor academic performance. The material was not beyond me; I simply could not focus and lacked the time to do justice by my work and abilities. I adamantly attended classes unofficially, studied for the DAT, and volunteered at dental clinics.
Today, my father is 61, works 12 hours a day, seven days a week as a gas station cashier. Five years ago, my mother got a job as a line cook for Triple-O’s restaurant, the irony being that we are a vegetarian family. I worked my way up in retail management until I finally became a DAT instructor for Kaplan. Simultaneously, I attended school, volunteered as a coach, in the ER and dental clinics, building my exposure.
I have always prided myself in being self-sufficient, but can see no way forward without your kind consideration of my circumstances, the Herculean effort I have put into the pursuit of my dreams, and the at times painful steps that have led to this point. I respect a hard day’s work, know the worth of a penny, know what hardship and sacrifice are and most importantly, know what family is.
I never saw myself as “disadvantaged”, but appreciate institutions looking beyond a student’s academic achievements and proportionate consideration of life achievements. If applying as a “disadvantaged” student gives my application an additional two minutes of the committee’s time then I am two minutes closer to achieving my dream. I realize my dedication to my goals and how I can further help my parents, society, and myself as a dentist. I would like to give my parents their much-deserved retirement before they are incapable of enjoying it mentally and physically.
Thank you for your time and consideration.