In the wake of the Iranian election fallout, Nazanin Afshin-Jam’s phone has been ringing off the hook.
The former Miss World Canada and Stop Child Executions founder has long been a vocal human rights activist, but the current uprising in her homeland is of particular — and more personal — significance.
For this reason, various groups, organizations and media outlets are turning to her for her opinions.
“The potential for change is very exciting,” said Afshin-Jam, who works as a full-time human rights activist from her Yaletown home. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.”
She believes Iranians must keep the momentum going with acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Afshin-Jam was born in Tehran in 1979, the year of the Islamic revolution. Her father, a Sheraton hotel manager, was imprisoned and tortured under the new regime for allowing music, dancing and alcohol at his hotel and faced execution. The family escaped to Spain, however, and settled in Vancouver after a short stay in Montreal.
After graduating from the University of B.C. with a degree in international relations and political science, studying in France and England and working for the Red Cross as a global youth educator, Afshin-Jam entered and won the Miss World Canada pageant in 2003. She used this as a platform to further her human rights activism.
She is known for helping exonerate Nazanin Fatehi, a then 17-year-old Iranian girl sentenced to hang for killing one of three men who allegedly tried to rape her in 2005.
“Since I was very small, I was very sensitive to people’s pain and suffering,” said Afshin-Jam, who theorizes her family’s exile affected her on a subconscious level. “I always wanted to take away people’s pain. It was something intrinsic within me.”
Having come from a country rife with political unrest and human rights violations, she is careful to never take for granted the freedoms she has living in Canada — advice she gives those currently struggling or otherwise worrying here in Vancouver.
“There are so many people around the world that are suffering — the real meaning of suffering,” she said.
“We’re so lucky (in Canada) … and I think sometimes during periods of recession people learn great lessons of what life and happiness are truly about.”