Most people are fascinated by my name, and I always wondered why. Maybe because it’s an uncommon one, or because they can’t pronounce it – there is an emphasis on the ‘e’ (pronounced eh) but very few people get it right, even in India.
Saleha is an Arabic word which means just and righteous, and as I’ve grown older I’ve realised how my name has shaped my life.
I was born into an interfaith family, (Ma a Hindu, Dad a Muslim), I went to a Catholic school and am now married to a Sikh. My faith has been imbibing the best of all the religions, and has guided me to make a better person of myself. Religious festivities – for me – are more of a celebration with family and friends over good food and drinks.
Growing up, the dinner-table conversations centred around how we could help the disadvantaged. My grandmother helped families and small businesses with financial assistance. She wasn’t rich; widowed at 32, she brought up three children single-handed on a headmistress’ salary while maintaining an extended family.
Ma followed in her mum’s footsteps and established a school for disadvantaged girls. She struggled to get them to school when supplementing family income – even for girls as young as 10 – was a priority for families. Four hundred and fifty people attended Ma’s funeral, among them girls who were the first students in their families and are now educators.
I have volunteered since I was young, teaching disadvantaged families to read and write as part of my school’s Leadership Training for Service, and later helping at Mother Teresa’s home for orphans.
It was during the pandemic that I realised how my voice can help the community. I launched my webcast, Chai, Chat & Community, in September 2020. I talk about issues that had been swept under the carpet, with the aim of educating and bringing awareness to the South Asian community. My guests and I do this pro bono.
Wanting to make a difference led me to join IndianCare, a primary prevention and early intervention not-for-profit community organisation which assists women fleeing family violence, supports international students and educates seniors about the harmful effects of alcohol. I am also the director at PeaceMeals, a community organisation helping refugees and new migrants meet established Australians over a plate of food.
In India my brother and I support 150 disadvantaged children with educational items, because education is the most empowering tool.
My mother has shaped my life, and my name – which I’ve grown to respect – has made me a better person.
Saleha Singh is the publication lead at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
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