A conversation with Dalvir Nahal is noteworthy for her enthusiasm, her compassion and her brilliant smile.
Yet, beyond those personal traits what really shines is her concern for community and making life better for others. It compels her to step forward into new responsibilities.
Nahal was born the third daughter with the customary burden of dowry to parents in India. A recent revelation about how her life has been shaped in resistance to the traditional cultural value of boys over girls, motivated her to make her own path.
She speaks of the freedom she has enjoyed in Canada and the support of her family through many pursuits including moving to Vancouver as a single woman in her 30s.
Nahal’s perspective of having privilege through opportunities underlie her desire to encourage women and girls.
“One thing I really teach in our community is how important it is for every child especially girls to live on their own because you learn that you can be independent; you can be successful, and I hope that enables women to feel more secure about themselves.”
Nahal has always been proud of her culture and is grateful to her parents for maintaining their language and celebrations after immigrating to Vernon in 1977.
Although describing her school as welcoming, Nahal remembers being called ethnic slurs and couldn’t understand why.
Once, she physically defended her brother who was teased about his turban. After getting in trouble for the episode at home, Nahal quickly changed her approach to education and laughs about how she made her Grade 2 classmates watch a Bollywood movie.
This intertwining of cultures, Nahal believes is one way to break stereotypes.
“I’m very mindful of labelling people as racist when it might just be ignorance,” she explains.
“We shouldn’t stereotype people. At the end of the day, it’s about getting to know each other.”
Sharing Indian culture was the premise for her founding Vernon’s popular Bollywood, a fundraising event that ran for six years.
She also volunteered on Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s Foundation Board raising enough in three years to name two emergency and treatment rooms.
Nahal’s fundraising experience began through celebrating Lohri, an annual Sikh festival that involves going door-to-door collecting money for a cause.
All together, her initiatives have raised nearly half-a-million dollars for local charities. Although facing her own health challenge, Nahal is acutely aware and concerned for others including international students separated from family and communal prayer due to COVID-19, and for those struggling with addiction or on the streets.
“I’ve always understood that we’re all the same; we just have different life circumstances.”
She talks passionately about ending the stigma of overdose, addressing underlying issues and promoting healing.
Nahal doesn’t shy away from those tough conversations.
“When I got cancer, I didn’t know what my purpose was, but I realized I had a higher purpose in this community. If not for cancer I wouldn’t have started Bollywood, I probably wouldn’t have run for council, but I thought what do I have to lose, except to prove I’m as good as a boy.”
The monthly Community Champion feature is submitted by Respect Works Here, which is an initiative of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan. They are also the host agency for the Local Immigration Partnership Council and the Thompson Okanagan Respect Network.