“Remember who you are” is a quote from one of my favorite Disney Movies, the Lion King. It is a quote that is engraved, close to my heart.
The Lion King was released in 1994, the same year that marked the end of Apartheid in South Africa. The following year, I was born into the Rainbow Nation, in a city known as Durban, South Africa aka “little India.”

In 2001, my family moved to Canada, the land of the free. Canada, a country that opened my mind and heart to a new culture, the friendliest people, a country where privileges and resources have been made accessible to all its citizens. A country that has given me endless opportunities, adventures and experiences…memories that I can look back on and smile.

Moving to a new country is no easy feat. I know it was hardest on my parents, who left everything they had and knew behind, to provide my siblings and I with a better life. Canada and it’s beautiful people, welcomed my family with open arms, accepting us for who we are. For this I will forever be grateful, holding Canada in a special place in my heart. Growing up Canada was different; having to adjust to a new way of living, a new culture, making new friends, a different education system, enduring cold winters, learning a new language (French) and most difficultly, missing my family back in South Africa.
Over the course of years, we adapted and things became easier. We made regular visits to South Africa, and eventually, our longtime friends in Canada, became family. However, even after all these years, my heart holds strong, happy memories of my childhood in South Africa: our big family reunions, playing outside with my cousins, listening to the stories my grandparents would tell us, adventures with mom and dad who would make it a fun educational field trip, Sunday family days at the beach, watching the golden-red sunrise over Kruger National Park as the animals woke to start their day… memories I always cherish. The thing I missed most growing up away from my birth country, and even still today, is the loss of Time, that I can never get back, when it comes to moments spent with my family. 6 years ago, I moved to Vancouver, BC to study at the University of British Columbia. Now I miss the moments and times spent with my parents and siblings growing up In Brandon.
Although life has taken me many places, I’ve experienced ups and downs, but no matter where it is that I may be, “Remember Who You are” has always resonated with me. “Remember Who You are” holds as a remind of my ancestry, my family and all they have taught me, my morals, values, who I am as a person and most importantly the woman who I have grown into and continue to aspire to be.

See photo Gallery at end of article for memories of growing up

Mom and Dad 4 days after Shakti was born. Durban, South Africa

From a young age, I have always been a strong advocate for human rights and equality, passionate about giving back. I do believe that my sense of activism partially stems from my family’s active role during the time of Apartheid as well as in present day with many family members who have become leaders in their communities.

My story begins with my roots, where I came from and what my family went through in order for me to lead the life I do today. Between circa 1860 to the early 1900’s, the British implemented a new form of slavery, the Indentured Labor system. Indians were taken to work in the Sugar Cane Plantations around the world. Majority of these Indians came from low caste, already treated poorly in India and now essentially treated as slaves for the British until 1911. I’m 3rd generation South African. My parents grew up during South Africa’s Apartheid. This is where both Nelson Mandel and Gandhi began their social justice and human rights movements. Family members of mine played important progressive roles for people of color, from being educators as well as opening schools within their communities, in writing articles, plays, pieces of literature about ongoing issues and in supporting and participating in rallies and anti-apartheid movements. My uncle Saths Cooper, was a prominent activist during the time, leading his own anti-apartheid movement which lead him to sharing the same jail block as Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela, as featured on TIME Magazine: http://world.time.com/2013/12/05/nelson-mandela-1918-2013-remembering-an-icon-of-freedom/

In India, many girls from lower castes, notably the Untouchables caste, are trafficked and sold into child prostitution from as early as 8 years old. It’s a sad reality, but in order to truly empathize, put yourself in the shoes of these children. Allow allow your mind to put yourself in that position and open your heart to feel that same pain, because from this, we allow ourselves to become compassionate and to love. Similarly, from the stories that I was told, from the books I’ve read and documentaries I have watched, I was able to understand the struggles that my family had gone through from their lifestyle in India and later in South Africa, and the struggles each of the generations had gone through, in order to get to where we are today. There has been so much progress, but to imagine what my life could have been like, also puts into perspective everything in my life today, and all that I am grateful for.

Although it hurts to think that there are millions of women and children who are trafficked on a daily basis, living in poverty with no food, no clean water and with no medical attention, there is still hope in knowing that we have the power to help in positively changing this. I will forever be grateful to my parents for all of the privileges and opportunities they have given me and for the lifestyle they have provided and worked hard for, here in Canada. There are so many blessings in even the simplest things that we oftentimes take for granted. For example, having a roof over your head, clean water, food, medical care and a free education…these are all privileges, that are not all yet made accessible to everyone in our world. I have so much to be thankful for and want to continue my aspiration of creating the #dominoeffect and to be able to give others the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, in living a life that every being deserves.

Yours in love and light,

Miss Southern British Columbia World 2019

Shakti Shunmugam

Sunday Beach Days with Mom and Dad
Dad teaching me about South Africa’s National Flower: Protea, during an adventure in Cape Town
School in South Africa: Tree Tops Primary
My brother and I, South Africa
My siblings and I, Canadian Christmas
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