Meet a WE Family: The Nayyars

Taking care of others is part of this family’s heritage. Here’s how they pay it forward.

By Tamar Satov

Ask Anjum Nayyar where she developed her deep empathy for others and a desire to give back, and it’s no surprise she credits her South Asian background. After all, cultural heritage is a huge influence for the Richmond Hill, Ont., mom, who is the founder and editor of Masala Mommas, a popular online platform for mothers with South Asian roots.

“I watched my grandparents cook and take food to families who had lost a loved one—these are values passed down through our elders,” she says, adding that it’s up to each generation to instill these values in their children. “It’s kind of a materialistic society now. We need to teach kids about giving back and find ways to make it meaningful. They need to know it’s not all about them.”

It’s something Anjum and her husband, Rakesh, a biochemical researcher, take seriously with their 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. They use cultural celebrations, such as Diwali, as an opportunity to talk about helping others — one such conversation last year led the family to donate a portion of their gift money to the SickKids Foundation.

Nayyar even finds ways to put a cultural spin on secular celebrations, like Earth Day. For example, Masala Mommas partnered with US-based Hindi Gym to give parents tools and activities to teach their kids about Earth Day (or “Prithvi Divas” in Hindi), with suggestions on how to use the weather to kickstart a conversation. “My son is very obsessed with the weather,” says Nayyar. “If a tornado is reported on the news he’ll ask how we can help the community that was damaged. He’ll say, ‘Mom, I wanna give my money to one of the families!’”

Of course, the Nayyars don’t limit their involvement in the community to special occasions. They also participate in fundraising events for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, medical issues common in the South Asian community (Anjum’s dad suffers from heart disease), and do what they can every day to help the environment (see below for their favourite environmentally conscious habits).

Still, there’s nothing like piggybacking on tradition and ritual to get you thinking about others, says Nayyar. “We’re so ‘go-go-go’ as moms,” she says. “It’s good to use cultural celebrations as occasions to have these conversations.”


The Nayyars’ Top-5 Favourite Ways to be Environmentally Conscious”

  1. Conserving energy and water:
    “We make sure to shut out the lights; and we don’t do baths, we do showers.”
  2. Picking up litter:
    “When my son sees garbage on the ground he’ll yell, ‘You have to pick that up!’”
  3. Reducing consumption and waste:
    “We encourage everyone to take only as much food as they need, not more.”
  4. Donating items for re-use:
    “We do a big spring clean and donate things that are in decent condition.”
  5. Recycling:
    “We’re still working on this one. Sometimes I’ll have to ask [my kids], ‘Why did you throw that in the non-organic waste?’”