Nasim Banu-Ahmed

Recipient: March 2013 

Although now retired from formal employment, Nasim Banu-Ahmed continues to work tirelessly as a social worker to inspire hope in both her birth-country of Bangladesh and in her adopted country of Canada. Nasim Banu-Ahmed, MSW, RSW, is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during Social Work Week, which is celebrated March 4-10, 2013, under the theme: "Restoring Hope - The Power of Social Work".  

Born and raised in northern Bangladesh, Nasim witnessed poverty, political and religious strife, war and oppression in her homeland. Despite these difficulties, she completed her MSW in Bangladesh in 1971, and was the only female in her graduating class.  After immigrating to Canada in 1972, Nasim worked for 30 years at Niagara Peninsula Rehabilitation Centre, during which time she was instrumental in developing new community services such as the Niagara Amputee Association, the Arthritis Society and the Fibromyalgia Association.  She worked selflessly, both personally and professionally, to promote support and self-help. When she retired from her professional life, she had assisted 4,358 clients in various areas of physical rehabilitation, following a stroke, injury, or debilitating illness. 

Post-retirement, Nasim has been key in organizing fund-raising efforts in Niagara to provide services in Bangladesh, where she spends a portion of each year helping with water purification efforts, community-building, and supports for Tiger Widows, a group which is ostracized when their husbands are killed by tigers.  During the time she spends in Canada each year, she continues to serve clients, working with them under the auspices of the Niagara Aphasia Program, another program she helped to develop. 

Nasim shares her perspective on the impact of the social determinants of health on her work in Bangladesh: "I remember women dying shortly after childbirth; people dying of malaria, cholera, and chickenpox; children's lives shortened due to congenital disabilities and mental illnesses. Most recently, deaths occur prematurely due to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  It is not very difficult to determine that a lack of awareness, opportunities, and funds, as well as social beliefs, practices and prejudices, have contributed to a myriad of health conditions." She believes that there are many ways that the lives of the people she serves in Bangladesh could be improved: "A vehicle would allow a few children in the village of untouchables to have practical education so that they could have a skilled job and help their families to come out of their prejudicial environment. A one-room thatched dwelling would house a homeless family. The village children could use basic materials such as soap, toothpaste, sandals, etc."  

For Nasim, essential social work values in any society include being trustworthy, respectful, and non-judgmental, while promoting independence, creating opportunities and focusing on strengths to foster confidence and the ability to address challenges. Initially, she thought that her cultural background and her limited fluency in English language would present significant challenges when she immigrated.  However, she reports:  "After gaining some experience, I realized that if you are respectful and comfortable with your own background, environment and social system, then most people can adjust and find ways to make a contribution. I was very lucky to receive all the opportunities and support from my administrators and colleagues who made it easier for me to assimilate." 

When Nasim looks back on her primary achievements, she emphasizes: "My work was not only a job - it was the whole environment.  A positive response from a client, colleague or any other member of the organization was an achievement.  When I run into a former client who expresses gratitude even many years later, I consider that an achievement. I also had the opportunity to explore within and be self-reflective in my work and that's also an achievement."

In whatever setting she works, Nasim has found some things are consistent: "The surprising thing I found out is that people from all walks of lives were so similar in their reactions, feelings, wants, and wishes. If you are sincere and honest, you can reach into most peoples' hearts.  It doesn't take much effort to be available to others. A little recognition can promote hope and independence." 

Seeing the impact of her work with individuals to assist them to achieve their goals has helped Nasim maintain her sense of passion for social work: "The reactions of people, whether in Canada or in Bangladesh, their expression of appreciation, tears of joys, the visible and invisible progress they are making, mean a lot to me.  When I see these reactions, it is not difficult to continue my work.  In fact, these positive reactions have been my highest reward, along with my friends who are also behind these humanitarian works." 

Nasim was asked to share her personal views on the essential attributes of inspirational leaders. She states: "No matter how much knowledge you have gained from education and experience, you have to bring something of your own.  Your upbringing, the teachings from your family and your immediate environment are all very important sources of your success as a leader."  

Nasim Banu-Ahmed is an inspirational leader in the social work community - tireless, selfless, hopeful.  During Social Work Week, March 4-10, 2013, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.