Sameena Arif and Family

Single mother from Pakistan creates a new life in Alberta for her family

Sameena Arif and Family

A safe, friendly environment with an excellent education system for her children – that's what Sameena Arif, a teacher from Islamabaad, Pakistan, was looking for when she chose to immigrate to Canada in 2004. She found what she hoped for in Calgary, Alberta and gives the city top marks in other areas as well.

"There are many opportunities for people in Alberta and it's a great place to live," said Sameena, who heard about Calgary from her uncle. "The people are very friendly, and the school system is excellent. I've traveled a lot and I've been to the United States as well, but for me, the decision to live in Alberta was an easy one."

The first time Sameena and her family came to Canada was in 2002 to visit friends in Toronto. A year later, they visited Calgary for a month to get a taste of the western part of the country. The family returned to Pakistan for about a year, during which time Sameena and her husband divorced. In 2004, Sameena felt it was time to make a fresh start and moved to Calgary with her children.

In some ways, Canada is similar to Pakistan. The land is very green and beautiful, with mountains and lakes. But for Sameena, the things that make the countries different are what concerned her most. "In Pakistan, to be able to live the kind of lifestyle we are living now and for my children to have the kind of education they have now, I would probably have to work five jobs," explained Sameena, whose children are now 15, 12 and seven.

Safety was also an issue. In Islamabaad, the capital of Pakistan, Sameena says she often worried about her children. "It's scary when you have to worry that when your children leave the house they may not come back. Here in Alberta, it's very reassuring to know my family is safe."

Deciding to make the move to Alberta was also a chance for Sameena to become an independent woman – something she very much wanted to be. When she came to Alberta, she was 31 years old. "In my culture some people consider a woman's life to be over when she turns 30, especially if the woman had her children at a young age like I did," explained Sameena. "One of the best things about moving to Alberta is that I feel like my life is just beginning." She laughs about how some Albertans referred to her as "kiddo" when she first came to Calgary. "I loved that!" she said.

But while coming to Alberta as a single woman made her feel strong and independent, it also made her feel nervous and stressed much of the time. Sameena credits the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association for helping her make the transition smoothly. "I was looking on the Internet one night and came across the association's website. With their help, I received counseling services, and advice about government services that could help me. Everyone has been very supportive," she said.

Sameena encourage people from other countries to consider immigrating to Alberta because of all the province has to offer. With a bachelor's degree in arts majoring in education, Sameena would like to get a job teaching English to adult immigrants as a way to give back to the system that helped her create a new life for her family. "A language barrier can be a major challenge for someone moving to a new country. I'm relieved I didn't have that obstacle to overcome but if I can help make the process easier for someone else, I would love to help," she said.