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A happy accident: Woman finds her home in Timmins

In 2016, Musharat Shaikh arrived in Timmins by mistake and has since found a community, got married and was granted permanent residency visa through the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot

Her name means happiness — traditionally, Indian parents named their children with meaning attached to them, for reasons that the meaning would bring glory and life to their child.

Since she was young, Musharat Shaikh dreamt of travelling and exploring the world.

When she turned 18, her father, Siraj, asked her what she would like to do after finishing Grade 12. Shaikh told her father that she wanted to study abroad.

Everything just fell into place when her father’s childhood friend, who is a permanent resident in Canada, suggested that Shaikh should study in the land of the true north, strong, and free.

Timmins was not her top destination. It was, in fact, an accident and she later realized that moving to the city was fate.

In 2016, she was accepted to study at Northern College’s campus in Scarborough.

Not knowing that Toronto and Timmins are almost an eight-hour drive apart, she mistakenly rented a place in South Porcupine and booked a flight to Timmins.

When she arrived in Timmins and finalized all the paperwork for her schooling in Northern College, the lady in the admission office told her about the mistake.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do now?'” I was terrified. I just want to go home. I don’t want to stay here; I don’t know what to do. I called my parents, and I talked to them, and then they were like, ‘Calm down, it’s OK, everything’s going to work out,'” Shaikh recalled animatedly.

She transferred her early childhood education course to Northern College's main branch in Porcupine.

“I came here by accident, by destiny,” she added, smiling with her big expressive eyes.

On being new to a foreign land

“My journey here, if I tell you, it was hard at first, because we didn’t have any community,” she said.

In 2016, Shaikh found Timmins “empty,” compared to her hometown of Ahmedabad City in the state of Gujarat, India, where the streets were full of life, vibrancy and colours.

Ahmedabad is located in the western part of India. The city's known as the Manchester of India due to its well-known cotton textile centre, where it sits on the banks of Sabarmati River, similar to Manchester, on Great Britain’s River Irwell.

“In India, the streets are full of life. There are people (everywhere), you can even see them walking. There is stuff going on. When I came here, I was asking to myself, ‘Where are the people? What’s going on?' I was very shocked,” Shaikh admitted, adding that she misses her life back home, especially the events or parties she used to attend often.

Another struggle was finding good Indian spices or authentic food.

To ease her feeling of homesickness, she focused more of her energy on her studies and her work in a gas station. Her mom mailed parcels of Indian spices, and taught her how to cook authentic food over video calls.

It took a year for her to start opening up to people from other nationalities. Little by little, she found a community.

During an internship at Project Love, she met Natrice Rese, who she fondly calls “grandma.”

“We just bonded, because we needed each other, just filling (the) gaps. She takes my pictures (when we go out) and sends it to my family. We became really good friends,” Shaikh said, adding that grandma is the one who helped guide her and improved her English.

After finding a job in 2019 at Stark’s Child Care, she started feeling at home in the workplace.

Shaikh said she's lucky to have a good boss and very sweet children who call her “mushroom” because they cannot pronounce Musharat.

“My boss, Sarah Gauthier, is so friendly and if I have any problem, I can easily talk to her… I like the people I worked with; we all look out for each other. I can say this is my home, and I started feeling more confident of myself,” she said.

For Shaikh, everything that happened to her feels like it was already written before she was born — studying abroad, finding friends who she calls family, landing a job that she enjoys, and meeting her husband, Atiq Shaikh, through arranged marriage.

Traditionally, many Indian parents arrange a marriage for their children as a way for families to maintain their social status and to combine assets.

“It’s a very high-speed internet kind of arranged marriage… but during our first three dates and having to spend time together in Canada, I fell in love with him,” she said, blushing.

Her husband, who has the same surname as hers, lived in Toronto for two years. Since both of them found a sense of home in Canada, after 10 days of wedding engagements in India, they had a wedding in Canada two months after.

“It was destiny; destiny put us together… I got engaged, I came here, everybody was shocked, because it just happened so quick, but after that we decided to get married here in Canada. I wanted a Canadian wedding, because I consider myself as Canadian now, and I want to wear a white dress,” she said.

They got married on May 7, 2022, at the Best Western Premier Northern Hotel.

A permanent home

Shaikh is one of the people granted a permanent residency visa under the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), a program launched in 2019 to attract skilled immigrants.

“I thought after my third year in 2021, I will return to India. It was really destiny when the Rural Northern Immigration Pilot happened, so I applied to that program,” she said.

The Timmins Economic Development Corporation (TEDC) helped her sort through all the necessary documents.

Community development consultant Madison Mizzau said since the launch of RNIP, they have issued 181 community recommendations to applicants. Of those, 97 per cent were foreign individuals living in Timmins or within Canada, while three per cent applied from outside the country.

“One of the key requirements of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot is a job offer from an employer within the community, which can be difficult for international applicants to obtain,” Mizzau said.

She also called on all employers in Timmins and other provinces who are receiving job applications from applicants outside Canada who have the necessary skills and experience to really consider them.

“If there is someone internationally who stands out, employers can always reach out to us to determine whether they would be eligible for the pilot,” she said.

More information on the program, including requirements for applicants, is available here.

— TimminsToday