Beauty from the inside out

by Janet Nicol

 “Someday we’ll find a way.”

These are the hopeful lyrics from an Iranian-born songwriter,

social activist and beauty queen who has dedicated her gifts to

helping others.

 

“This is what I have been born to do,” Nazanin Afshin-Jam says in an

interview at a coffee shop near her Yaletown condo. “We all have

the capacity to make change.”

 

Afshin-Jam, who gained widespread recognition when she led a

successful campaign to free imprisoned Nazanin Fatehi more than

a year ago, admits her passion to advocate for others is motivated in

part by her and her family’s experience as refugees to Canada.

 

“I’m sure my family’s experience affected me subconsciously

on many levels,” says Afshin-Jam, who has released a CD

called Someday, on which she sings in English,

French and Persian on humanitarian themes.

 

She was just a child when her parents settled in Vancouver in 1980,

fleeing persecution after the Iranian revolution.

 

“We had to start from scratch,” Afshin-Jam remembers.

 

“The lucky ones got out,” she adds. “My heart bleeds for those left

behind.”

 

Her compassion and activism was recently recognized by the Canadian

Race Relations Foundation, which appointed her to its board

of directors this February. Afshin- Jam had led months of petitioning,

lobbying and fundraising to help Fatehi, a teen condemned to death

in Tehran for knifing a man who tried to rape her and her niece.

 

Fatehi was released in January 2007 and now hopes to become a

lawyer so she can help other women. “This is her dream,” says Afshin-

Jam, who still maintains the campaign’s website (helpnazanin.com),

fundraising for Fatehi’s education and using it as a platform to advocate

against child executions.

 

Afshin-Jam was motivated to raise awareness on various global issues

like the landmine crisis while studying international relations

and political science at University. Looking for a of British Columbia

bigger platform from which to speak from, she signed up for the Miss

World contest.

 

“I realized I could use beauty with a purpose,” she says, “and use my

title to get the media’s attention.”

 

Afshin-Jam’s intention became reality when she was crowned Miss

World Canada in 2003 and first runner up in the Miss World pageant.

 

Now as a board member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation,

Afshin-Jam wants to visit high schools and talk to the counsellors

about youth and racism. “I want to see what’s going on.”

 

While praising Canada for its tolerance and freedoms, she says, “we

still have a long way to go.”

 

Yet she also thinks the struggles that immigrants and refugees face

like racism make you stronger. “You have a leg up over peers who haven’t

had these experiences and aren’t as motivated.”

 

That’s certainly true if Afshin-Jam’s example is anything to go by.

  

Reprinted from The Canadian Immigrant, 2008.

 

 

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