• John Oliver Barj Dhahan

    News: Couple Funds High School Literacy Program

    Couple’s high school literacy program is one for the books.

    By Paul Waldie, originally published in The Globe and Mail on January 31, 2014.

    The donors: Barj and Rita Dhahan

    The gift: Helping to raise $100,000

    The cause: Vancouver’s John Oliver Secondary School

    The reason: To fund reading programs for at-risk students

    Barj and Rita Dhahan know how difficult it can be for immigrants to fit into a new community. Mr. Dhahan immigrated to Canada from India at the age of 10 while Ms. Dhahan’s parents came from Germany. Both attended John Oliver Secondary School in south Vancouver, an area known for its multicultural makeup, and both saw how new arrivals often fell behind in reading and other subjects.

    “I understand that immigrants can have challenges,” Mr. Dhahan said from Vancouver, where he founded Sandhurst Group, a real estate development company. “There are so many different traditions, different cultures and different backgrounds.”

    Now successful business people, the couple are leading an effort to raise $100,000 for a literacy program called the Wonder of Reading. The couple and some family members have contributed $18,500 and they hope to raise the remainder through a network of contacts and John Oliver alumni across the country. The money will go toward a breakfast program, night school classes and student-to-student tutoring.

    “We have Grade 11 and 12 kids reading to elementary school kids and making home visits,” he said, adding that that encourages parents to read with their children. “Some students need extra help, and this is what we are trying to do. We don’t want any of these kids left behind.”

  • View of the House of Commons

    Dhahan Parliamentary Internship Program Announced

    Carleton University and the Canada India Centre for Excellence announced the Dhahan Parliamentary Internship Program, a new initiative that offers young Canadian students the opportunity to learn about the inner workings of Parliament and complete course-related research. The amount of the award is $10,000 and is available for fall 2014 and winter 2015.

    The internship will be given to a third-or fourth-year undergraduate student at Carleton. Students from all faculties will be considered. The recipient will work under the direction and guidance of the Dean of the Faculty of Public Affairs who will find an appropriate MP or minister to match with the student. It is expected that the recipient will intern in more than one office over the course of the year.

    The first intern will be announced on March 28, 2014.

  • Governor General in India

    Film, Finance and Education in Mumbai

    From February 22 to March 2, 2014, Barj was a member of the Governor General’s delegation to India. These are stories from his trip.

    Feb. 27 – March 1:

    Mumbai is India’s financial, commercial and entertainment capital and naturally its richest and most populous city. It is home to many of India’s leading financial institutions and corporations including those with the largest investments in Canada such as the Tatas, Birlas and Essar groups. Mumbai also has the country’s two national stock exchanges, the Diamond Bourse, largest port, and the leading engineering institute – IIT Mumbai.

    We toured Film City which has a cluster of production studios. The Governor General and the delegation participated in a round table on the multi-media production opportunities between Canada and India at the Whistling Woods International Studio. Quite a facility here! Canada and India also signed a co-production and multi-media bi-lateral agreement during the visit.

    The slums are home to a vibrant and diverse civil society catering to the needs of the disadvantaged. This morning some of us accompanied her Excellency to a small skills training centre for girls and women predominantly from the Muslim community. The women are eager to get out of their small and crowded homes and learn skills like sewing and stitching and data entry. Some are able to find work some don’t. I saw a mixture of despair and hope on many of their faces…young girls with big bright eyes and white teeth in sad faces…. Her Excellency led the women in some yoga type exercises and told them that being physically well is important.

    Yesterday we spent the morning at the Bombay Stock exchange. The Governor General spoke at the Exchange and then rang the bell to signal the opening  of the trading day. This was followed by a panel discussion on how to build an innovation ecosystem in India. The discussion was held in a newly opened innovation incubator involving the Stock exchange, Ryerson University and Simon Fraser University. Three entrepreneurs pitched their start-ups.

    In the afternoon we held a round table at the John Wilson College (founded by an Scotish missionary nearly 200 years ago with the goal of providing education to boys and girls) on India’s education future and how Canada can help to improve India’s education system. I participated in this and gave the closing remarks and vote of thanks after the Governor General shared his thoughts.

    We concluded the day with a talk given by the Governor General at the Institute of Technology, Bombay on “The Next Generaton of Leaders: Driving Economic Growth Through Innovation.” It was another signature presentation by the Governor General with anecdotes and lively stories, which  his wife says she has heard too many times.

    The official visit culminated on the final evening with a Friends of Canada reception on the terrace of the historic Taj Hotel in Mumbai. The Terrace has beautiful views of the Gateway to India overlooking the Arabian Sea. The Taj Hotel was the site of the horrific terrorist attack of 2008 and the Governor General paid respect to the victims, survivors and responders by signing the book of remembrances.

    In 2010, Canada India Foundation conferred the CIF Chanchlani Global Indian Award to Mr. Rattan Tata for his decisive response to support the families of the hotel and first responders who died.

    Here tonight I met Mr. Tushar Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Tushar is the Founder President of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, India, whose mandate is to promote the teachings of non-violence and the way of “Satya Graha”. Truth, non-violence  and love always triumph!

  • Governor General in Bangalaru

    Tech Talks in Bangalaru

    From February 22 to March 2, 2014, Barj travelled with the Governor General’s delegation to India. These are stories from his trip.

    Bangalaru is one of the fastest growing cities in India and sought after by companies, multinationals and tourists. Known as the “Silicon Valley of India,” Bangalaru is one of the world’s top technology clusters and hosts R&D centers for major global companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett and Packard, Infosys and more. It’s also the start-up capital of India and home to the Indian aerospace industry and a number of world-class educational institutions.

    These are all areas where we are seeing increasing collaborations between Canada and India, and that is why we visited Bangaluru. It also shares a unique characteristic with Vancouver. Like Vancouver, Bangaluru has grown enormously on account of migration of people from all corners of India, neighboring countries and from countries in the West. This has reduced the local populations to around 38% of the total population. In Vancouver the native born are now at 40% of the population. While Kannada is the language of the locals, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, English, French, German, and Punjabi are also spoken in Bangaluru. 

    Food Security and Small Millet Research in  Bangaluru:

    Our first stop in Bangaluru was at the University of Agricultural Sciences, one of the oldest agricultural universities in India. A number of Canadian universities including the Mennonite University in Winnipeg, have been collaborating in developing seed varieties in different crops which are tailored to diverse agro-ecological conditions of the state.

    Through funding from CIDA in the past and now through Intenational Development Research Centre (Canadian IDRC), research has led to the reintroduction of the small millets (bajra in Punjabi) as a viable alternative to production of rice and wheat. Despite their known nutritional benefits, tolerance for difficult growing conditions, and ease of storage, small millets have consistently been neglected by agricultural policy in India, which has put the emphasis on cash crops and cereals like rice and wheat. Rice cultivation requires heavy use of water and has contributed to the dramatic lowering of the water table and water contamination in states such as Punjab. The re-introduction of millet will help to conserve water while providing an alternative grain richer in nutrition than wheat or rice. This effort will contribute towards addressing India’s food security concerns.

    There were two significant panel discussions in Bangaluru. One on “Skills Development” and the other at the campus of Infosys on “Making Innovation Policy Succeed.” My good friend Yuen Pau Woo, Canada’s leading policy thinker and CEO of Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, was the moderator of the session.

    An important bi-lateral agreement was signed on skills development between the National Skills Development Corporation of India and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. This will lead to greater collaborations in this field as India needs to provide skills training to 500,000,000 youth (under 25) by 2025 to reap the demographic dividend or otherwise it would be a demographic disaster. Canadian community colleges are global leaders at skills training.

    Photograph Credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall

  • Governor General David Johnston, his wife Sharon Johnston and Barj Dhahan.

    Governor General’s Delegation in Agra and Delhi

    From February 22 to March 2, 2014, Barj travelled with the Governor General’s delegation to India. These are stories from his trip.

    Two fantastic days in Agra and Delhi.

    We visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, which was closed to the public, and although I have seen it before, its beauty and impressive architecture stood out. After spending an hour at the Taj Mahal, we drove a short distance to the Agra Fort, which was delightful.

    We then flew back to Delhi. In the evening nearly 200 of us gathered in the Canadian High Commission compound to watch the Olympic Hockey gold game between Canada and Sweden. Many wore shirts and hockey jerseys with the Maple Leaf while others draped Canadian flags around them. It was an outdoor party with drinks, hamburgers, chicken tikka, chips, etc. Children of the Canadian diplomatic families were running and jumping throughout the evening and the game was exciting. As you all know we cheered for our team – Go Canada Go! The victory was great and we broke into “O Canada” as the anthem was played in the gold medal presentation ceremony.

    Left to right: Governor General David Johnston, his wife Sharon Johnston and Barj S. Dhahan.

    Left to right: Governor General David Johnston, his wife Sharon Johnston and Barj S. Dhahan.

    The next day, we started with an official welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Palace) with all its pageantry and pomp. The President and Prime Minister of India received his Excellency, and the Governor General inspected the guard of honour. It was very moving as they played both national anthems. I felt proud to be both Canadian and of Indian origin!

    Then the entourage drove to the Gandhi memorial to pay homage to the father of the nation. The Governor General laid a wreath on the memorial and had a moment of silence. After this I went with her Excellency and some of the women delegates including Brenda Beck, the High Commissioner’s wife, to Can Support Center. It’s a day care facility for kids going through cancer treatment and provides support for their families. It was a very moving experience. Volunteers operate this centre, and I could sense the worry and fear on the faces of the mothers of some of these children. Such facilities are rare in India and many children and families suffer.

    Left to right: Barj S. Dhahan, her Excellency Sharon Johnston, and other delegates at the Can Support Center in Delhi.

    Left to right: Barj S. Dhahan, her Excellency Sharon Johnston, and other delegates at the Can Support Center in Delhi.

    We then had a business luncheon hosted by India’s three largest business and industry associations.

    Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh and Barj in Delhi.

    Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh and Barj in Delhi.

    But the highlight of the day was the state dinner at the Presidential Palace. We were escorted into a great hall and asked to stand in two rows facing each other. On one side were the Canadians and the other Indians. The President and his daughter and the Excellencies walked in and stood in front of the hall. Then a ‘caller’ started to introduce the Indian guests one at a time, starting with the Vice President followed by the Prime Minister. Each guest walked up to the the President and the Excellencies, greeted them and then moved towards the Canadians and shook our hands. Once this was completed each of the Canadians were called by name to greet the President and the Excellencies.

    Left to right: Vice-President Mohammed Hamid Ansari and Barj S. Dhahan

    Left to right: Vice-President Mohammed Hamid Ansari and Barj S. Dhahan

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stopped in front of me and paused to ask which part of Canada I am from. He also asked where my family has roots in India. Later I spoke with him about the Punjabi International Literature Prize. He said to me “…It is important not to forget our heritage and language….” A once in a life time experience!

    Left to right: HE India's High Commissioner to Canada Nirmal Verma and Mrs. Madhulika Verma with Barj Dhahan at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi

    Left to right: HE India’s High Commissioner to Canada Nirmal Verma and Mrs. Madhulika Verma with Barj Dhahan at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi