Afraj Gill was born in Chandigarh, India and in 2000 immigrated to Vancouver, BC. He was eight years old at that time, and recently graduated from Enver Creek Secondary School in Surrey, BC. His accomplishments during his four years of high school are remarkable and Afraj’s final grade average was 99 percent to 100 per cent.
In recognition of his scholastic achievements Afraj has won 16 scholarships totaling in at $100,000. This includes a prestigious Simon Fraser University Award, which alone is $34,000. In addition, he was class valedictorian and as the president of the school’s student council and president of the graduation committee, he contributed a lot. “I had responsibilities that not many kids experience. I managed the entire student body and was in charge of concerns raised by the entire school. I was a liaison between the student body and administration, and it was a great experience.”
Afraj also excels in extracurricular activities. He belonged to seven community and service organizations and volunteered numerous hours towards youth oriented initiatives. This passion driven young graduate has gathered several young men and women across Canada to form clubs and teams that have one vision: to motivate and empower youth to make positive differences in society.
“I do not believe that being lucky or smart is the determinant of success. One can only achieve through pure hard work. There is no shortcut. Kids here take it for granted the privileges they have. A lot of kids focus less on what it takes to have a successful life and more on having a good time. They don’t realize that it’s what you do now that determines your future”.
Coming from India, Afraj had a lot to say: “In India, caste and social standing restrict one’s future. Here family background does not get in the way. One has the luxury, through hard work, of being allowed to achieve whatever one is capable of.” Through his lectures and talks, his main goal is to get kids involved in the community. “We have so much opportunity here in Canada, and it is our moral responsibility to give back. Kids have so much potential, but they get diverted into the wrong things.”
One of the initiatives that Afraj is involved in is called ASHA (Advocates for Social and Heritage Awareness). The sole purpose of this group is to inform all parents and high school students of the community regarding the possibilities of financial aid. This is important to Afraj as he feels that there are many students out there with straight A’s, but graduate with only 10 % of what they deserve.
“This organization provides the community with resources, websites and the necessary information to help kids achieve their dreams.”Afraj wants to incorporate ASHA with other community services. Afraj has devoted close to 1200 hours to social programs in his community, including the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society, which provides recent immigrants with resources to help with their transition process.
“New immigrant student issues are important as it can be very difficult to integrate socially and economically. I know that I was bullied and harassed because of my accent. This can create a lot of emotional damage. And it is South Asian kids who are first in line to use nasty words. They don’t realize that their parents are Indian. They wouldn’t say those things to their parents, so why would they say things like that to me?”
Along with this, the organization addresses other issues that kids may face as new immigrants. The organization gives kids direction and awareness so that they know what resources are available here in Canada.” Afraj realizes that to push ahead you need the psychological and mental motivation to research and move ahead on your own. What is the root cause of the issues that youth face? What can I do to contribute? According to Afraj there are many factors that come into play. Teachers, parents and the kids themselves must all be taken into account.
When asked about his most memorable moment, Afraj replied: “It was my years at the air cadets.” Afraj earned his private pilot’s license and glider’s license before he learned how to drive. “Not only did I make friendships that will last me a lifetime, but I learned how to dedicate myself to certain tasks. In the military world, you get yelled at if you get distracted. So I learned self discipline through survival exercises in the wilderness. I even learned how to use the rifle!”
When asked about what inspired him he did not hesitate to say “my parents. My parents sacrificed a lot by coming to Canada. They were well established and had stable jobs, but they knew there were more opportunities here. So they gave everything up and started from scratch. And that is why it hurts me when I see kids take advantage of their parents and treat them with disrespect. They don’t realize how hard their parents worked to get them to where they’re at.”
Afraj is currently enrolled at SFU’s business school and aspires to pursue an MBA from Harvard. Afraj wants to travel the world and do labor with his own hands. He would love to fund projects and build schools as a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. “I want to see this world transform. I want to see a world in which all young men and women have the motivation, potential and inspiration to achieve what they dream of. That’s my dream”.
Afraj was recently awarded the Young Wonder Extraordinary Achievement Award at the 2010 DARPAN Magazine Red Carpet Gala in honour of his Extraordinary Achievement in Academia and Community Initiatives.