Sukaina Dada – SMILE CANADA
Sukaina Dada is currently serving as the Executive Director of SMILE CANADA Support Services a registered Canadian charity dedicated to supporting racialized children and youth with disabilities and their families. SMILE’s focus area is supporting diverse Muslim communities including refugee and new immigrant communities.
SMILE is now home to over 300 families in Ontario, offering culturally responsive support through programs such as parent support groups, financial assistance for adaptive equipment and assistive technology, therapies and respite services as well as a culturally responsive service navigation program offered in multiple languages.
The following was conducted from an interview with Sukaina Dada.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and what did you study?
“My name is Sukaina Dada, but I’m known as Sakina. I grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON and knew that I wanted to pursue a career in health care. After completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, I went on to complete a master’s in Occupational Therapy from McMaster University. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Critical Disability Studies in the School of Health Policy and Management at York University.”
“As part of my degree at McMaster, I had the opportunity to complete a one-of-a-kind evidence-based project that examined the lived experiences of Muslim families with children with disabilities in Ontario. The findings from the research project demonstrated how Muslim families with children with disabilities had difficulty accessing services and supports in Canada. They have intersectional identities and experiences and face intersectional oppressions that are not being addressed within the healthcare and education systems. As a result, families reported isolation, implicit and explicit discrimination, and difficulty navigating services and getting the supports they needed. I knew then, I wanted to be part of the change and SMILE Canada (www.smilecan.org) was formed.”
What inspires you and your team?
“We learn from the experiences of the children we work with and their families. Their narratives shape the work that we do. We all want to live in a more inclusive society that does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, faith or disability … but we have a long way to go.”
What barriers did you or the people you serve have to overcome?
“Intersectional oppression leads to daily challenges to access services and supports that should not be exclusively for one group of people. Families face daily challenges and barriers due to systemic inequities in healthcare and education. Children should be welcomed and included in all spaces, especially those spaces that are designed to support them.”
Why did you get into this field profession? What motivates you?
“I visited Tanzania when I was younger and met my younger cousin Muhammad who has Cerebal Palsy. He was lying in his bed all day and never went to school or was actively involved in any community activities. I encouraged his family to come to Canada and I thought once he got here, life would be so much better for him. I was wrong. The system was not easy to navigate. The challenges my family faced when meeting doctors, therapists and educators highlighted the systemic inequities and health disparities that continue to exist today.”
Who was the most influential person to you as a child?
“Growing up my father would share his childhood stories and his experiences shaped who I am today. My father never completed his elementary education. At a young age, he quit school and held several jobs including selling eggs at a local market in Tanzania to provide for his family. While he never went to formal education, he spoke five languages fluently and became a successful entrepreneur. My father always encouraged his children to access education but also to learn from one’s own experiences and learn from others.”
What are the main lessons you’ve learned in life?
“To trust (in God) that things will be better. I answer these questions while in the midst of an active global pandemic.”
“To stand up for injustice. Anywhere and Everywhere. It is not ok to stay silent.”
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I am proud of my academic achievements and professional career that with two kids, four moves, and running an organization, I have been able to stay afloat.”
“I am most proud of my family. I am married to my best friend and we have two resilient and adorable kids who challenge everything that I ever thought I knew. They keep me grounded and hopeful that the world will get better.”
What topics do you think people need to be educated on?
“I think we all need to learn about the social determinants of health and disability. We need to know the impact of poverty, education, access to meaningful employment, etc on one’s health and wellness.”
What do you think are the biggest issues in your community/world? How can we address or solve these issues?
“We need to be aware of the systemic oppressions that exist within our society and we have to challenge them. We have to challenge the dominant cultural narrative that overtakes real-life experiences and continues to push people to the margins of society.”
Any advice you would like to give to the people reading this post?
“Do your part. Whatever it is you can do. Whatever space you are involved in, be it a cultural space, your place of worship, your classroom, office or the dinner table – talk about what is going on in the world and what you can do to make it a bit better.”
The story of Sukaina Dada is an encouraging one as she sought out the needs of communities and provided a service for those needs and most importantly keeping the children and youth smiling. She rose to the challenge and succeeded through SMILE which is providing various services to children and families in Canada. We should learn from this and understand to follow our goals, challenge ourselves and we too can make a difference.
Onebrotherhood has also teamed up with SMILE for an EID Toy Drive. For more information about this check out our page!
May Allah ﷻ preserve her and reward her for her services