‘A North Star for all of us’

Jagjivan Mistry has been a pillar of Winnipeg’s Gujarati community since he arrived in 1975

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Jagjivan (Jayanti) Mistry doesn’t have an education degree, but he’s had an impact on hundreds of students.

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Opinion

Jagjivan (Jayanti) Mistry doesn’t have an education degree, but he’s had an impact on hundreds of students.

For the past 42 years, Mistry has volunteered at the Gujarati School of Language and Culture.

Founded in the fall of 1979 by people from Gujarat, a state in western India, the school teaches the Gujarati language to students ages 3 to 17. Classes are held every Saturday morning at General Wolfe School on Banning Street.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Earlier this fall, Volunteer Manitoba honoured Jagjivan Mistry by presenting him with this year’s William Norrie Arts & Culture Volunteer Award.

Mistry was dropping his son off at the school in early 1980 when the principal asked him if he could fill in for the kindergarten teacher that morning.

It soon became a permanent arrangement for the St. James resident.

Four years later, Mistry was appointed cultural program director at the school. He was responsible for introducing and organizing many cultural activities and programs for the children, including variety shows, Diwali art classes and competitions, summer camping and ski trips.

Mistry served two stints as principal between 1995 and 2021, for a total of 22 years.

Since 2021, Mistry has served as an adviser and mentor to the school’s current administration.

“Being with the children and the parents is something I enjoy,” he says. “The co-operation you get from the community makes you feel like you want to do more. Once you get hooked onto it, you don’t want to leave.”

Mistry was born in Kenya in 1951 to Gujarati parents. He spoke the language at home and learned it in school until Grade 6.

When he was a teenager, his father sent him to school in England, where he met and married his wife Urmila.

After working for a telecommunications company for a few years, Mistry and his wife immigrated to Canada with their young son. The family arrived in Winnipeg in 1975 with £100 and no connection to the Gujarati community.

Mistry worked for MTS at the time, travelling throughout the Prairies and Ontario installing equipment.

Along the way, Mistry and his wife had two more children and invested themselves in Winnipeg’s Gujarati community.

Despite never being trained in community development, leadership or management, he has become a pivotal leader in the community, serving with a passion and dedication that has affected thousands of people.

He is a pillar of inspiration, encouragement and servant leadership, says Shreeraj Patel, who was among the school’s first students and who worked alongside Mistry for a few years while volunteering with the school’s parents committee.

“I think he knew the worlds we (as first generation Indo-Canadians) were all in were very difficult and very challenging, and he knew he had to be a North Star for all of us,” says Patel, who refers to Mistry as “uncle” when speaking about him.

Patel adds that in Gujarati culture, people are taught to give without expecting anything in return.

“Uncle was really the manifestation of that,” he says. “For many of us, he was the blueprint. My commitment to the community… started at Gujarati School.”

Earlier this fall, Volunteer Manitoba honoured Mistry by presenting him with this year’s William Norrie Arts & Culture Volunteer Award.

Mistry’s youngest child, Bhavesh, nominated him for the award. In the application he submitted to Volunteer Manitoba, Bhavesh included a quote from his father that illustrates his inclusive, collaborative approach:

“The success and survival of the school has never relied on one man or woman,” Mistry is quoted as saying. “For the past 42 years, it has relied on the collective strength of a dedicated group of volunteer administrators, teachers, parents committee and students who all share a passion — a passion for the Gujarati community.”

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.

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