Fazilatun Nessa—affectionately known as Babli—became inspired by two women when she was a teenager in Bangladesh: Mother Teresa, and a missionary from Germany she remembers as “Kate.” Their selfless and life-saving work crystallized Babli’s choice to help her struggling community. As a new high school graduate, she began working in missionary hospitals, and organizing food and clothing drives. Before going “against the wind” in 1996 and immigrating as a single mother with her two daughters to Canada, Babli had a rich history of service in her native country. She earned a Master’s degree in Sociology at Dhaka University, and served as executive director of the Bangladesh Association of Maternal and Neonatal Health. Her commitment to poverty reduction, health and nutrition, and gender rights flourished in her work as a program officer at USAID, and a family planning specialist with the Asia Foundation.
“I believe in partnership work. I have many good partners—community and individual—who help in every way.”
Carving out a new life in adopted Toronto, Babli immediately volunteered her expertise at Rexdale Women’s Centre, then thrived in community development work in Regent Park. Now settled in the Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park (KGO) neighbourhood of Scarborough, Babli and a group of local residents—many immigrants like herself—created Healthy Living Through Art in 2008, a free children’s program that combines education about healthy lifestyles with creative projects taught by a professional artist. Margaret Chown, an art teacher who has worked with Babli says, “She is very dedicated and warm. An art lover, writer, and feminist.” Babli says it is her passion to help families in the KGO. “I believe in partnership work. I have many good partners—community and individual—who help in every way.”
Babli conducts poverty-reduction research for the University of Toronto, and is also an advocate fighting for migrant rights, domestic abuse survivors, and women’s empowerment. Thanks to her many years of service, Babli is a well-loved mentor who facilitates a leadership class for youth over age 13 at East Scarborough Storefront. “I’ll pass the torch to the youth leaders, to carry on my work.”