Categorized | Youth Organization

Is Forming an Alliance Among South Asians Impossible? Not at Canadian Universities

Posted on 03 March 2010 by .

Born in Mississauga and not any exotic place, Sasha Kalra is the President of South Asian Alliance at University of Toronto St. George campus. Studying Political Science and International Relations, Sasha is still struggling with what field to choose: journalism, politics, law, agent for celebrities, or business administration. Talking out loud, Sasha sort of went through elimination process of what professions he does not like, however there are a number of considerations including how good a program is at each university, what parents are recommending, aptitude and of course money.

Free samosas and bar-be-cues attracted Sasha toward South Asian Alliance. Not highly motivated to join SAA, Sasha, initially got involved to embellish his resume. He has learned to work with a team and finds it “fulfilling.” Another advantage is “meeting a lot of new people, I mean, I won’t have met you if it wasn’t for SAA,” Sasha says. As an individual Sasha is funny, intelligent, smart and it is obvious that he knows how to get people engaged otherwise it would have been hard to be the president of SAA.

The first time around, Sasha was unable to run for executive team of SAA because of a class, however as most South Asian organizations, SAA was back to election phase after a semester, and here was the opportunity Sasha had missed earlier.

SAA at St. George has 12 executive members with two presidents. I had to ask why there are two presidents when every country has one president. Sasha joked, well “there is a prime minister and a president.” On his defense he did note that he gets along very well with the co-president of SAA.

In every organization, there are members who are not fully committed and willing to give time that they had promised to other members of the organization. SAA at St. George is no different. However the way to deal with is “we sit them down, we don’t scorn them down, we don’t tell them off, but again if they keep screwing down..we had to cut execs in the past if they do not work in the group or put their weight” says the President.

On the Election Day, 30 to 100 people show up out of a 900 membership list. One of the reasons is “everyone is in the library by themselves and doing their own stuff and then there are 40% international students at our campus.” In spite of the high numbers of international students from South Asia, many international students do not join the South Asian club. Why? “International students, I have noticed, don’t like to join these clubs..they are like I’m in Canada, why would I join a South Asian club, I’ve been in India my whole life. Local kids join because they have no social life, they are lonely.”

Strictly an apolitical body, SAA chose not to join Drop the Fee rally outside Premier Dalton McGunity’s office last Fall. UTSU funds all student clubs. UTSU asked all student bodies to join the rally. An added incentive given to execs of student organizations was to have $5 for every member brought in. Individually Sasha believes that rallies like Drop the Fee exude socialism, and, so he does not support them at an individual level either. “They want the government to fund everything,” he says.

Being an executive of SAA means you have to have a lot of time and energy. Every two weeks, the Alliance aims to do an event whether it is a fund raiser or a skating event.

Doing good things in the community is top priority for SAA. Other than that, the conversation among members of SAA is “God I missed that class, can I have notes from that class.” Focus on education is the top priority of these students.

SAA organizes events like poker. Revenue generated from such games is donated to charity organizations. Of course there are angry people at the end of the poker game, “but everyone is happy at the end because you see your friends’ win and be happy. Then sometimes we have faculty members come play poker with us. It’s kinda funny to watch them lose to their own students.” These charity organizations are local as well as international. They have donated to Canadian Cancer Society, Sick Children Hospital; we did a run for CIBC Run for the Cure and so on.

One of SAA’s biggest events is a formal that attracts more than a thousand South Asian students from universities and colleges across GTA. However, in this event students of Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan decent were nowhere to be seen. “Our membership is open to all South Asians, but I don’t know why they don’t join. Our President is Bengali this year and last year it was Tamil, but I should think about it” says Sasha, but are the execs of SAA really outreaching to Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan students is a real question.

As a President of SAA, Sasha believes that “coordination” is a huge challenge. “Dividing work” is another issue. “Essentially when everyone is doing everything, that leads to so much confusion,” Sasha says.

A few years ago, there was rivalry among members of different student bodies, however “now we don’t care, we are friends with everyone and all we care about is our campus,” says Sasha.

As a student of Political Science, Sasha follows politics closely. He is not satisfied by MP Michael Ignatieff’s leadership. “He’s a talker and charming, Stephan Dion wasn’t a great speaker but his policies on climate change were really good, Bob Rae should be the leader of Liberal Party,” but that’s just Sasha’s humble opinion.

By: Asma Amanat

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