Parveen Punjani and Dolat Ebrahim (a.k.a. Dolly Bana) are just a couple of the seniors in our Jamat who remain active in service, with no plans of slowing down any time soon.
Dolly is proud to say that she is “70 years young!” Originally from Kampala, she was the only one from amongst her family to be granted immigration to the United States in the 1972 Asian exodus.
She was assigned a host family in Charlotte, North Carolina, who provided her with shelter and food. Though Dolly was a recently graduated nurse from Uganda, she had to go back to nursing school in order to practice in the United States. A local church (Disciples of Christ) and its congregation generously took on her tuition bill.
The love and assistance provided by the community for her every need overwhelmed her. Dolly says, “This opened my eyes. I am a total stranger to them. How do I pay back?”
A few years later, Dolly found a job at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, one of the largest public hospitals in the United States. While working as a full-time nurse, she began a lifetime of service that continued while she raised her two boys, including one who was born hearing-impaired. Her passion for service has continued for over the last four decades, and she views service as her way to give back for all the help she received when she first arrived here.
As a volunteer staff nurse, Dolly has helped generations of children at Camp Mosaic and Al-Ummah camp, and she has provided first-aid to numerous athletes at sports festivals and tournaments. She has also helped at community health fairs and flu clinics, and continues to visit patients to provide nursing care at home. She is often the nurse on duty during Jamatkhana prayer services and at funerals.
Dolly says, “I rarely miss a funeral.” She jokingly continues, “I provide ‘last-aid’ by helping the family of the deceased with emotional support.” For many years, Dolly relied on the unwavering cooperation of her co-workers, and would call-in sick, in order to attend funerals.
Even though Dolly has just retired, she continues to find numerous ways to make herself available within and outside the Ismaili community. Dolly’s advice to her senior peers: “Keep healthy, do what you can, know your limitations, embrace change, focus, live each moment, and feel blessed.”
Parveen Punjani has a similar story of a lifetime of service. However, Parveen’s educational and career path have been unconventional.
She attended school in a small town in Gujarat until 11th grade, after which she had to leave formal education due to family responsibilities. Soon married, the couple moved to Hyderabad, India, where their son was born, and then to Iran, where she gave birth to her two daughters.
Parveen and her young family “embraced the new culture” in Iran. She says, “I taught myself Persian and was speaking fluently pretty soon…we were always close to the Ismaili community in Iran. Being around them and going to Jamatkhana in a foreign land would bring us comfort.”
Despite Parveen’s inability to pursue higher studies, she says, “I was fascinated by learning...knowing that my kids would soon need to go to school motivated me to learn how to read and write (English) so I could help them. I started educating myself at every chance I would get.”
In the early 2000s, Parveen and her family moved to the United States. While in Tampa, Parveen had been practicing yoga with her family. A friend encouraged her to teach yoga the Jamat. She recalls, “I never thought I could teach a group of strangers. Little did I know that teaching yoga would become my number one passion!”
Teaching yoga provided Parveen “a new purpose and vision,” motivating her to become a certified yoga instructor. Subsequently, she helped develop the Move 2B Fit program and remains active in it by traveling to Jamatkhanas across metro-Atlanta to teach yoga. She is also a yoga instructor at LA Fitness.
Parveen is actively involved with the Aging Gracefully Initiative and Golden Club. Additionally, Parveen’s love for children and fostering their education prompted her to undergo training as an Early Childhood Development Center mentor.
Service brought an additional perk to Parveen. She says, “my professional journey started by doing seva in Jamatkhana. It presented me with the motivation to pursue my own childhood dream of finishing my education.” She completed her General Educational Development certification in 2014 and is currently enrolled in an Early Childhood Education degree program, with plans to graduate in 2020.
Parveen’s advice to others is: “always be open and flexible to changes... Learning and growing is a lifelong process. So, embrace the changes, the growth and the opportunities that come your way.”