Growing up in rural Beterverwagting on Guyana’s east coast, Dr. Vivian Rambihar recalls studying under the toxic fumes and little light of a kerosene lamp because there was no electricity in his village.
Life was even more challenging in a large household with eight children, but nothing was going to prevent him from pursuing his dream of studying medicine. The specialty became clear while he was enrolled at Queen’s College.
Recognized globally for his pioneering health promotion ideas and practice, the cardiologist was honoured last week with a Top 25 Canadian Immigrant award. Launched in November 2008, the national award program seeks to uncover and celebrate the untold stories and remarkable achievements of outstanding immigrants.
Dr. Rambihar said late Guyanese medical expert, Dr. Charles Denbow, who died three years ago in Jamaica, inspired him to pursue cardiology.
“He taught me and I was so impressed by what he accomplished,” said Rambihar. “I told myself I was going to be a distinguished clinical cardiologist just like him.”
After graduating and teaching Math at his alma mater for a year, Rambihar came to Canada and completed his Bachelor of Science degree in two years at the University of Toronto. He graduated from McMaster University Medical School where he completed internal medicine and cardiology training followed by sub-specialist training at Toronto General Hospital.
In 1993, the medical practitioner implemented a multicultural cardiology project to address the excess risk of health disease in South Asians, Native people, Hispanics and people of African origin. He also introduced new ideas of chaos and complexity science to medicine, peace, health and development and initiated a global heart project.
Rambihar set the tone for his three daughters who have followed him in the medical profession. In July, the eldest – Sherryn – will begin practicing as a cardiologist while Nadira is pursuing physical and rehabilitation medicine at U of T. The youngest daughter, Vanessa, graduates this month with a medical degree from the same university.
He collaborated with Vanessa and Sherryn to write a paper, “Race, Ethnicity, and Heart Disease: A Challenge for Cardiology in the 21st Century”, that was published in the special 50th anniversary issue of the American Heart Journal in January 2010.
The health co-chair of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, Rambihar said he overcame the challenges of being a newcomer in Canada by focusing on his goals, learning and adapting.
“This is a land of opportunity and I made use of it,” he said. “I faced culture shock and isolation like most new citizens experience, but I worked very hard and made tremendous sacrifices earlier on to achieve my initial success and then I built on that.”
Rambihar was well ensconced in Canada when Francis Atta migrated from Ghana with his family 22 years ago. The youngest recipient ever of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant award at age 26, Atta posted huge points and rebounds for James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic Secondary School while eyeing the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a potential destination.
The dream of playing professional basketball faded after he suffered a serious knee injury. Averaging just 25 per cent in at least three subjects in Grades 11 and 12, Atta recognized he had to turn his life around to become a useful citizen.
“I started to hang out with positive influences and I decided that if I was going to motivate and uplift people, I also had to be educated,” said Atta, who is one of 14 children.
The Jane and Finch resident, who lost several friends to gun violence in the community, started KEYS (Knowledge and Effort Yield Success) to encourage people to strive to overcome obstacles and “No Colour No Blood” through which he organizes multicultural programs. He recently graduated at the top of his class from the George Brown College Child & Youth Worker program and is looking forward to returning next month to the land of his birth for the first time since migrating.
“I am so excited,” said Atta who will spend a month in Ghana. “I have my grandmother, aunts, uncles and other family members I have not seen in over 20 years. I have also started a canned food and toys drive because I want to take things back home for the young people.”
Actress, Tonya Lee Williams, emigrated with her mother from England nearly four decades ago.
“It’s funny but this recognition reminds us in a positive way that we are still immigrants and how important that is because this country has benefited so much from us,” said the 1977 Miss Black Ontario and award-winning actress.
Best known for her role as Dr. Olivia Hastings on the daytime drama, The Young and the Restless, and the founder of the Reel World Film Festival 11 years ago, Williams is cast in the Yahoo exclusive series, Cybergeddon, which was recently shot in Toronto. The exclusive scripted series about cybercrime and identity theft debuts later this year and will open on nearly 50 million screens to a potential worldwide audience of about 700 million people.
Williams is in Winnipeg this week for the production start of Prosecuting Casey Anthony which is based on Jeff Ashton’s bestseller, Imperfect Justice. She will also make an appearance on Degrassi: The Next Generation to be shot at the end of the month.
Other winners were Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, Somali-born singer/songwriter K’naan and Nigerian-born Daniel Igali who won Canada’s first world amateur wrestling title, set a Canadian university record with 116 straight victories in a two-year span at Simon Fraser University where he secured a Master’s degree, raised millions of dollars to build a school and community centre in his Nigerian hometown and ran for political office.
The fourth annual People’s Choice awards attracted approximately 28,000 online votes and 450 nominations, which are both records.
“Our mandate is to motivate, educate, celebrate and inform and I think all of our winners are a true testament to what we stand for,” said Canadian Immigrant publisher, Gautam Sharma. “You are a true inspiration to all Canadians and proof that the Canadian dream is indeed possible and very much alive.”
Senator Linda Frum and Royal Bank of Canada senior executive, Jennifer Tory, also congratulated the winners. RBC is the awards presenting sponsor.
“Canada is a country that not only welcomes immigrants, but it’s largely defined by our diversity,” said Tory who is RBC’s regional president for the Greater Toronto Area. “We rely on the many cultures, traditions and new ideas represented by so many of our winners this year for our future prosperity. While immigrating to a new country is not an easy choice, we would not be the nation we are today without so many people like the honourees having the courage to make that choice.”
The winners were presented with a commemorative certificate and a $500 donation that would go to the registered Canadian charity of their choice.
BY RON FANFAIR