Parent. Counsellor. Community leader. Activist. Educator. What may sound like the titles for many people are in fact attributed to one person – Kashmir Besla. She is all those things and much, much more. And DRISHTI had the privilege of sitting down and talking to her about her past accomplishments, current endeavours and future goals.
Kashmir was born in India, and immigrated to Canada at the tender age of 4. The fourth of 5 children, her siblings and parents first settled in Vancouver, before moving to Surrey in grade 6. Soon after graduating from Princess Margaret High School, Kashmir began criminology studies at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford. She also began working in Abbotsford as a Family Outreach Counsellor. It was when Kashmir was asked about her varied work experiences that her passion for the work she does came shining through.
“At the time, there were no Punjabi-speaking child protection workers,” she explained, “so I would often be asked to come along during investigations involving South Asian families.” Kashmir noticed that while many South Asian families were fearful of child protection services, having someone who spoke their language and listened to them respectfully helped reduce their fears considerably. It was during this work as an Outreach Counsellor that she realized how much she enjoyed working with families. “I thought I was going to go into law enforcement, but somehow kept getting pulled back into counselling-related work,” Kashmir said with a laugh.
Kashmir spent 11 years in Abbotsford as a counsellor, before taking a job at Surrey Women’s Centre, where for nearly 4 years she worked as a counsellor working with victims of domestic violence and child abuse. Thereafter, she continued working with families in need, as a Family Preservation Worker at the Children’s Foundation, while also studying and completing her Masters Degree in Counselling Psychology.
Kashmir has also taken on several side projects throughout her career, projects that she takes because they both interest and challenge her. I’ve always had a passion to be community-minded,” she explained. “I love working with youth, and any other issues that challenge me.” Kashmir has worked with Headlines Community Theatre on a youth violence project, preparing a report that made recommendations to social service agencies; she was a member of the Group of 10, which consisted of ten South Asian community members who made recommendations to the federal government on initiatives to reduce South Asian youth violence; she has helped created public service announcements on domestic violence in our community (A Village of Men) and on issues faced by marginalized youth; and after being contacted by a police agency, she served as a mediator between two groups of South Asian youth who were in conflict. Most recently, she has been working with Kwantlen as a Community Researcher on the Community University Research Alliance project on youth violence. Kashmir also sits on the Board of Directors of AMSSA, the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies.
While Kashmir enjoys working with all families in need, she holds a particular passion in working with South Asian families. In particular, Kashmir advised, “The strength of our culture and its ability to overcome its fear of getting assistance, that’s inspiring to me. They’ve been raised to sometimes not talk about things and once they do, they realize how powerful and beneficial it can be. They are then able to express their emotions and talk about things they’ve been suppressing for a long time.”
After several years of working in non-profit organizations and after establishing her reputation as a counsellor, Kashmir decided to go into private practice, where she could focus exclusively on the kinds of things she wanted to do. In addition to her private practice, she conducts therapy groups with men who have abused, and works as a faculty member at City University, teaching courses in counselling psychology. Kashmir loves being able to do so many things she enjoys at once, and is thankful to all of those who helped her along the way. “I am so grateful for the support I’ve always been given by my family, friends and colleagues. It has meant so much to me.”
Kashmir Besla has devoted her life to raising her son while providing much needed counselling and support to children, youth and families in need. For that, DRISHTI honours her as one of our community’s brightest stars.