THE BLOG

Q&A With an Extraordinary Canadian

10/01/2012 03:28 EDT | Updated 12/01/2012 05:12 EST

Diana Alli is one of the many distinguished Canadians being honoured with the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal this year. She shares her unique experience as an immigrant and shares news about the volunteer work she is pursing now that she has retired from the University of Toronto after four decades.

Congratulations on earning the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal. It must have been wonderful to have been nominated by medical student -- Jemy Joseph -- an inspiring young leader in her own right.

It was a humbling experience to be nominated by Jemy Joseph, a Faculty of Medicine graduate student and a medical student at the University of Ottawa. She worked diligently to gather supporting letters from the Dean and Vice Dean of the University of Toronto Medical School, past Co-director of the largest University of Toronto International Health Program club, as well as a letter from the President of the NDP (New Democratic Party) Etobicoke Lakeshore Riding. My nomination was then sent to MP Olivia Chow's Office.

Coincidentally, Hon. David Onley, the Lft. Governor of Ontario announced that the Queen's Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal would be awarded to over 600 members of the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario residing in Ontario.I received my Order of Ontario in 2005.

Share with us your Canadian (immigrants) journey.

It has been a circuitous journey for me, leaving Mumbai India to London, UK in my early teens with a dream of completing medical school some day. Unfortunately close to reaching this first milestone, I lost my dad and brother in two separate tragedies, a fire and train accident six months apart. Economic constraints forced me to support my mother and 10-year-old sister at that time.

I grew up a staunch Catholic girl to two loving parents who nurtured me with strong moral values, yet instilled in me the importance of equality and compassion. Little did I know that from tragic beginnings that my upbringing would prepare me for the world ahead -- marrying a Muslim.

Although I stayed loyal to my Catholic faith, I was embracing all other faiths and cultures preparing me for a great journey. Instead, I chose to follow my next pursuit of marrying, starting a family and subsequently moving to Georgetown, Guyana, where we began a jewelry business.

We left Guyana with $50 each to start life all over again. This was some 38 years ago and Canada and medical school in an administrative role became home. Along the way I was forced into life as a single parent with three young children. Today I am proud to claim that they lead fulfilling lives and have families of their own, each of them making their own choices marrying into other cultures -- Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths.

Today, I am happily a grandmother of nine beautiful grandchildren, one just about to embark on a university education at Western Ontario.

You recently left the University of Toronto medical school after serving 38 long years. Tell us about that?

Although I have held a distinguished career, good health and energy have prompted me to retire as of June 30 after 38 wonderful years. This will pave the way to continue my passions of reaching out to children and families in parts of the world facing severe global poverty. Although I cannot singularly save every child, I believe that we can in solidarity bring hope and empower children all around the world.

You've held diverse senior titles such as Admissions, Awards and Financial Aid as well as advocacy roles. Those must have been very fulfilling experiences.

It certainly has been an honour to have held these distinguished roles serving over 8,000 students in medical school, many of whom are leaders in health care in our country and beyond. In these unique roles I have enjoyed getting to meet amazing faculty, staff, and students each who hold pride in serving the best interest of our students in education, leadership, advocacy and social responsibility. A main thrust that reaps rewards is witnessing our students care for the needs of their peers, community and patients.

Some of our students at some point or another could barely make it financially through university. It is certainly gratifying that the University affirms its priority that "no student offered admission to a program at U of T should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means." The past six years as Senior Officer has become a vocation rather than a job, opening many doors to serve not only my medical students, elementary, middle and high school students here in Canada but our global community through community outreach and partnerships as part of Service Learning (reflecting on the experiences).

While at the University of Toronto, you were elected as a member of the Governing Council.

My gurus and heroes are Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, to name a few; our freedom fighters who fought for social justice, integrity and dignity for their people. I believe that as a governor and as a member serving other boards, we have a responsibility to the organization as a whole.

What I found rewarding and enriching was a key mission to ensure that all students, faculty and staff are provided a wealth of opportunities to enhance their experience. I have made it my priority to serve on Boards which ensured that the clientele and communities we serve are warmly embraced and supported.

Tell us about your upcoming trip to South Africa and the very inspiring work you have been involved in over the years?

As a former member of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund Canada, I am excited to have recently founded Access Empowerment Council with my son-in-law, former CEO and President of the Aga Khan Council in Tanzania. The objective is to deliver programs, in partnership with other great institutions across the globe, to our Youth, who may otherwise be described as disengaged.

My goal is to work with medical schools, colleges and Universities in Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa where a former partner, who is nationalizing Visions of Science, and I, with years of successful mentoring initiatives, will reach out to children and youth.

For the many immigrants who may want to emulate such a fulfilled and inspired Canadian journey such as yours, what is your advice?

This is one of my daily mantras from a quote by William Penn: "I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again." Although trials and tribulations have greeted me along my life past and possibly many hurdles await my future, I am reminded of a saying -- enjoy the ride and don't worry about the bumps.

Take advantage of every opportunity -- both personal and professional.