In mid-summer, when Barakah published Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visits to Jinja from the Sadruddin Mitha and Sultan/Salim Somani collections, I was contacted by Laila Datoo of Oshawa, Ontario, originally of Jinja, regarding an important collection of photographs that she had of Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan’s visit on January 21, 1973 to a refugee camp in Colonia Trieste in Otranto, Italy, which hosted approximately 35 Ugandan Asian refugees. At the time, the Prince was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
When Idi Amin first announced the expulsion of Asians in August 1972, Laila was in Nairobi, and did not return to Jinja. After interviews and assessment at the UNHCR offices set up in Nairobi, she was assigned to go to Italy in November 1972. She spent 6 months at the camp before she finally settled in Canada in May 1973. She has lived here ever since, and has been an active member of the Ismaili community in Oshawa, Ontario, about 60 kms east of Toronto.
Laila has been carrying this memorable collection for some 47 years, and I am sincerely grateful to her for submitting her collection for publication in Barakah, a website that is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat (I invite other Jamati members to contact Barakah at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit photos for publication).
I arrived at Laila’s place full of anticipation and excitement and, as with every visit to an Ismaili family, I was first invited to have chai and other delicious Ismaili snacks. Of course, all Covid-19 protocols were followed, and I had already tested negative of the coronavirus the same week. Laila’s son Issa and his wife Shabnum from Hunza as well as her two grandchildren, Qaim and Rayan, were all at home when I visited the family. She also has a daughter Taslim. Her late husband, Nizar, passed away 4 years ago at the age of 76, and was originally from Dar es Salaam. Laila and Nizar were married a few months after she arrived in Canada from the Italian camp.
Little did I realize that Nizar was the Ismaili scout master and mentor of youth I had known in Dar es Salaam, until I saw his portrait hanging on a wall by the dinning table. Fond memories came to my mind as I saw more photos of him with Dar es Salaam’s boy cubs and scouts as well as his colleagues in the leadership team, including Messrs. Jassani, Mamlo Dhanji, Mohammed Jivraj and Amin Meghji, among others.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s Visit to a Uganda Asian Refugee Camp in Italy
Prince Sadruddin was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and his visit to the camp was seen as a morale-boosting occasion for the Ugandan Asian refugees. He visited the Jamatkhana at the premises, and later addressed a gathering of Ismailis and non-Ismaili refugees. In the group was an African Ismaili who, despite not being an Asian, had decided to leave Uganda in solidarity with his Ismaili brothers and sisters who had been expelled by Idi Amin. During the visit, Laila was invited to escort the Prince and Princess. She was then in her early 20’s.
Laila Datoo’s Inspiration and Strength: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan
Laila’s immense faith and love for Mawlana Hazar Imam was evident during my visit as she described the challenges that she went through her life. She told me that his hand has always been on her shoulders, and that she carries Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings in her heart continuously for strength, comfort, inspiration and mushkil-ahsan (protection from difficulties). At Oshawa Jamatkhana, before Covid-19, she found joy in tending its garden for many years. Nizar and Laila also served in leadership positions in Oshawa as the Jamatkhana’s Kamadia and Kamadiasaheba. She looks forward to the end of the pandemic, and finds inspiration by attending the Jamatkhana on her scheduled days.
It was touching to be visiting an Ismaili home, and departing with an even deeper sense of awareness of how Mawlana Hazar Imam resides in the hearts and souls of his spiritual children. Listening to personal faith stories and experiences is a deeply rewarding experience, and I am thankful for the opportunity to visit Laila and her family, and to come away with this rare collection of photos.
This post is dedicated to Laila Datoo and her beautiful family. It is also a tribute to her late husband Nizar, whom she misses most dearly. We pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace.
Date posted: November 7, 2020.
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This website, Barakah, is a special project by http://www.Simerg.com and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamate.
About the author: Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of this website, Barakah (2017), as well as two other blogs Simerg (2009) and Simergphotos (2012). Formerly an IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to family projects and his 3 websites. He is the eldest son of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions for several decades in Mozambique, Tanzania, Pakistan, the UK and Canada in both professional and honorary capacities as teachers and missionaries. Malik’s daughter, Dr. Nurin Merchant, assists him as an honorary editor of the three websites. She received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (2019, University of Guelph) and now works as a veterinarian.