Despite the challenges that life has thrown at Rashique Ramiz, the graduate student from the Kenneth Levene Graduate School of Business has landed on his feet and procured his dream co-op placement at the Child Trauma Research Centre. Turns out that, as much as Ramiz is getting out of the placement, the Centre is getting much more from him.
University of Regina master’s student Rashique Ramiz remembers the day his world changed forever. He had just started a co-op term as the IT communications specialist with the newly-established Child Trauma Research Centre (CTRC). His wife, Faeqa Farooq, was four months pregnant with their first child, and the happy young couple was overjoyed at how their life in Canada was unfolding. Then, on September 29, Ramiz was jolted awake at 5:15 a.m. by the persistent buzz of his cell phone. Panicked, he answered the long-distance call from Bangladesh, bracing for news no child ever wants to hear: his beloved father was gravely ill with a high fever.
“I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right. My mother and sister were crying and I felt so helpless and so far away,” says the quiet, introspective student from the Kenneth Levene Graduate School of Business. Within an hour, his father was gone.
As the only son and eldest of two children, Ramiz sprang into action to help his family in Bangladesh. Even though he couldn’t travel and there was a 12-hour time difference between the two countries, Ramiz used his business acumen to sort through company orders, payroll and staffing concerns of his late father’s struggling business. Since that fateful September day, his schedule has been relentless.
Beginning at 9 a.m., he works a full day from home for the Child Trauma Research Centre. He then takes over cooking and cleaning duties to help out his wife and tends to their infant daughter, Raizel. Then, from 9 p.m. until 1:00 a.m., he manages his dad’s Bangladeshi business from afar. “The company is barely making enough money to pay salaries and is operating at a loss,” he confides. “I’ve been trying to sell the business, but with COVID-19, times are hard and no one wants to buy. These are very unpredictable times, but I am not giving up. I like a challenge, and I don’t need much sleep. So far, I’ve been able to manage affairs back home plus take on all of the opportunities with my co-op placement.”
Anyone facing similar circumstances would probably have reason to be a little morose, but Ramiz is the kind of person who radiates positivity. His can-do attitude and unbridled resourcefulness have earned him the admiration and respect of his colleagues, in particular his supervisor, Dr. Nathalie Reid, CTRC’s director.
“I used to be a high school teacher and I’ve always believed that youth are our future,” she enthuses. “Rashique’s story is so compelling. He’s helping to shape our future by being the focal point of our values and our mission. His creativity, IT and digital knowledge, along with his data analysis, are helping us better respond to child trauma issues at home and abroad, with the ultimate goal of helping to prevent child trauma.”
The CTRC was established at the University of Regina in March of 2020 to focus attention on issues and research pertaining to child trauma and its impacts on child and youth mental health and well-being.
Until the Centre’s founding, Saskatchewan lacked the research services to co-ordinate knowledge of child trauma across diverse sectors, programs and stakeholders. The CTRC focuses on multidisciplinary research and collaborates with the Ministries of Health, Justice, Education and Social Services, as well as other agencies across Canada. This is helping mitigate the causes of child trauma and its long-term impacts, which will help spur transformational change, not only in Saskatchewan, but around the globe.
“Child trauma is far more common than we think,” says Reid. “Any child from any background or socioeconomic group can be living with trauma. Traumatic events such as poverty, addiction, domestic abuse, neglect and violence in the home can dramatically impact a young person’s life. When these lives are derailed, the community at large bears the consequences – from public services that are burdened to employers unable to benefit from a young person’s potential.”
The CTRC became an official entity on March 10, 2020. One day later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. “I met with the team and said ‘If we can’t be relevant now, and respond to how COVID-19 will impact children and their teachers, then we don’t deserve our jobs.’ So we got to work with coinciding research projects to support those in child-serving capacities, including attending to the dramatic mental health impacts of COVID-19, and ultimately, how this has impacted the mental state of teachers, administrators and school staff,” says Reid.
Being able to respond on an international scale meant having someone on the team able to tackle the digital demands of the CTRC. Ramiz fit the bill. Before coming to Canada, he received his undergraduate degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Anxious to come to Canada, he and his wife were both accepted for postgraduate diplomas at Canadore College in Ontario, where Ramiz obtained a certificate in Project Management
and IT with academic honours. He was then accepted into the Kenneth Levene Graduate School of Business at the U of R where he’s pursuing his master’s of Administration in Leadership.
“Rashique has absolutely wowed us with his ability to get our website up and running (www.childtraumaresearch.ca), build our Digital Connections Hub, research and develop secure data storage, and help us throughout every stage of operation,” says Reid. “His willingness to do whatever it takes to get the ball rolling has really impressed the entire team.”
Ramiz blushes at the compliments, humbled at his good fortune. He admits he was scared at first, but says he was welcomed into the fold by colleagues who are “just like family.” He adds that CTRC’s culture of inclusion has helped him build his confidence.
His first project was to develop the Digital Connections Hub, an online resource for those in child-serving capacities to support vulnerable children and families in the midst of the pandemic and beyond. The website synthesizes a vast quantity of research and translates it into two-page briefs and information posters. Feedback on the Hub has come in from as far away as the Philippines. Ramiz developed a collection of infographics and poster material for the Hub that can be easily digested by different age groups. “We’re on all of the social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter,” he says. “I’m also making child wellness posters that young kids can relate to about mental well-being.”
Ramiz’s second project was to develop a three-part survey in conjunction with the Faculty of Education. “The first part of the survey dealt with the reality of what Canadian teachers, administrators and school staff faced when the pandemic first hit,” he explains. “We came up with multiple photos of a teacher sanitizing a desk and trying to maintain safe distance in the classroom. We then offered 21 anecdotal responses that a teacher could apply to those photos, from hostile, afraid and nervous to excited, inspired and enthusiastic. While teachers have had to focus on the educational needs of students, they’ve also been faced with huge stress in re-thinking the way they teach.”
Ramiz says they wanted to make sure the responses were analyzed accurately. “We did our coding based on the responses and created groupings from somewhat positive to somewhat negative to get the exact emotional response,” he says.
The second part of the survey was then sent to teachers, administrators and school staff when schools reopened after the lockdown. The third part of the survey, released in May, focused on the mental health and wellbeing of those same stakeholders in the midst of the vaccination rollout.
“What the survey is showing us is that teachers need more funding from governments to balance the educational and health needs of children during COVID-19,” he says. “Based on our results, teachers are afraid for their own health and that of their students.”
Future projects for Ramiz include: developing a website for a conference called Supporting Systemic Responses to Sexual Violence in conjunction with the Regina Sexual Assault Centre; designing a non-credit professional certificate in trauma-sensitivity and trauma-informed practices; and participating in the writing of grant proposals. Ramiz is also working with a team to help develop resilience in schools by creating a neurological-based tool kit for vulnerable kids.
“Rashique was hired as a communications person, but we’re discovering he has so much more to offer the CTRC,” Reid says. “His skills and insight are invaluable.”
Ramiz believes it was fate that landed him such meaningful work – a chance to gain insight into his own difficult past and use the lessons learned to help others facing trauma.
“Oh boy, how much time do we have?” the 29-year-old asks, unsure where to begin. “My father moved us around a lot, going from one failed business to another. He always had big dreams, investing all of his money, but those dreams never materialized. Whenever the business would go bad, the whole family was affected. I never really made friends because we were always moving,” he confides. “I was a very skinny boy and I have scoliosis (curvature of the spine), so the public-school uniforms never fit. The pants were always very loose. One day, one of the boys pulled them right off me, in front of my classmates, and I remember crying as I ran back home.”
Ramiz pauses for a moment, as if reliving that difficult memory. “I had to wear a thick belt to keep my muscles strong because of my back,” he continues. To this day, he must take breaks every hour so excruciating pain doesn’t set in. “Because of my condition, I lived through a lot of mental trauma of being devalued by relatives and friends. It haunted me for a long time, which affected my confidence.”
Ramiz remembers travelling to another country when he was older, and his belt got him confused with a terrorist.
“I had a big beard and I was harassed by security because they thought I was a suicide bomber, pointing to my big belt and beard. I think that’s the reason my father changed my last name, but it didn’t really help in that situation.” Ramiz and his family are Bangladeshi Muslim. He says his father, Mohammed Hossain, didn’t want his children to experience the same kind of intolerance that he experienced, so he changed the kids’ last names from Hossain to Ramiz so they might escape overt racism.
“Because my family moved so much, I did not have good grades and I struggled with English. The first time I applied to the U of R, my application was rejected,” he admits.
Ramiz’s positive outlook and unflappable resolve have earned him the reputation of someone who is helping shape the kind of world in which we all want to live. His tenacity to set the bar extremely high in his co-op position, while single-handedly managing an overseas business late into the night so he can provide for his mother and sister in Bangladesh, is one of the reasons why Ramiz has endeared himself to so many.
Ramiz continues to give his all in every aspect of his life. The late cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Although she died nearly two decades before Ramiz was born, one could argue that Mead was envisioning a world made better by people like Ramiz. “I keep reminding myself that I am extremely lucky to be here and getting the education that I am,” he says thoughtfully. “Now that I am a father, I have even more reason to make the world a better place.”
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Photos by Trevor Hopkins, University of Regina Photography Department and courtesy of Rashique Ramiz.