When you go into the Mac’s convenience store on Millwood, you have no idea, seeing the smiling man at the cash, how luck and determination have created a common Canadian story about recent immigrants.
His name tag says Korban. What you don’t know is that Korban Ali Joarder left a journalism career in Europe and Bangladesh to migrate to Canada in 2001, where he is now a store operator.
His story starts as the eldest son in a farming family in Bangladesh who was not encouraged to go to school. But when his father kept him home to work on the fields, the headmaster regularly came to the farm to get him back into the classroom.
With this perseverance from the headmaster and his own talents, Korban ended up with scholarships that got him to the University of Dhaka. His dream as a young man was to also be a headmaster of a school, but when he got a part-time job at the university as a reporter, he was hooked, and realized journalism was what he wanted to pursue.
Also, while there, he became the president of the student journalist association. He spent 1994-5 based in Paris on a journalism fellowship, but also travelling throughout Europe and the UK where he wrote feature articles in English, published in news magazines.
On his way home to Bangladesh he spent a short time in Canada visiting friends in Montreal and Toronto, but never thought he would return here.
Back home, he continued to write for publication in English and Bengali, often working at one paper during the day in English, and then for another in Bengali in the evening. All this hard work came with very little income, and in a political atmosphere that was difficult. He looked for a way to improve his situation.
As Bangladesh is a Commonwealth country, he had applied for a Commonwealth Press Union fellowship in 1998 under the auspices of the University of Toronto. By a fluke, he didn’t see the fax with the offer in time, and the fellowship was awarded to someone else.
That twist changed his life. He decided to leave Bangladesh anyway, and was accepted as an immigrant to Canada. When he arrived he was able to write for the local ethnic press, but the pay wasn’t sufficient to provide a living. Thus, you now see him behind his counter.
He’s put in time in grocery stores, doughnut shops, small coffee shop chains – doing everything from stocking shelves, making sandwiches, doing deliveries and driving a forklift truck.
Korban, now a Canadian citizen, and his wife, who is also from Bangladesh, have two daughters, 8 and 4. He and his wife gave their daughters names they hope will prove inspirational for them – Annesha, which means thirst for knowledge, and Asmita, which means self-esteem. Korban’s own name means compromising and sacrifice.
He also provides what help he can to family still in Bangladesh. His dream for the future is to return to his small village and through schooling make it possible for more children to have more opportunities.