The Thunder Bay Muslim Association is hoping to lend a helping hand to young Indigenous mothers who are attending school and trying to make a difference.
Recently, the association in the northwestern Ontario city raised $12,000 for a bursary to support young Indigenous mothers who are attending classes at Lakehead University.
Taina and Walid Chahal, who are both members of the association and teach at Lakehead, said the association was looking into setting up another bursary for non-Muslim students in Thunder Bay when they noticed the alarming number of young Indigenous mothers struggling to attend classes.
"Around a year ago, I had one of my Indigenous students, who was a mother too, taking one of my classes and she asked me to write a letter of reference for her because she was applying for a bursary ... out of our province," Walid Chahal said. "We see this on a daily basis."
Twenty-five years ago, the Thunder Bay Muslim Association created a bursary for Muslim students. So, when it came time to raise money for another bursary, Taina Chahal said it was a simple writing assignment that helped both her and her husband open their eyes to the struggles faced by Indigenous students with children.
"I sometimes ask the students to write poems in relation to some certain issue," Taina Chahal added. "I've noticed over the years, that it's mothers — young, Indigenous mothers with children with serious responsibilities — who are the finest minds, the best students [with] the strongest goals and they are having to struggle."
The couple proposed the idea to the association and once the decision was made, members individually raised a total of $9,000 while the association covered the rest.
"This is not an individual effort, it's a collective effort," Walid Chahal said. "For us, it's a way to give something back to the community, as well as the Indigenous community as well. We are living on Indigenous land....and we need to at least give a little bit."
Walid Chahal added that the original goal for this bursary was to raise $20,000, however with only a handful of members, along with other ongoing projects, they settled on the final amount of $12,000.
"How could we exist here without giving back the gifts we have gotten?" Taina Chahal said.