Speaking for Ourselves

‘1,000 doors are closed, but then there’s no. 1001’

‘1,000 doors are closed, but then there’s no. 1001’

Daniel Nelson

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - ‘1,000 doors are closed, but then there’s no. 1001’

So much energy and enthusiasm bubbles out of Tanzila Zaman that you are not surprised to learn that one of her ambitions is to inspire more than 250 million immigrants around the world “who have made huge contributions towards their native countries and host countries”.

Her route to achieving that ambition is through a book published this year, Mind Your Mother Tongue: “It’s crucial to be proud of one’s own native language and culture.”

Tanzila’s native language is Bangla, or Bengali, the most widely spoken language in her home country, Bangladesh. It has a special place in the country’s existence, because from the independence of the Indian subcontinent in 1948 the Bengali language movement pressed for status as an official language of Pakistan and was a crucial factor in the political protests that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization later followed up a Bangladeshi initiative and declared an International Mother Language Day. Last year, when Britain’s House of Lords marked the day, 21 February, Tanzila was a guest speaker.

“Whatever the reason behind immigration, it is very hard to survive and achieve success when settling down in a new country,” Tanzila has written. “It is likely that first and second generations are strong regarding their mother tongue and culture but third or fourth generations hardly know or understand the value. It’s so pathetic, but realistic, too!”

That understanding – partly based on the experience of her own move to Britain in 2008, initially for further education, and the birth here of her son, now eight years old – led to her recent book, but also to five years of educational activity and empowerment training through Bank of Ideas, her community interest company (CIC, an enterprise that uses its profits for the public good).

Her target is migrants, especially mothers and parents struggling to make a new life in east London. She started in her sitting room but now uses libraries, childcare centres and other venues. She also makes home visits – which has given her an insight to various problems, particularly domestic abuse

She reckons that she has helped up to 500 clients in five years. “I have a gift from God,” she says, but admits she needs help herself because few of her clients can afford to pay: “They have no money but they give me flowers, and tea. It’s nice to give flowers”, she insists, with her irrepressible positivity.

Now, however, she is changing tack, and has decided to seek funding from corporations, instead of relying on fees.

“No pay, no clients,” she quips. “I’ll be strict.”

As every non-government organisation knows, fundraising can be so time-consuming that you spend your life seeking financial support rather than providing services. But Tanzila sweeps negative thoughts aside: “I’m an optimistic person. One day somebody will knock on my door: 1,000 doors are closed, but then there’s number 1001.”

There are other plans on the drawing board, including a joint venture to develop a skills app (“a revolution for the education industry”), and for herself a PhD (“Topic? Something to help migrant women”).

She intends to focus her work on coaching and mentoring, and media production.

This year she’s already won the Charity and Social Enterprise Award for migrant entrepreneurs, awarded by High Profile Club, and was an Excellent Yummy Mummy Award finalist. So don’t be surprised if she keeps moving closer to that 250 million target.


Image credit: Tanzila Zaman