By J.M. Lee

Before moving to Canada, Muhaddisa and her family went to Indonesia as refugees. They had no legal rights to get an education, employment, or healthcare there. The five years that they spent in Indonesia were bittersweet. “I made lifelong friendships with people who understood me better than everyone because we were all in the same situation,” Muhaddisa declares. “On the other hand, my family and I were constantly worried about our future. It felt like the entire world was moving on while we were all stuck behind. After five difficult years in Indonesia, my family was lucky to make it to Canada. We arrived in Vancouver three years ago, and my life has substantially changed for the better”

Even though she is still in high school, she has learned a lot of lessons from her life experiences that have made her who she is. “One of the most important lessons I want to share is to cherish every moment of life. Falling into a miserable cycle of pessimism is effortless, where you impose a negative view on everything around you. We are surrounded by so much chaos that it just takes one moment to sit down and observe all the wonderful things you take for granted. Instead of obsessing over all the people who have so much more than you do, think about those who dream of being in your position. Growing up lacking certain luxuries has taught me the importance of gratitude and choosing to make life as pleasant as possible for yourself.”

Muhaddisa first heard about TEDxSurrey from a message on Facebook when her older brother, Abdullah, sent it to her. “I was immediately happy to see an opportunity that allows high school students to showcase their life stories and ideas on a platform where you mainly see adults and experts. After being informed that I was selected as a speaker, I was overjoyed and spent the next few months training for the event. The incredible TEDxSurrey team worked very hard to guide and support us, and they did an excellent job with everything.”

When it was time for her to deliver her talk, she felt her words were coming straight from the heart, making her emotional. “It felt like I created a positive impact for my people, and I connected with the audience. Many people approached me afterward and expressed their kindness and support. It was a surreal moment, and it was definitely one of the most special days of my life.”

When she first arrived in Canada three years ago, Muhaddisa felt vulnerable. A new culture and environment surrounded her, and she felt she had missed out on so many years. “I realized that your confidence shines through once you accept that other people’s opinions do not define you. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. Being around people who believe in you and celebrate your happiness greatly impacts how you view yourself and the world. It is crucial to remember where you came from and how much your work means to you.”

As a leader, Muhaddisa believes in a team setting. “Being an approachable and communicative leader allows your team members to confide in you and be transparent. Strong communication is key for a successful team. Mapping out a specific game plan and ensuring everyone agrees creates an efficient tone for the team. Understanding your priorities and needs is the best way to find the right balance in life. I find the right balance amongst my responsibilities by differentiating between important and urgent, while going with the flow.”

Women should never undermine their abilities and potential, Muhaddisa believes. “Sometimes, the biggest enemy we face is ourselves, but the fear of failure should not stop you. I learned all this from my mother—her courage and drive as a fearless Hazara woman. She has never given up on herself or her family, no matter the obstacles she has had to face. Hardships become the fuel to stand up for what she believes in. She taught me the meaning of resilience and ambition. People where my mom was born and raised treated girls as inferior. I owe the life that I have today to her and all the women of Afghanistan. I want to thank my mom for enabling me to passionately follow my dreams and lead a life defined by courage, and for supporting me to pursue the education and career that she could only dream of having, as a little girl in Afghanistan.”