From Bangladesh to Canada – building hope

Members of the Bangladeshi community at International Mother Language celebration. | Photo courtesy of Ehtesham Azad

Members of the Bangladeshi community at International Mother Language celebration. | Photo courtesy of Ehtesham Azad

The Greater Vancouver Bangladesh Cultural Association (GVBCA) has been promoting the Bangladeshi national culture and heritage in Vancouver since 2002, when several organizations merged to create a unitary association, with a variety of events such as concerts, annual picnics, an Independence Day celebration, International Mother Language Day and the Bengali New Year, which will be celebrated on Apr. 14.

According to the GVBCA, approximately 7,000 Bengali people live in the Greater Vancouver Area, the first big wave of immigrants arriving in the 70s, with a constant yearly influx. The majority of previous newcomers who connected with the GVBCA had an IT or entrepreneurial background, but a new trend is emerging.

“Recently, more students are coming from Bangladesh too, with the aim of improving their education and gaining international professional experience,” says Ehtesham Azad, organizing secretary of the GVBCA.

Azad says that Canada is perceived as a country that offers more opportunities to immigrants, in comparison with other competitors, namely Australia and the UK, where the immigration process is longer and much more complicated.

A better life

Azad says the vast majority of Bengalis move to Canada to secure a better life, at least for their children. Living in Bangladesh can be very complicated, despite some improvements in the last years. The country still faces huge challenges in terms of health care, poverty and human rights.

“There’s nothing like a universal health care system in Bangladesh –
only the rich can afford to pay the expensive doctor’s bills and the rest of the population struggles just to get by,” says Azad.

He says Vancouver in particular seems to offer a balanced lifestyle and a respectful workplace environment for newcomers from Bangladesh – they enjoy a laidback lifestyle, with friendly locals and mild weather.

“Immigrants from Bangladesh like to live in a multicultural environment such as Vancouver and to be surrounded by the beautiful landscapes that British Columbia offers” Azad explains.

New challenges

Ehtesham Azad, Organizing Secretary of the GVBCA. | Photo courtesy of Ehtesham Azad

Ehtesham Azad, Organizing Secretary of the GVBCA. | Photo courtesy of Ehtesham Azad

Azad says that despite some initial challenges, more than 90 per cent of the immigrants from Bangladesh are happy about their choice to move to Vancouver. Embracing a new culture can prove to be more difficult than they expected though, and pursuing the career they want can add more stress to the equation.

“They usually face difficulties such as qualifications recognition, adjustment to the Canadian workplace, and in general the task to interpret a new set of values and references,” explains Azad.

He says the transition process is usually much smoother for professionals who previously worked for multinational companies in Bangladesh, since they speak English and are already familiar with the standardized procedures. For others, the social context in Canada is unfamiliar and can be confusing.

“In Bangladesh, families can be described as elementary or nuclear families. In other words, the family as a social group consists of a father, mother and their children, while in Canada, extended and single-parent families are a widespread reality,” Azad says.

The price of integration

When it comes to cultural clashes between the old and new generations, Azad says the Bangladeshi community is no exception. Children born in the new country incorporate the new values into their lives, challenging the old ones.

“Parents are happy to have secured a better education and future for their children, but would like to see their offspring standing up for their culture and passing it on to the next generations,” says Azad.

He says only about 20 per cent of Bangladeshi-Canadian children are able to speak their native language, leading many parents to believe that integration comes with a price.

For information on the GVBCA and the Bengali New Year, please visit