“Mom, when I grow up, I want to be the leader of the world,” says her four-year old daughter. “And we’ll be her advisors!”, chimed in her two older brothers. “Why not?” encouraged their mom, Tammara.
Indeed, why not? “Out of the mouths of babes” just in time to honour our moms today. Who are our young sages? Tierra (4), Kai (7), Kian (10) are our strivers and our future. They are Canadians who make us proud to be Canadian!
Tammara is one of our #Gals with Grit, a new movement launched this year on International Women’s Day to recognize newcomer professionals who are parents. We share their stories to inspire new newcomers and also leave a legacy for the next generation. You will know them as parents working sometimes at 2 jobs or running their own business while studying, or recently graduated post-secondary in Canada. They are remarkable people, everyday heroes, leaders in their communities, and also potential leaders on the world stage (if not already) as Tierra, our four-year old protégé exclaimed earlier.
We met four years ago while chatting at Eglinton Station waiting for the next train during rush hour. By then Tammara had already been to Canada, twice, the first time at age 6 years when her father did his Masters degree in Environmental Engineering at the University of Manitoba and again at 17 as a York University student. A couple of weeks later I was invited to her home for a very fine and full Indonesian lunch and met her young family – her husband and their two young sons. The “world leader” had not yet arrived. In complete awe of her amazing ability to do it all (studying for her PhD, working full-time, caring for her young family), I wondered who she really was and how she developed this remarkable fortitude, grit as we call it.
Fast forward four years, now a mom of three, with her PhD in Urban Planning, and also a Trudeau scholar, Tammara agreed to participate in our “Gals with Grit” project. Earlier this month, in our first interview, I asked her to describe for us her journey so far:
Tammara, can you please share with us some defining moments and who has made an impact in your life?
“When I was 13 years old, my parents sent me to visit my Great Aunt Irid, my maternal grandmother’s little sister. She is an accomplished public speaker. You see, I was very shy and was absolutely terrified to look her and anyone else for that matter, in the eye. My eyes were always downcast and I kept covering my face with my hands. When I was young, I was bullied and was very self conscious about my appearance, in particular, my weight. I believed someone was always judging me for one thing or another. Those few days with Great Aunt Irid helped me put my hands down and lift my head up and keep my eyes straight ahead, steady and confident.
Then my mother got a job in Winston-Salem, North Carolina so we all moved. This is where the biggest change happened in my life. I was 15 at the time. My amazing American teachers were creative, innovative, and encouraging, which was different from the learning by rote which I was used to doing in Indonesia. I was very polite and was keen to learn, so my teachers helped me thrive and believed in me. I won the “Student of the Year” two years in a row!
I hope to inspire my students at the University of Toronto to believe in their potential, just like my teachers inspired me.
What’s on the radar for you these days?
I wore a hijab on and off after I came to Canada. However, I decided to finally wear my head covering permanently a year after I became a Trudeau scholar in 2014. I felt more confident and less concerned about having to look a certain way to gain approval from others so my hijab felt empowering to me as a scholar. It also often sparks conversation and learning opportunities about the role of Muslim women in academia. Now as an expert in my field, I sit at the table with CEOs and Ministers and I realized that I have opportunities to make a difference.
We need to dispel the stereotypes found in Orientalism and its monolithic framing of diverse Muslim cultures as “ancient”, primarily middle-eastern, and “backward.” As a mother, a muslim and working professional, I believe it is important for me to maintain a balance between the academic and spiritual aspects of my life so that my children continue to believe that women leaders are not unusual. There is no doubt in my children’s minds that a woman could indeed become world leaders.
Well, I know one four-year old who already has her eye on the job! Thanks, Tammara, for sharing your story and being a true “Gal with Grit”. Happy Mother’s Day to you and all Moms around the world!