Trail-Blazing Social Worker Shashi Assanand Retires

Shashi Assanand, who founded Vancouver and Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Services Society (VLMFSS) 26 years ago, left Uganda as a refugee in 1972 when military dictator Idi Amin ordered all individuals of South Asian descent to leave the country. She experienced first-hand the unique challenges refugee, immigrant women and their families face in their new communities as she built a new life first in the UK and then in Canada. She made it her career’s work to support and empower immigrant families and facilitate cultural awareness and competency amongst professionals to better serve and/or work with immigrant and refugee families.

VANCOUVER – After 26 years at the helm of the Vancouver and Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Services Society (VLMFSS), Shashi Assanand has retired as the organization’s Executive Director.

Assanand left Uganda as a refugee in 1972 when military dictator Idi Amin ordered all individuals of South Asian descent to leave the country. She experienced first-hand the unique challenges refugee, immigrant women and their families face in their new communities as she built a new life first in the UK and then in Canada. She made it her career’s work to support and empower immigrant families and facilitate cultural awareness and competency amongst professionals to better serve and/or work with immigrant and refugee families.

She founded the VLMFSS in 1991 to provide counselling and support to immigrant and refugee women and children experiencing family violence, and to advocate to address some of the factors that put immigrant and refugee families at greater risk of violence. The organization revolutionized the delivery of family support services in the province.

When she courageously took on this journey, domestic violence was a taboo topic in some immigrant communities and openly tolerated in others. She challenged her own Indo-Canadian community and other ethnic communities to talk about spousal/partner abuse, child abuse and senior abuse in the families and to work together to end violence.

The organization embodies Shashi’s vision of a truly multicultural Canada where women of all ethnic backgrounds use the same services side by side. This vision inspired her to veer away from ethno-specific versions of existing programs. Instead, she created an agency as a satellite service that provides culturally and linguistically responsive support and counselling in over 24 languages enabling refugee and immigrant women as well as women without immigration status to access the services available in their communities. As a result, they gain confidence in navigating the Canadian system and more importantly, see themselves as equal members of their communities.

“I’m very proud of the organization we have built,” says Shashi. “The VLMFSS is a source of support, empowerment and courage for so many immigrant women who come to our doors at a time of great personal crisis.”

She has been a vocal advocate and educator on the issue of domestic violence and how it interacts with the unique challenges facing newcomers in Canada. Her legacy continues as VLMFSS strives to open spaces for dialogues and facilitate processes for racialized women to rebuild their lives from violence to non-violence.

VLMFSS has set us a Shashi Assanand Bursary for grade 12 female students who are first generation immigrants or refugees and plan to pursue studies in a helping profession such as social work, psychology, nursing, among others. Please contact VLMFSS for more information

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