Mu’minah (Mona) Zafar was just nine years old when she witnessed her mother being threatened with a gun to her head.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had just been assassinated and Mona and her mother found themselves caught up in the unrest across Pakistan that followed. A simple trip to the market quickly morphed into a life and death situation as they narrowly escaped a market building before it was set on fire. On the way home, their car was stopped by terrorists, one of whom pointed a gun to her mother’s head. They were only allowed to leave when her mom appealed to them to be let go by revealing her pregnant belly.
The traumatic experience would serve as a flashpoint for her decision to pursue a career dedicated to keeping communities safe. As a teenager, she spent her high school years working with emergency response organizations supporting victims of terror across the country and championing female education.
When she was 17, she came to Canada on her own to escape a situation where her life was at risk because she was a girl who wanted to be educated. With the support of a relative, a number of non-governmental organizations, and diplomatic officials, she arrived and began a new chapter in her journey.
Once in Canada, she was looking for an educational program that would help realize her goal of a meaningful career supporting public safety.
“I was looking for a program that would provide knowledge in emergency management, natural disasters, in security management, so the terrorism and public safety aspect of it,” she said. “And I wanted to be somebody who would know how to apply this knowledge, would know how to use these skills.”
She found what she was looking for in the Bachelor of Emergency & Security Management Studies (BESMS) program at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).
I love the fact that they took the time to meet with you personally, explain everything to you, find what works for you
The program was a perfect fit and had the added benefit of being fully online, which allowed Mona to juggle her studies with working to make ends meet to support herself and her young family.
One of the strengths of the program was the connection and support she received throughout her studies.
“I love the fact that they took the time to meet with you personally, explain everything to you, find what works for you,” she said, noting her instructors included internationally-recognized industry experts. “The fact that those people are the ones to be teaching us, I thought it was a golden opportunity and I’m glad that I took it.”
Mona said she now counts one of her JIBC instructors as a mentor and her networking efforts through the program has already helped her get started in her career.
“I qualified for jobs of my choice thanks to the comprehensive education and training provided to me through the BESMS program and recommendations from industry experts who served as my instructors. It gave me an edge over my competition.”
She secured a work placement opportunity through a federal work experience program. The job was with a federal government department as an internal investigator and security officer, a position for which she was hired full-time after graduation.
Looking to further apply her education and experience, Mona aims to one day pursue a master’s degree in the field and author innovative research.
“I’m looking to specialize in counterterrorism. This [BESMS] degree would set me up to go into that because this is about public safety at the end of the day. And terrorism or acts of terrorism are considered to be man-made disasters in emergency management.”
For more information on JIBC's Bachelor of Emergency & Security Management Studies program, visit jibc.ca/BESMS.