Jebunnessa Chapola is making her mark in the fields of feminism, volunteering and cultural activism.
Chapola is a scholar and mother currently working on a PhD in Women’s, Gender, and Sexualities studies at the University of Saskatchewan. She has an array of experience and achievement under her belt, which recently earned her a CBC Future Top 40 Award for community leadership, social activism and volunteerism.
Chapola is grateful to her respected community elder and mentor Arati Chattopadhyay, who nominated her for the award. For Chapola, receiving this honour is not only the recognition of a goal achieved but a motivation to keep working hard and raising awareness on the issues that are important to her.
Chapola was born and raised in Bangladesh where she obtained an undergraduate degree in sociology. She furthered her education with two graduate degrees in social work and gender and development in Sweden and Norway, respectively. Upon returning to Bangladesh, Chapola worked for the United Nations Development Programme.
In 2010, Chapola immigrated to Canada with her husband and two daughters. Chapola wanted to build bridges between diverse cultures and people, and make community involvement more accessible to new Canadians.
“My life’s mission is dedicated to making subalterned ethnic and indigenous cultures visible in the international arena and to creating awareness about the barrier to achieving social and environmental justice through engaged scholarship, relational and arts-based research practices and working within and across new media environments,” Chapola said.
She emphasizes the importance of having an intersectional view towards social justice and strives for solutions to issues such as institutionalized racism, classism, sexism, systematic injustice, white privilege, heterosexual privilege and cultural imperialism. In short — she’s a busy lady.
Chapola became such an involved activist because she wanted to challenge societal assumptions about motherhood. After the birth of her two daughters, Chapola struggled with maintaining her professional identity. She noticed a shift in others’ attitudes towards the work that she was doing and began to feel devalued as her focus shifted away from her career to her family and community. These attitudes brought up a question for her: why is unpaid work not considered a contribution to society?
It became one of Chapola’s biggest missions to make sure that activities without pay are valued as equally as jobs that generate an income. Volunteering and domestic tasks require both effort and passion, even though they are unpaid.
Chapola began volunteering for various organizations in Saskatoon as soon as she arrived in the city. She served as vice-president of the board for the International Women of Saskatoon organization for three years, as a cultural ambassador at Ness Creek Music Festival for four years and currently takes part in cultural festivals all across the city.
Chapola is also heavily involved in the U of S Students’ Union Women’s Centre, the International Student and Study Abroad Centre and the Aboriginal Students’ Centre. She will also serve as the vice-president academic of the Graduate Students’ Association at the U of S for the 2015–16 academic term. She also finds time to teach free lessons in music and vocal performance out of her home for children in her community.
In 2012, Chapola initiated a radio show on CFCR 90.5 FM titled Banglar Gaan O Kotha — which translates to Bengal’s Song and Stories. The show highlights Bengla culture and provides the Bangladesh community in Saskatoon with a way to stay connected with their music, language and history.
The CBC Future Top 40 Award recognizes Chapola’s many years of community contribution. Her fierce passion for social justice and ability to overcome obstacles makes her an inspiration to students and the wider community alike.
Photo: Caitlin Taylor/Photo Editor