Updated: Jul 13, 2022
Smile, and the world smiles back at you
Brilliant interviewed spritely Sukaina Dada on her very bold quest to change the world. Sukaina is the Founder and Executive Director of SMILE Canada. SMILE is a registered charity organisation on a mission to provide support to racialised children and youth with disabilities and their families.
Let's hear why Sukaina smiles all the time and what she chooses to challenge
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Sukaina but most people know me as Sakina. I’m a brown-skinned, visibly Muslim woman on a quest to change the world. While I know that probably sounds cliché, my parents constantly (and I mean constantly) told me I could do and be whatever I wanted. My dad especially taught me that it didn’t matter if I am tiny – I am approximately 5 ft tall – or that I wear Hijab, or that I am a woman of colour, my voice could be heard, and I could make a difference. And that is exactly what I am attempting to do.
Since I was young, I was bothered by the inequities in society, especially in healthcare, education, and accessing social services. After completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, I went on to do my masters at McMaster University to become a pediatric occupational therapist. I then founded SMILE Canada Support Services, a registered Canadian charity that supports racialised children and youth with disabilities and their families.
Sukaina Dada founded SMILE, an organization on a mission to provide support
to children and youth with disabilities and their families.
In 2017, after three moves and two kids, I decided to pursue a PhD in Critical Disability Studies in the School of Health Policy and Management at York University to continue my quest to, “change the system.” My research focuses on the disablement and displacement of Syrian refugees in Canada. I explore concepts of structural violence, intersectional oppressions, and erasure of identities to approach and challenge the dominant narrative … you know the one, that we are “all in this together.”
Some of the services that SMILE provides include
Pairing families and caregivers with a parent coach who has a background in speech, language or applied behaviour analysis (ABA) to address a challenged child's needs
Financial assistance in the form of scholarships to families who are in need of therapy, respite services, and adaptive equipment.
Identify the needs of children, youth and their families and then connecting them with various government and private resources within the community to help access funding, respite, therapy, and other supports.
Events, sports activities, workshops and lectures to create awareness and inclusion.
One to one mentorship for academic and friendly support.
As a busy woman, how do you combine work and home life?
The pandemic complicates this question as it probably does for all parents who are working from home while their kids are at school – also at home. Being in graduate school, working full time and trying to be a good mom takes a lot of creativity. I must prioritise my time and that may mean my house is a mess or we are having pizza (yet again).
The way I see it, I want my kids to pursue their passions, be the best versions of themselves, and to know they can challenge the system. For me, this means they can watch mama work overtime, head deep in books while drinking way too much coffee to be able to get through the day. Change does not happen overnight. We have to keep at it. But I also want them to know they are the most important beings in my life, which means spending lots of quality and messy time with them. Since we have a limited number of hours during the day, I may use my time to paint or build blocks rather than fold laundry. I am okay with that!
Outside of work what are some of your interests?
While I definitely don’t consider myself athletic, I love the outdoors. I love going for hikes and exploring nature trails with my family and friends. I’ve taken up paddle boarding and biking and I LOVE to travel and explore different cities and learn about different cultures and ways of life. In my 10+ years of marriage, Imraan – my amazing husband and partner – has made my dreams of visiting the Alhambra and the Vatican come true. While we may not be able to travel for some time, we often make a list of places we would like to visit one day. That list is enough to put a huge smile on my face.
Has the COVID-19 Pandemic affected you in any way? What did you do differently to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 has affected me mostly by being away from my family and friends. While I’m not a social butterfly, my cousins are my best friends and being away from them for so long has taken its toll. But I acknowledge my privilege and that I have been okay. I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge and I know that’s not the case for everyone. So, to get me through this, I’m trying to count my lucky stars and fuel my desire to change a system. If anything, this pandemic has highlighted the disparities amongst populations. No, we are NOT all in this together.
Where would you like to be in 12 months?
For starters, on a beach with my husband and my babies … somewhere … anywhere! I’m allergic (not literally) to the cold weather. Jokes aside, in 12 months I want to be in a COVID-19-free world. I want to hug my family, hang out with my friends, and high-five random people on the street and celebrate life.
I also want to complete my PhD, so I can figure out my next move.
If you were down to your last $20 what/who would you spend it on?
I’m not sure if I would spend it the right way, but I probably would buy coffee for myself and donuts for my kids. I would also somehow find a way to use those last dollars to connect to my sisters, Fatema and Akila. They are my lifeline.
Find out more about SMILE: smilecan.org
Support children with disabilities in the community: www.smilecan.org/donate
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