Meet Fatema Dada, director of SMILE, lawyer at the Ministry of the Attorney General and one of Toronto's favorite do-gooders!
1. Give us your “elevator speech” – a snapshot of who you are, what you do, and how we should “know” you. Please tell us about the path you took to get where you are today
My Name is Fatema Dada - My friends call me Phatty :) Born and raised in good ole Kitchener Waterloo, I attended school in Waterloo, Windsor, and Boston. I am currently a lawyer at the Ministry of the Attorney General at the Crown Law Office - Civil, representing various government ministries at all levels of court.
My path was simple: hard work and a great support network. My friends and family are my backbone and without them I would not be where I am today.
My parents pushed my sisters and I hard, and my dad never set lower goals for us because we were girls -- ‘put your mind to something and you can get it done’. He also taught us the importance of giving back. As a child we would watch him fill the van with toys on eid, drive to the local mosque and then help him give out the gifts to other children. There was never anything left for us - something I think he did on purpose. Not once do I remember being upset about not having a gift. What I remember is the look of joy on all the kids’ faces when I handed them their gifts. It’s a memory that I believe has pushed helping others to the centre of my life.
2. Besides your daily work, what are you passionate about?
It sounds cliche, but I’m passionate about helping others. It could be as simple as agreeing to help take pictures at a friends wedding to volunteering my time to assist the community. Seeing something that I do make an impact on another person’s life is incredibly rewarding.
One of my favorite projects is SMILE (www.smilecanada.org) an organization dedicated to supporting children with different abilities. The look of pure joy when you see one of our SMILE kids having fun painting with our volunteers, playing sports and winning prizes at SMILE’s annual Recfest, or doing yoga at one of our free therapy programs is an incredible feeling.
3. What does being a “Canadian Muslim woman" mean to you?
In today’s environment, where so many Muslim women are fighting for their rights to practice their religion freely, happily, and without intimidation, being a Canadian Muslim means two things to me. The first is being comfortable in my own skin--I am a Canadian, a woman, and a Muslim, but also of Tanzanian parentage, a Katchi and Swahili speaker, and a lover of cupcakes! All of those things make me who I am, and I don’t feel the need to apologize to anyone about any of them. But with that freedom comes responsibility: I know that when I identify myself as a Muslim lawyer, others will watch a little more closely--both Muslim and non-Muslim.
That can be a tricky balance: being totally confident in who you are, but also being aware of the need to watch the example you set. It’s a balance we each struggle with day-to-day in our own ways. Every woman has to strike that balance for herself.
Mine probably has more cupcakes than others.
4. For young Muslim women growing up in North America what 1 – 3 things are most critical for them to be aware of? What advice would you give to other young Muslim women?
It is critical that young Muslim women understand that they are in control. If you want something, go for it. If you want a particular career, work for it. If you have something to say, say it.
The other point is patience. Young women should understand that in today’s economy, your dream job can take time. That doesn’t mean you should take it easy, but it does mean that you should be flexible with your timeline. Set goals and plan--but go with the flow when life throws curveballs at you. And enjoy yourself in the meantime.
5. Please share 1 – 3 dreams/ goals you hope to achieve in the future. What can be changed to make the world a better place? How can we contribute?
My main goal is to encourage more cooperation in the community. There are some great organizations in our community - instead of all trying to get to the top of the ladder and reinventing the wheel, I wish we would all work together to help achieve each other’s goals. Case in point - SMILE put on a Gala a few weeks ago and CCMW, Muppies, Canadian Muslim Vote, and Project Ramadan all came out to support the cause. We worked together to spread awareness about the needs of children living with disabilities. There were 800 attendees and over 20 organizations and together we were able to raise enough money to keep SMILE going this year. If we work together, we will bring about change.
Please choose 1 – 3 questions that appeal to you from the following list:
1. What leadership qualities do you most admire?
- someone who is willing to listen when needed, can take charge when necessary, and, at the end of the day, has their team’s best interest at heart
2. Fun Question! If you were stranded on an island, what three things would you want with you?
- My Soon to be hubby inshallah :)
3. Share your favorite quote
Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth 'you owe me'. Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky - Hafiz