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Alberta Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani visit New Myrnam School

Lakhani’s foremost message to students was the importance of education, an opportunity lost to many youths around the globe.

MYRNAM – Alberta’s highest-ranking officer, Alberta Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani, paid New Myrnam School a visit on Sept. 28. 

The visit came after New Myrnam School received the Alberta Emerald Award in the Youth category earlier this year, where Lakhani was a guest, recalled the school’s principal Danielle Eriksen. New Myrnam School won the award due to its energy and environmental sustainability projects that has been going on for the last six years. 

After the Alberta Emerald Award ceremony, Eriksen said Lakhani met with the students who won the award. 

At the time, the school also made it to the Top 10 shortlist of the World’s Best School Prize for the Environmental Action Category by T4 Education. When the school reached out to Lakhani’s office about the achievement, and invited her to visit, the Lieutenant Governor responded to the invitation – eager to personally witness the school’s projects and talk to its students. 

Lakhani’s foremost message to students was the importance of education, an opportunity lost to many youths around the globe. An opportunity also denied to women in other nations. So, education, according to Lakhani, is something that no one can take away. 

Lakhani, an Ismaili Muslim, was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda located in East Africa where she attended Aga Khan School. She then pursued post-secondary education in England at the University of Manchester, studying Clinical Biochemistry. 

In 1972, following the 1971 Ugandan coup d'état, Idi Amin Dada Oumee who served as the president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, ordered the expulsion of South Asians from the country. 

They were given 90 days to leave, having lost “everything” aside from items they can fit in “a small suitcase,” recalled Lakhani. Her parents asked her to return to England with her Ugandan passport, becoming a stateless person. 

Without funds and a valid passport, Lakhani could not continue her education. She and her future husband, Zaheer Lakhani, then learned their tuition would be covered by the British government. This allowed the couple to complete their degrees before marrying in 1977. 

They then moved to Canada when the University of Alberta accepted Zaheer’s application to resume his postgraduate studies in Edmonton. “When we came here, I was not allowed to practice my profession,” said Salma, explaining it was because her husband was given a student’s visa, and she was given a visitor’s visa. 

“It took us almost five years to get our residency status,” she said, adding while she was not allowed to work, “That’s how I became a community volunteer... [and] worked with organizations whose values aligned with mine.” Salma said she has always worked as a grassroots-level volunteer, “because all the work goes on at the grassroots level.” 

Zaheer became a cardiologist and Salma helped to manage his practice, in addition to her operating a business focused on childhood education. Since then, she worked in many opportunities to help others in need. 

In 2005, Lakhani received the Alberta Centennial Media, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. Then she became Alberta’s 19th lieutenant-governor in August 2020. 

She then explained her roles and duties to the students, before urging them to keep studying.  

“Education is one of your most precious gifts, and whatever happens, nobody can take away what’s in your head,” she said. 

When asked by an elementary-grade student if she will visit other schools, Lakhani said she will try, and “Who knows, before I finish, I’ll come back to Myrnam.” 

“Are you gonna come back?” asked the girl again, seemingly pleading. 

“Yes, I will come back,” said Lakhani and the girl responded with a, “Yay!” Much to the glee and laughter of all those present. Lakhani then proceeded to tour the school and the projects with equally eager students. 

Principal Eriksen said she is grateful that Lakhani was willing to speak and shake hands with students. “And I really appreciated her message of education being one thing that no one can take away from you,” said Eriksen. 

“I think it’s going to be something that sits with the kids for a long time.” 

Mario Cabradilla

About the Author: Mario Cabradilla

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