Shashi Assanand retires as leader of one of BC’s leading multicultural family support services organization

Shashi Assanand
Photo: YMCA

AFTER 26 years at the helm of the Vancouver and Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Services Society (VLMFSS), Shashi Assanand, a highly respected nationally renowned registered social worker, has retired as the organization’s Executive Director.

All these years she provided invaluable, fearless advice to the readers of The VOICE by her comments and her articles that helped South Asians to face the reality of domestic violence.

Assanand left Uganda as a refugee in 1972 when military dictator Idi Amin ordered all individuals of South Asian descent to leave the country. She experienced firsthand the unique challenges refugee, immigrant women and their families face in their new communities as she built a new life first in the UK and then in Canada. Assanand made it her career’s work to support and empower immigrant families and facilitate cultural awareness and competency amongst professionals to better serve and / or work with immigrant and refugee families.

Assanand founded the VLMFSS in 1991 to provide counselling and support to immigrant and refugee women and children experiencing family violence, and to advocate to address some of the factors that put immigrant and refugee families at greater risk of violence. The organization revolutionized the delivery of family support services in the province.

The VLMFSS embodies Assanand’s vision of a truly multicultural Canada where women of all ethnic backgrounds use the same services side by side. This vision inspired her to veer away from ethno-specific versions of existing programs. Instead, she created an agency that operates as a satellite service that provides culturally and linguistically responsive support and counselling in over 24 languages enabling refugee and immigrant women as well as women without immigration status to access the services already available in their communities. As a result, they gain confidence in navigating the Canadian system and more importantly, see themselves as equal members of their communities.

“I’m very proud of the organization we have built,” says Assanand. “The VLMFSS is a source of support, empowerment and courage for so many immigrant women who come to our doors at a time of great personal crisis.”

“When the VLMFSS first opened its doors, domestic violence was a taboo topic in some immigrant communities and openly tolerated in others,” says Fiona York, VLMFSS Board Chair. “Ms. Assanand’s courageous leadership helped bring the issues into the open, educate her own Indo-Canadian community and other ethnic communities and challenge them to work together to end violence. Thanks to her, we are one step closer to ending violence against women in our increasingly multicultural city.”

Ms. Assanand’s legacy continues as VLMFSS strives to open spaces for dialogues and facilitate processes for racialized women and children to rebuild their lives from violence to non-violence.

The VLMFSS team welcomes Maria Socorro Mangila-Nguyen as its new Executive Director. Mangila-Nguyen is a first-generation immigrant woman of colour and social worker with extensive experience supporting and empowering diverse populations, including new immigrants and refugees.

“All of us at the VLMFSS are grateful for Shashi Assanand’s visionary leadership and wish her a happy retirement. To honour her legacy of empowering and supporting immigrant and families, the VLMFSS is establishing the Shashi Assanand Bursary for a first generation immigrant high school graduate planning to pursue degree in social work, psychology, nursing and other helping professions,” the VLMFSS announced.

A retirement party for Assanand will take place at Horizons Restaurant on October 23.