Baljit Sethi

Date of Birth:
Village Sheikhupura, West Punjab
Current City:
Prince George, BC

Baljit Sethi was born in the village Sheikhupura now in Pakistan in 1943. Baljit earned her education from Ludhiana Government College and became a teacher at Lajpat Rai College in Jagraon, district Ludhiana, in Punjab, India. Baljit describes how one student, named Ragbir Chahal, in particular was very fond of her. He treated her like as if she was his sister and he was in turn the person that sponsored Baljit to Canada. Within one month, Baljit became a landed immigrant and came with her husband to Canada in August of 1972. Her children moved after she was settled. When Baljit’s plane landed in Vancouver, Ragbir picked her up and took her to Prince George. When Baljit’s husband came, they moved to Vancouver. Baljit liked living in Prince George rather than Vancouver because it was a smaller town.

As her first job, she worked as a counselor in Vancouver for a project that was funded by the department of education and focused on Indo-Canadian women and job opportunities. She was hired as a counsellor in Vancouver. After she finished this course she came to Prince George. Since the town wasn’t completely developed yet, it was called New Town Shape. When Baljit first came to Canada, she was looking for a job as a teacher and during that time, foreign degrees were not accepted in BC and she was told she had to graduate again and complete one year of teacher training before she could get a job as a teacher. She thought about it and realized that she didn’t have enough time or money to do this. This is when she moved to Toronto and lived there for six months. There she went to the department of education and was given an appointment and an interview. However before she could be interviewed, she had to write a three hour exam. When she finished everything they gave her a temporary job and told her that she could work anywhere in Ontario. In India, her teaching subjects were Punjabi, Social Studies, and fine arts. Since there was a shortage of art teachers, Baljit became an art teacher and taught painting classes in night school. After three months at the temporary job, she was given a permanent job.

In Prince George, Baljit worked for the immigration department as an interpreter which meant that whenever Indian immigrants needed help speaking English in interviews or parent teacher meetings, they would call Baljit for help. Most of the people that came from India were educated but their education was not recognized here. The Bachelor of Arts degree from India was considered equivalent to grade 10 here. The biggest challenge Baljit faced was the fact that she had a Bachelors in Education, a Masters in Arts, a guidance and counselling diploma and ten years of experience working in a community college and yet she couldn’t find a job because her education wasn’t considered valid. However, soon after, the immigration department began a three year long course for immigrants that had an education but it wasn’t seen as valid in the Canadian context. Baljit took this course so that her qualifications would be recognized. After that, Baljit went to Ottawa with an immigration officer to select refugees that came from other countries, including India. Being an immigrant herself, she understood why the refugees wanted to come to Canada so she helped bring many of them here.

Baljit went to India after six years of coming to Canada. After that, she went after every few years. Bajit also had a hobby of singing in India and was a radio singer. When she came here she tried very hard to make a drama group but it didn’t happen. However, she and her friends had a music group. She noticed that a man named Sarbjit Parmar needed an opportunity to do this too so whenever there was an event, she invited him to come and play his accordion. They wanted the Indian students here to feel encouraged so he played his accordion and sang along even though everyone else didn’t understand him. People really appreciated it when he played and sang and Baljit also received a lot of love and respect from this community. Baljit also attended a lot of planning events by the federal government where they would plan cultural programs or new projects that they started, or the ministry would show them their plan and asked them how they could do a better job to help the people. They had people representing them from each community and it was Baljit on the behalf of Northern BC. According to Baljit, now there aren’t as many multicultural programs because they do not have enough funding.