Gobhina Nagarajah is this year’s YWCA Woman of Distinction winner in the category of Community & Social Development. The award recognizes “any woman who is helping to build a strong community by making positive change and advocating for enhanced quality of life for all.”
She has fulfilled that mandate in a hurry, given she’s only been here 2 years. After finishing up some articling in Ontario, a job hunt led her to St. John’s where she’s now a lawyer with O’Brien White. “One of my friends had gotten work here and sent me some postings,” she says. “One of them happened to work out.”
But it’s her work outside of work that put the Woman of Distinction award on her mantle. Many know Gobhina as a local organizer with Amnesty International here in town.
“I’ve always been interested in doing human rights advocacy,” she says. “I like being able to use my skills outside of my day to day job for things that I feel strongly about.”
When she first moved to St. John’s, she says she met some of the local organizers at the Farmer’s Market. She thought it was a good fit and dove right in.
“One of the most recent events I organized was a youth conference late last year. It was the first of its kind in St. John’s. We had a two day conference for high school students, hosted at Holy Heart, on human rights advocacy.
“We had Amnesty International employees from Ottawa come to town to facilitate skills workshops, and organized speakers including someone from the NL Human Rights Commission, and a professor at MIUN who is also a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.
“We were really thrilled with how the conference turned out. I wanted to have a particular focus on diversity and inclusivity, and the students were amazing — they just got it.
“They were able to see the ways in which the system around them may have created an unwelcoming space, and the barriers new Canadians, visible minorities, and other oppressed or vulnerable populations may face, and were really creative and interested in coming up with solutions.”
Gobhina keeps busy working with plenty of other vibrant local organizations as well. She sits on the board of directors at Eastern Edge Gallery for instance.
“I was drawn to Eastern Edge because of its mandate to be a space for feminist, multicultural, queer, and other diverse perspectives. I love the dialogue that the Gallery creates through its exhibits and projects, and the voice it’s become in the community.”
Gobhina was also a part of the stellar and successful volunteer team behind City Councillor Maggie Burton last fall. “I volunteered because I wanted to see Maggie herself, and more people like Maggie, sitting on council. Someone who is smart, passionate, has interesting and progressive ideas to move the city forward, and frankly, is not a man.
“I think there are a lot of ways in which this city can improve, and we need different people and perspectives in power to do make those improvements. I hope having Maggie on council has created more space for people who didn’t necessarily have that space, or see themselves in that space before.”
A generalist of a lawyer, she says she particularly likes doing refugee and immigration work, including “some pro bono work for new Canadians (or those who are trying to be).”