MEMORY LANE: Volunteer recognized for good citizenship

The British Columbia Medal of Good Citizenship was introduced in 2015 in order to recognize the generosity, service, acts of selflessness and contributions people make to community life.

This year, North Vancouver’s Sylvie Pather and Dr. Lois Nahirney received the commendation. Last year, Sylvie also received the Spirit Award from North Shore Neighbourhood House for her services to the community.

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Sylvie was raised in a country and culture very far removed from her present home. South Africa was in the grip of apartheid and Pretoria, her home, was the epicentre of the system. It is telling that apartheid commenced in 1948, the year Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

Her parents gave their daughter the name Silvakantie – speakers of Hindi will know the name honours the Mahatma. Sylvie and her siblings were taught to give their time and energy generously to help others. That was one great gift from the siblings’ parents.

The other was independence when it came to both thought and choice. Sylvie was encouraged to train as a nurse, even though this was something that was just not done in the Indian culture of South East Africa.

In 1973, Sylvie’s husband, Amarasan, made the decision to leave the constrictions and brutality of apartheid and make a new life for his family in Canada. They arrived in Toronto in December.

“It was full of snow,” Sylvie remembers, “and we thought it would be the same in Vancouver. Crossing the Lions Gate Bridge, everything was so beautiful and green and we were so happy.”

Settling in North Vancouver was a choice Amarasan and Sylvie made. They could have settled among others of Indian heritage and the Hindu religion. Instead, this family, which had never known life outside of an apartheid regime, decided to make a new life in a new community.

There were very few, if any, South Africans of Indian heritage on the North Shore at that time. Sylvie’s parents came to visit, but even the balmy West Coast was too chilly for her mother. Her in-laws, on the other hand, came to visit and stayed on.

The adjustment to being separated from familiar customs led Sylvie to her vocation as a volunteer.

In the Hindu culture, friends and relatives gather at a feast to celebrate the life of departed loved ones. When Sylvie’s father-in-law died, there was no one to invite. Then Amarasan made a suggestion. People in the City of Vancouver go hungry every day. Why not feed them? 

Sylvie brought her gift of food to the Franciscan Sisters of Atonement in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This was the beginning. Sylvie volunteered with the Sisters, making sandwiches one morning every week for the next 23 years and serving Christmas dinners every year for 17 years.

During this time, Sylvie worked as a nurse in geriatrics and in pediatrics at Lions Gate Hospital. In the early years, family life, work and volunteering left no time to be homesick. And over the years when the trials that life brings to everyone came to Sylvie, helping others helped her forget, or perhaps disregard, her troubles. 

Sylvie volunteered as an organizer and fundraiser for the North Shore Crisis Services Society (formerly known as Emily Murphy House) and the Harvest Project. These skills, coupled with her effervescent and embracing personality, made Sylvie an ideal community ambassador for North Shore Neighbourhood House, which hosts the Food Bank on the North Shore.

She is a greeter with the Food Bank on Wednesdays and returns on Saturdays to help with the volunteers from Highlands United Church during the weekly community lunch.

Sylvie and Amarasan Pather came to North Vancouver to find a new future for their family. They created a life of their own choosing, one that embraces the precepts of compassion and generosity that rest at the heart of all the world’s great religions. 

Compassion and generosity has been the foundation of North Shore Neighbourhood House and its programs since its doors opened in 1939. With the giving season in full swing, there’s an opportunity to support the Neighbourhood House and its programs, including keeping the Food Bank open on the North Shore, with an online donation at nsnh.bc.ca.

As I wrote this final edition of Memory Lane for the year 2018, I thought about compassion and generosity in the lives of the people whose stories are told here. The turning of another year brings an opportunity to reflect and to learn from my elders, and to strike a better balance with what I receive, and what I give.

My thanks to everyone who shared their story in Memory Lane this year, and every year, and to the North Shore News for recognizing the value of these stories. Most of all, thank you to everyone who found inspiration and pleasure in reading them.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at lander1@shaw.ca.

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