Bahar Banagar

Bahar found the support she needed during her moment of crisis

Finding a circle of support at UVic

When Bahar knocked timidly on her office door that day, Amy Chen immediately knew something was wrong. She was accustomed to the young woman’s shyness, but had never seen such panic and sadness in her light green eyes before.

“Sit down,” she said. “You look upset. What’s going on?”

Amy first met Bahar when she was a first-year student. Bahar had moved to Canada alone to start a biology degree at UVic. As an international student adviser, Amy helped her settle into the new environment and understand visa and immigration matters. Amy and Bahar had developed a trusting relationship, which is why Bahar went to her to in her moment of crisis.

“I have to leave school,” Bahar confided. “My father’s gone.”

A sad end to her university education

Bahar and her younger sisters completed high school in Malaysia, but her father had since returned to their native country of Iran for work. He wanted Bahar to get an education overseas, so he paid her international tuition to attend university in Canada.

Bahar knew her father had lung cancer, but he assured her he was getting better, and that there was no need for her to visit. His sudden death came as a terrifying blow for Bahar. On top of losing her beloved father, her future was up in the air. Without his financial help she couldn’t stay in school, and without her student visa, she would have to return to Iran. She left that country when she was 13.

“I can’t go back there Amy,” Bahar said. “I don’t have any family in Iran. My life is here, my boyfriend is here. I have a handful of courses left. Do you know anyone or anything that can help me?”

Bahar’s hand trembled on the desk between them and Amy put out her own to steady it. “Don’t worry. We’ll work this out and we’ll find a way to help you complete your degree.”

Together, Amy and Bahar brainstormed solutions to her predicament. Bahar already worked 20 hours a week (the most allowed by her visa) and she wasn’t eligible for student loans. However, she might qualify for some bursaries. Amy set up an appointment for Bahar with the Student Awards and Financial Aid (SAFA) office.

Finding donor support

Gifts from different individuals allow UVic to provide bursaries and awards for students in need. Those generous donors don’t know in advance how or when their support will be needed, but they know they want to do something to make a difference in the life of someone trying to pursue education.

Bahar repeated her story to Lori Nolt, the director of SAFA, and shared her fear that she’d have to give up everything her father worked so hard for. Lori explained about emergency funding and bursaries and showed her how to apply. She told Bahar they would find the money to cover her remaining tuition. That’s when Bahar, who had been trying to stay strong, broke into tears. The circle of support at UVic—from donors, to the caring support staff—had come to her aid during the worst moments of her life, and boosted her resilience when she felt she had none left.

Bahar struggled through that term, but was soon back on track. Now she’s set to graduate in May, 2019. She is determined to make a life in Canada because she knows that’s what her father wanted.

When Bahar sat down to thank the donors who had taken such a huge weight off her shoulders, she thought about how her father would have liked to have done something similar for others, if he had lived to have the opportunity.

“Bursaries saved my life,” she wrote in her letter. “There are no words that can describe how thrilled I am to be granted this award while I try to stay positive during this difficult time.”