We stayed between us. Until there’s a knock on my door and a little courage opens up my world

This first-person column is written by Calgary-based Sukhwant Parmar. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.

When I came to Canada from India in 2006, I worked as a cashier and other entry-level jobs to make ends meet and survive. When my youngest child was born two years later, I stopped working and stayed home to focus on parenthood. But I felt confined. My heart yearned for a larger connection.

So, it’s amazing to me now how one day, just a simple knock on my door – and a core of courage in my heart – put me on a different path.

It happened like this.

I had just finished cooking dinner one evening in 2010 when the doorbell rang. I put the plate of rice back on the off-white counter, tripped over the shoes my husband had left in the hallway, and opened the door.

Two people stood there with papers in their hands – a man and a woman, one of whom looked Vietnamese and the other Filipino.

It stood out. It was nice and somewhat unusual in my neighborhood at that time to see two people from different backgrounds together and on my doorstep, especially people who weren’t from India like my own family.

I greeted them with a smile. The woman handed me a poster and asked me to attend their “meet your neighbours” evening hosted by the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary where I could meet other residents of my community and share my concerns, if I had.

A crowd of seated people fills a meeting room as a woman presents a topic at the front.
Community members gather at the Penbrooke Meadows Community Association in 2019. This is one of many events that Sukhwant Parmar has helped organize. (Submitted by Sukhwant Parmar)

I took this poster and said to them: “Thank you for that, I will try to come but I cannot promise.”

As I walked back to our dinner, something inside me wanted to go to this event, but I was hesitant to ask my husband. He’s often tired when he comes home from work, and at that time he was reluctant to let us mingle with people.

He was still worried, saying we were in a new country and didn’t want to get in trouble. We didn’t know the rules and customs, and we were never sure what immigrants and permanent residents were allowed to do or not.

So I stayed quiet and finished my kitchen chores, but I still couldn’t forget. There was something that drew me to this event even though I had never attended a community meeting like this before.

Eventually I asked my husband and he agreed. I felt so happy.

People of all ages stand in a circle in a park on a sunny day holding hand drums.
Community members participate in a drumming circle to learn about Indigenous culture in 2020. Sukhwant Parmar found a sense of belonging in helping organize this and other events. (Submitted by Sukhwant Parmar)

On the day of the meeting, I prepared and served an early dinner and left for the event with some hesitation. Would there be someone from my Indian community there? Would I be comfortable? Would they have listened to me and my concerns?

But at the event, the atmosphere was welcoming. People came from such a variety of ethnic backgrounds that I didn’t feel like a foreigner. I was able to share my concern – that dog owners weren’t picking up after their pets – and others nodded in agreement.

The organizer asked me if I wanted to do something about it and invited me to the next meeting. It was good that people cared.

My involvement grew from there.

At the next meeting, I made contact with a city social worker and a group of volunteers who were planning a multicultural community potluck with people from many different countries. Then we formed a resident group and started meeting monthly to plan other events.

A smiling woman with her two school-aged daughters.
Sukhwant Parmar, left, with his two daughters, Kamiya Parmar, center, and Bavneet Parmar. (Submitted by Sukhwant Parmar)

I still remember the first session I hosted myself on responsible pet ownership to which I invited Calgary animal and bylaw officers.

They brought a well-behaved dog and some gifts, and shared the do’s and don’ts. I helped a neighbor overcome her phobia and pet a dog for the first time.

After that, I organized several events and collaborated with many different organizations. All that volunteering eventually led to a job. I was offered a position with the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary (now Action Dignity) with the flexible hours I needed to care for my children and was able to empower other residents to get involved in their communities.

It has now been over 10 years since that first knock on the door. When I look back, I think how different things would have been if those two people had never come.

I feel like a totally different person now. I have gained so much confidence, training and knowledge and have connected with so many people and groups that help the community. It’s gratifying to look back on everything I’ve done.

I have the connection I needed. I feel like I belong.

Tell your story

CBC Calgary is hosting a series of in-person writing workshops across the city to help community members tell their own stories.

Learn more about the workshop organized by the Genesis Centre:

To learn more about our writing workshops or to suggest a community organization to help facilitate, email CBC producer Elise Stolte or visit cbc.ca/albertastories.

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