By Sarayuth Pinthong
Knightly News Reporter
Rubina Azizdin, 35, founder of the Relationships, Empowerment, Authenticity, Laughter (REAL) networking group, continues to share her ethics and dealings with adversities that have made her an empowering female force in the Central Pennsylvania, and the Central Penn, community.
It doesn’t take much to find accolades recognizing Azizdin’s accomplishments throughout her life. Last year, she received the 2017 Shining Star Award from the West Shore Chamber of Commerce as part of its Luminary Awards, created by the Women in Business Roundtable Committee. She has been honored at least twice this year
Her background reveals connection with the Junior Board at the YWCA, West Shore Young Professionals, Central Pennsylvania Association of Female Executives, American Business Association, Board of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Employers, and finally, Women’s Capital Area Networking, and that’s not all.
But to truly understand how Azizdin’s drive, determination and will contribute to her success, despite the obstacles, you must go back to where it all began.
Rubina Azizdin, born Rubina Keval in Central Pa., is the oldest of four children. Growing up, Azizdin and her family would visit relatives in Africa. Her parents, Akbar Keval (father), from Ethiopia, and Ruksana (mother), from Kenya, traveled to the United States for their honeymoon.
Azizdin’s father was not formally educated, but very business-oriented. He was a very good mechanic and decided that moving to America would present better opportunities for his wife and future family.
Keval relocated himself and his wife from Africa to Canada, and finally, to the United States, bringing with him only $800. Years passed as Keval worked odd jobs, receiving money under the table to support his family. Keval worked on a farm picking tomatoes, fixed cars, and finally, after receiving his green card, started building his business.
Keval did really well for himself despite not having graduated from high school. He owned several businesses, ranging from cleaners to a car dealership. He came to America around the age of 30 and was able to retire at the age of 60 because of the empire he created. He and Ruksana returned to Africa for retirement.
Azizdin was born in Elizabethtown. Along with her siblings, she was raised embracing the cultures of India and Pakistan. Growing up as a dual-cultured individual, Azizdin witnessed division, being Indian, and not being Pakistani.
She said many Muslims in Central Pennsylvania are Pakistani. Growing up, Azizdin didn’t have the day-to-day exposure to diversity.
“I’ve always been attracted to diversity,” Azizdin said.
The small community of Elizabethtown didn’t allow for exposure to the culture and diversity she longed for. As a child, Azizdin loved the frequent visits back to Kenya. She wasn’t seeing only friends and family, but was also finally exposed to the people who were missing in her daily life back in Elizabethtown.
“People usually gravitate to what they’re used to,” Azizdin said. “With me, it was with what I couldn’t have. I craved it and I still do.”
Azizdin loves her culture.
“My culture is my world, consisting of a blend of everything: African, Pakistani, Indian, and Ethiopian.”
Growing up, Azizdin wasn’t permitted to speak English at home. Her father didn’t want his children to lose the language and culture that comes with being who they were as people. Their language of Kutchi is rare and the one thing Keval wanted to maintain for his family.
Azizdin didn’t understand what her dad was trying to instill in the children. Now, with three children of her own, she understands completely. She teaches her children that they will speak their language because “it’s your language.”
Azizdin believes the challenges she has faced growing up allowed her to love diversity. It gave her the ability to relate to different people while embracing the culture they, as individuals, bring.
“I feel when you have cultural diversity, you tend to be a more open-minded person,” Azizdin said.
Her career dreams always consisted of working in higher education, but her road to a career in that field was full of turns.
Azizdin grew up in a strict home. When she went to college, she derailed and started down a different path. Fortunately, she had people who pushed her back on track. She appreciated the people who assisted her and saw the benefits of wanting to help other people the same way.
Unfortunately, Azizdin said, her father didn’t have the same vision. He envisioned a career in medicine or science for his daughter. Azizdin explained that from her father’s perspective and her culture, success wasn’t reached by being a counselor. It was going into a program like science, engineering or medicine that would bring in the money. That was success.
So began her travels down Academic Lane toward success. She explored being a pharmacist because that’s what her father wanted, but didn’t like it. While figuring out her career path, Azizdin got engaged to her now-husband, Arfaat.
Building another dream
Arfaat left Kenya to attend Harrisburg Area Community College with Rubina. She later decided to apply to the occupation therapy program at Elizabethtown College and Arfaat applied to the physical therapy assistant program at Central Penn College. But, during her last two years in the program, Azizdin discovered she didn’t want to be an occupational therapist. Her true calling was working in mental health.
She graduated from Elizabethtown College with a bachelor’s degree in health, and started her master’s degree in counseling and human services. Later, she accepted a family counselor job at WellSpan Philhaven, where she still works after 10 years.
While working with WellSpan Philhaven, Azizdin was able to network with different people and organizations. She was able to meet with families during crisis intervention, and people in homeless shelters, churches, schools and other places where caregivers were needed.
“It was a blessing,” Azizdin said. “It was everything that I loved.”
Azizdin’s career led her to a part-time position at Penn State Harrisburg in career counseling, later to a career services position at Harrisburg Area Community College and then to her current position as a career counselor with Central Penn.
Azizdin wants to prove to women, reflecting on her culture, that they come from the same background, that a woman can be an educated, powerful and respected force in society.
“Just because your husband or your father has a view of you being unequal, that doesn’t mean that you can’t break out,” Azizdin said.
Azizdin witnessed many people being treated in a way she believed was unfair — even her friends. They had their freedom, she said, but at the same time, they didn’t. Some female students of Central Penn, for instance, may not yet understand how to be a powerful woman. Azizdin’s passion for informing other women comes from her experience as a young minority woman.
This passion of Azizdin’s led her to create the REAL networking group. She decided to make the group women-centered because of conversations among women she heard in the Harrisburg area.
What came out of the conversations was the lack of connections being created. Relationships were superficial. After being approached by many women regarding similar concerns, Azizdin developed the REAL networking group.
The group is a nonbusiness-based one in which everyone is neutral. Members are able to discuss topics, build one another up and support one another, creating the sense of community that goes back to traditional values that are being lost, Azizdin explained.
The group has a Facebook presence of about 300 members and around 20 people attend a monthly Monday meeting, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., to have lunch, hear guest speakers and participate in empowerment activities.
Azizdin imagines the groups she’s involved with, like REAL, sustaining themselves within the community. Developing a strong local community is the goal, she said.
“I think charity starts at home.”
Azizdin believes groups should start out small, and build. Help the local people first and see where and how the groups develop.
Despite being a group primarily for women, REAL is open to anyone.
“I’ve never said that men aren’t welcome,” Azizdin said. “It’s just that women gravitate more toward the group.”
Good and bad experiences happen to everyone. Azizdin believes the experiences shape people. It’s just a matter of how people apply the experiences, she said.
“I say grow with your experiences. Without experiences, we can’t be who we are.”
Always look forward to a pleasant and bright future, Azizdin said. How does she do it? It’s a two-part process.
“Surround yourself with supportive people,” she advised. “The other part is self-discipline. You just have to prioritize. If you want to get something done, there’s nothing stopping you.”
To comment on this story, or to suggest one, contact TheKnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.edu.
Edited by media club co-adviser Prof. Michael Lear-Olimpi.