At the age of three, Thiru* and his parents left their home country of Sri Lanka to create a new life for themselves in Montreal. This was not an uncommon goal for many Tamils, the minority group in Sri Lanka, who lived in of fear of the government as a result of the civil war that plagued the country for over twenty years.

Thiru grew up in Park Extension, an area that immigrants from around the world have been calling home since the 1950’s. Despite living near one another, Thiru viewed the Tamil community as fragmented, with each person moving along an individual path towards a new life.

As recent University graduates, Thiru and his friends decided to create an organization that would bring the Tamil community together by supporting the development of young Tamil professionals. In 2013, the Montreal Tamil Alumni Network was founded. Three years later, the organization has over 300 Facebook members and can expect a minimum of 50 people per event.

Read on to learn more about Thiru’s conception of MTAN and his understanding of community development.

The Development of MTAN

Why was MTAN developed?

“After fleeing from the war in Sri Lanka, Tamils kind of stopped being Tamil. If I was a new immigrant and I wanted advice, there was no one to go to. Just because we’re not in our country, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn and work together as a group and give back to one another in a positive way… There’s also nothing uniting Tamils once they’ve finished University. What you have are all of these people whose parents have pushed them to succeed, but then they do nothing for their community. Once you’re done school, you’re mostly going to learn from the career you’ve picked…you won’t have opportunities to grow unless you actively seek them out. So MTAN was created to facilitate that. MTAN brings together young Tamil professionals in different fields to create a pool of resources for the community to learn and develop from.”


What is MTAN’s mission statement?

“MTAN is based on three pillars we’ve labelled as DNA: Development, Networking, and Assisting…The point of this organization is to help young professionals in our community develop skills outside of [his/her] professional environment…to create broad networks within the community…[and to] extend our knowledge and resources by assisting others in the community.”


What is the structure of MTAN? What are your hopes for its development?

“We aim to throw six events per year, with two that focus on development, two that focus on networking and two that focus on assisting…Thus far we have had a financial health seminar, a wine and cheese, a science career fair, and our most recent [being] a team-building ‘amazing race’ around Old Montreal…We come up with ideas around things that are relevant in the community with the intention of bringing people together…We want it to be so that members of the community will come with their own ideas, and if they fit with our DNA, that person then becomes the project manager and we, the board of executives, support the growth of their idea into a reality.”


What is the response from your members?

“We make it a point to do surveys after every event, and feedback has been really positive. At one of our career fairs, one of the girls that had attended came to me afterwards and told me how the speaker helped her feel like a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. Hearing her say that is part of why we exist. To introduce people to real people and not the fictional people that …[we]…create as models.”



Why is a sense of community important to you?

“You need people to have a community in order to bring about positive change…I think everyone wants to belong. I think community gives you that.”

What would you like others to know about your community?

“The Tamil people came as refugees. They each have a story. They’re hardworking individuals, some of whom are probably the ones preparing your food and washing your dishes… They have the same goal of seeing their kids succeed and become positive influences in their new community that they’ve taken as a home.”


What would you like the people you serve to know?

“If everyone that had a great idea said ‘Someone’s probably already done it.’ then there would be no change in the world. So if you’ve got an idea and you feel passionate about it, take initiative. Life is meaningless if you don’t give back… People often ask you, ‘How do you define success?’ I’ve come to believe that if I’ve lived a good enough life, if I’ve touched enough people and have made a positive impact in the lives of others, when I die they’ll show up at my funeral. Not when I can see it, not when they can get a favour out of it, but I’ve touched them in such a remarkable way that they feel compelled to come to my funeral…So, aim to have more people come to your funeral when you’re not there to see it.”



What have you learned from this experience?

“I’ve learned that people intrinsically want to do good, but they just have to be shown a path and given an opportunity. Everyone wants to give back but not everyone knows how, they need a vehicle… You don’t have to do something paramount to feel accomplished. Even the smallest gesture can be fulfilling and rewarding.”


Love is_____

“Moving to a completely different neighbourhood without speaking the language, finally arriving after years of strife, and feeling like you belong.”


*This month’s Next Door Neighbour prefers to remain anonymous, so he has chosen to go by a pseudonym.


Do you know of someone making a difference in our city? Drop us a line. We’d love to get to know another Next Door Neighbour!


Next Door Neighbour is a project dedicated to sharing the stories of our fellow Montrealers who are consciously creating positive change in our city. Follow us as we explore their initiatives and gain insight into what motivates these leaders to make a difference.
  • By: Anna Dora

    Anna is our Love Montreal columnist. With a BA in Human Relations,
    she loves connecting with others to explore how our experiences and
    philosophies shape our lives. She may have a notebook obsession and
    can be found adopting discarded furniture off the streets.

  • Sara Pichet is a #NextDoorNeighbour

    See all this author’s posts

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