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Nailyn Rasool helped start a refugee outreach program while an undergraduate - photo by Martin Dee
Nailyn Rasool helped start a refugee outreach program while an undergraduate - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 55 | No. 5 | May 7, 2009

Medicine grad helps others start over

By Daniel Presnell

Nailyn Rasool recalls something her father, a family doctor in Burnaby, told her one night after they helped a recently landed immigrant family with their sick child.

“That was us 30 years ago,” said the elder Dr. Meenaz Rasool, a Ugandan refugee. “When we came to Canada, we were in the same position as those people; we didn’t have money for medication, and we didn’t know where to go for support.”

The events of that night awakened the younger Rasool to a new calling: becoming a doctor, and helping refugees with stories similar to her own family to lead productive, healthy, and meaningful lives in their new communities.

“In medicine we empower people to take responsibility for their health,,” says Rasool, who graduates from the UBC MD undergraduate program this May. “To me, we’re working with refugees to empower individuals not only with health, but with their education, their finances, their self-confidence and identity.”

As an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, she co-founded Learning to Integrate New Cultures Canada, a refugee outreach program that provides resources and mentors to help educate and integrate refugee youth in their new communities. The successful program led her to Ottawa, where she worked with the UN High Commission on Refugees to develop and implement education programs promoting pluralism.

While those experiences have been thrilling, none quite compare with the lessons learned from the young refugees she has worked with in Metro Vancouver. Rasool describes an unproductive tutoring session with a 16-year-old girl from Afghanistan, who had lived most of her life under the Taliban, and was not allowed to go to school. Rasool repeatedly reminded her: all you have to do is study.

“She finally turned to me and said, ‘I don’t know how to study.’ Something as simple as studying was so foreign to her and that is huge when you are trying to advance your education.”

Rasool believes such obstacles, while difficult, can be surmounted. She points to her recent participation in Peace Child International’s 2008 World Youth Congress in Quebec City as proof. The World Youth Congress brings together young adults chosen from over 120 countries on the basis of community service, innovation and leadership.

“It was amazing to discuss the needs of young people from different perspectives, and to work with people at the top of government and non-governmental aid organizations, and with young people who are active in their communities around the world,” says Rasool. “One of the main themes was that change doesn’t come from the top down, it has to come from all levels.”

She admits that on the surface, her focus on medicine and her work with refugees bears little apparent relationship. But to her, it is a perfect encapsulation of the “all levels” approach she champions. She sees tremendous opportunity to fuse her knowledge and experience to further international health development.

In fact, her passion for helping others start over may have exerted some influence on Rasool’s choice to pursue a career in Neurology.

“It is a profession where you really work with the person, because when someone has a neurological illness, you work with them on the medicine, but also their soul—getting them back to where they used to be, and helping them attain a better quality of life.”

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Last reviewed 11-May-2009

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