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Meet Holland College language student Keyvan Ashenaei

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(L-R) Keyvan's son Mobin Ashenaei, his wife Farahnaz Rezaei, Keyvan, and his younger son Salman Ashenaei.

(L-R) Keyvan’s son Mobin Ashenaei, his wife Farahnaz Rezaei, Keyvan, and his younger son Salman Ashenaei.

Canada’s excellent record on human rights was what attracted Keyvan Ashenaei to this country.

Born in Kuwait to Iranian Bahá’í parents, Keyvan spent most of his life marginalized. He was not permitted to hold a Kuwaiti passport, instead holding one from Iran, where the Bahá’í faced increasing hostility.

After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Bahá’í were stripped of their rights to own property or businesses in Iran, many lost their government jobs, others were imprisoned and executed. As an Iranian citizen in Kuwait, Keyvan attended an Iranian school. Shortly after the revolution, when he was in Grade 11, the principal told Keyvan and the other Bahá’ístudents they were no longer welcome.

Keyvan found himself without an identity. Shunned by Iran, even though Kuwait refused to give him citizenship in the country of his birth, he resolved to work hard and establish a comfortable life there. Eventually, he and his brother ran a photography shop and art studio which boasted many well-known Kuwaitis as clients.

Even though they were not permitted to own property or businesses in their own names, Keyvan still felt that Kuwait was his home.

At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwait offered citizenship to those who had remained in the country and been loyal to the government, and for people who had been in the country before 1965. Keyvan and his wife applied, but within only a few months the Kuwaiti parliament voted to limit the offer to Arabs and Muslims.

Keyvan’s concern over the lack of human rights afforded to him and others of his religion deepened, and he and his wife, Farahnaz Rezaei, began to worry about what the future held for their two sons, Mobin and Salman. He heard from friends about the Canadian government’s immigration programs. After four years, the family finally received approval, and prepared to come to Canada.

Leaving the country was heart-wrenching. Selling the business, saying goodbye to their staff and their families, the couple prepared to move to London, Ontario. But just three weeks before they were due to fly, Keyvan’s brother Alhan called from Prince Edward Island. He had purchased P.E.I. Photo Lab, and wanted Keyvan to join him to run it.

Keyvan and Farahnaz discussed it, and decided to change their plans and come to the Island. The family arrived on Canada Day, 2012.

“I can’t express my joy when the officer at the Toronto airport, after checking all the documents, stamped our passports and told us, ‘welcome home’, which removed all the stresses we had before we came,” Keyvan recalls in a video he prepared for the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Keyvan, Farahnaz and their sons have been in Prince Edward Island for three years now. The adjustment that first year was tough.

“It was a big stress for us,” he said in a recent interview. “It was our first time in Canada, so it was a big challenge, especially for our sons.”

The two boys were 15 and 17 when they arrived in Canada, not the best time for teenagers to leave behind their friends and start a new life so far away; but Keyvan and his wife felt that the human rights living in Canada afforded them, and the educational opportunities that would be available for their sons, made the sacrifice worthwhile.

Now, their oldest son, Mobin, is attending U.P.E.I., and intends to continue his education at Dalhousie University studying engineering. Salman has just completed high school and is looking forward to attending Holland College’s Culinary Institute of Canada in the fall. Farahnaz is working as a Program Officer with the Office of Immigration, Settlement and Population in PEI.

The family now feels that Prince Edward Island is their home.

“The people are kind and helpful, we are part of the Bahá’í community here, our faith community is truly our second home from home and we have many friends,” Keyvan said.

His advice to others moving here?

“Attend language school. As well as learning the English language, you will learn about the culture and the community.”

Keyvan believes that becoming part of the community is crucial. In addition to his Bahá’í community, he and his wife have made many friends through their activities.

He encourages newcomers to contact the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada as soon as they arrive; and, if they are establishing or buying a business, to join the Chamber of Commerce and register with PEI Connectors Program, which offers a great deal of business information for those who are seeking to start business on the Island.

“Learn the culture, show respect, and, if you are honest and you know what you are doing, you will succeed.”

Now, finally, the family feels that they have found a home where they will be able to enjoy the same rights and privileges as others in the community and can build a future with their sons.


Written by Sara Underwood

June 10, 2015 at 10:02 am

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