Life was constantly being interrupted while Sri Lanka played out its civil war. That was why Paul Rajendram decided to move to Prince Rupert in 1996 where he happened to know one family who would sponsor his immigration.
“The biggest thing for me is that I can go to sleep peacefully because back home in the civil war you go to sleep and you don’t know if you’re going to wake up the next day or if you’re going to die,” Rajendram said.
Born in Jaffna, a northern city in Sri Lanka, Rajendram was in his second year of university when he was displaced and had to move to another city. He sought a better life along with his siblings who ended up in other parts of the world. At 25, he found himself in Prince Rupert, a small city that cherished seafood, much like the culture he was raised in.
At first there was some language and cultural barriers so he upgraded his English at Northwest Community College. Rajendram was also raised Catholic, so he immediately found a connection when he joined the church in town. “The friends from the church were helpful and they fulfilled my needs at that time,” he said.
He also learned that the Sri Lankan family who sponsored him were fated to be his in-laws. Judith moved to Prince Rupert to be with her family years before Rajendram arrived. She had gone to school with his sister and they were friends. Later, the couple found out they were arranged to marry each other, a proposal made between each other’s family as part of a cultural tradition.
“Even though I’ve known her a long time, that time she was my friend. We never thought we were going to end up with a family as a husband and wife,” he said with a shy smile.
As they got to know know each other their relationship became more romantic. They have been married for 15 years and they have a 10-year-old daughter, Angela Charmuti. Rajendram isn’t saying that his proposed marriage is right or wrong, it is just part of his culture that is steadily changing. For his daughter she was born and raised in Canada.
“It’s our duty to guide her properly and then it’s up to her,” Rajendram said.
Before starting a family and settling into Prince Rupert he moved to Ottawa to complete his Bachelor of Engineering in computer science at Carleton University. He learned more about life in the capital city, where there is more multiculturalism and a predominant French culture.
For a short while, he worked at a company that made bluetooth chips and then he had a position at Nortel. When his wife’s mother wasn’t well he made the decision to return and stay in the coastal community where he said “everybody knows everybody”.
Back in Rupert, he noticed the city needed some volunteer and fundraising help. Philanthropy came naturally for him.
In Sri Lanka, he helped needy people whenever he could and he wanted to continue his altruism in Canada. He joined the Lions Club, the Knights of Columbus and the Canadian Marine Search and Rescue. In the past three years he has also been a board member on the Annunciation school council.
“When I joined the Lions Club I had a huge student loan, I had lots of debt in the bank, no job, so money wasn’t my issue. I don’t have to be rich to help other people. I only need one hour every week to help others,” Rajendram said.
Through his work he has helped fundraise children’s competitions, people travelling to Vancouver for health purposes, and he has volunteered for events in the city, including Seafest. He sees fundraising as the only way to keep everything going in the community.
For the past eight years, Rajendram has worked at the Prince Rupert Port Authority as an IT administrator. His wife is a business manager at the airport and their daughter is an avid dancer and a top-notch student. They live in a sizeable home filled with aquatic life and overrun with bonsais and potted lush plants that seem to thrive despite the lack of sunshine on the North Coast.
A side hobby for Rajendram, when he isn’t volunteering, is being a self-taught handyman. He renovated his own roof, and set up some of personal touches in his home. He admitted that thanks to YouTube and Google he can learn some tricks of the trade.
The on-again-off-again president of the Lions Club is now leading a project to build a new Mariner’s Park. The club set it up 22 years ago and it is in a state of disrepair. The cost is estimated at $150,000 but Rajendram isn’t daunted by the task.
“In the end, it’s going to be for the future generations. I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to support the project,” he said.
“If I can spend one hour in the community I think everybody can.”