Inspired by Max Adam’s original work, Unquiet Women, through this series Dr Hafsa Ahmed aims to share narratives of remarkable women who immigrated to New Zealand. These stories are rarely told, but each one is unique. Hafsa hopes these stories will bring Asia closer to New Zealand by enabling us to see through the eyes of others and nurturing connections.
In the eighth piece of the Unquiet Women series, she shares the story of entrepreneur Silky Sharma.
“In my whole family – and we have a big family – I’m the only girl who is settled outside India.” Silky smiles as shares her achievement.
But her journey in Aotearoa hasn’t been easy and she has been brave in the wake of all the challenges an Asian immigrant faces in a new country.
I inquired ‘what kept you going, what gave you confidence?’ and I was captivated by what she said: “If I go back that will lower the confidence of all those women who look at me back home.”
Silky came to Aotearoa in 2015 from Amritsar District in Punjab, India, as a girl with many dreams. She arrived here and started studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma in Business from Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.
As every immigrant does, she had to work and study to support herself. She admits she was a very “pampered” daughter, but with the encouragement of her mother, she set out to be brave and break stereotypes about women.
After completing her study, she travelled across Aotearoa, but it would be in Christchurch that her dreams started to become reality. There was something about Christchurch - the peace and calm - which convinced her that she should stay, despite her finding the North Island was more culturally diverse.
She started working in hospitality jobs to support herself – “it was a journey which was quite different in an environment that was totally different for me, especially being an Indian girl who had lived in a very protective environment,” she says.
Silky believes all those jobs have taught her a lot of important lessons and have made her who she is now – a successful entrepreneur.
While Silky’s journey is praiseworthy, it was not without challenges. I asked her to share some of them and she replied “I am who I am because of what those challenges have taught me.”
There were times in her journey when she would ask herself “Am I in the right place?” especially when she was made to realise often that her English language skills were not the best.
Her mother was a pillar of strength in times when Silky would break down over the phone talking to her – “but I didn’t want to go [home] – I wanted to prove myself.”
Silky thinks there is still a lot of work to be done in welcoming immigrants to Aotearoa – especially in work environments – where a lack of English skills can become the basis for mockery.
As we spoke about her challenges, Silky shared with me how “as immigrants, we need to prove ourselves before people believe us.”
The barriers immigrants face are many: dealing with a different culture, a new language, an unfamiliar environment.
“It needs a totally different mindset to approve of yourself – you have to hold yourself [up], you have to make your place,” she said.
But Silky was confident that she could push through these challenges and one day people will remember her as someone who did not give up – someone brave.
Silky was right - today when she walks into events she’s helped organise, people call her “an inspirational woman," she says. Silky’s advice to other immigrants who are dealing with similar difficulties is to “be confident - you need to just believe in yourself.”
Throughout our conversation, Silky spoke about her mother often said her mother was the main person who influenced her.
“She has had a great influence on me, I have great support in her and I am what I am today because of my mum - I give all credit to her.”
Silky’s mum gave her freedom even though she came from a conservative family. Her mother chose to shift from the traditional parenting approaches.
Since she was a child, Silky dreamed of seeing herself as a successful businesswoman and it was in Aotearoa that she saw her dreams realised.
She now runs her own events management company - Fanfare Events - in Christchurch.
“I would say, I'm very lucky because very less people get the chance to do what they really want to do in life. When I got the opportunity, I just grabbed it!” – she tells me with excitement and sparkle in her eyes.
Setting up her own business allowed her to implement her theoretical knowledge of business into practice. Fanfare has helped Silky fulfil her dreams but it’s also helped her build many relationships. Often her mum complains “I feel you have more relatives in New Zealand than we have here.”
Silky also found the love of her life, Antony, here. We spoke about how she met Antony and the journey of love for a while but for the sake of brevity, Silky describes him as the most humble and amazing human she has met. In fact, Silky says “All mothers need to raise their kids like this.”
I questioned her about what she missed most from back home. Her response - food, family and festivals, no place can replicate that and I second that. But Silky loves this country for the equal opportunities and freedom offered to women. She reflects on how conservative some families back home can be and said “I think if I would have had that much freedom back home, I would have been successful there too.”
Aotearoa is home now – “a beautiful country which has made my dreams come true. I want to live here because I know my kids will get the same opportunity – freedom to choose their career, their life partners.”
- Asia Media Centre