Teji and Nimmi Kanwal

Within 90 minutes of meeting each other, Teji (MA’72) and Nimmi Kanwal (MA’77) knew they were going to get married.

“We talked about our backgrounds, our education, and we thought we could make it together,” recalls Nimmi. “It was a big risk, but it worked out nicely.”

That is something of an understatement. The Kanwals have been married for 56 years, and the strength of their bond is clear. You can see it in their mutual affection as they talk about their lives together. And you can see it in their shared passions, such as travel and a commitment to making a difference wherever they can.

“We’ve always had this voice within us that says we have to do for others,” says Teji. “Once you hear that, you have to start.”

Helping female students succeed

It was that voice that led the Kanwals to start the Nimmi & Teji Kanwal Bursary in 2014. The bursary is awarded annually to Dalhousie undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need and academic excellence, with preference given to female students. This preference was inspired by the barriers that girls and women face when earning an education in many parts of the world.

“In countries like Afghanistan, girls are not allowed to go to school,” Teji says. “I know that this bursary is a small gesture, but it is important to us that girls can be helped no matter where they are.”

The Kanwal’s gift reflects another passion that they share: education. For more than 30 years they both worked as teachers. Teji taught grade 12 English literature and Nimmi taught elementary. During that time, the Kanwals also supported their nieces and nephews so they could achieve their academic dreams. Teji and Nimmi trace their love of education back to their early childhood in India and the influence and sacrifices of their families.

“Teji’s father was an educator, so education was very important for his parents and for mine,” Nimmi says. “But I also remember the difficulties my parents faced paying my tuition fees. I thought, ‘If we are ever in a position to help other students, it would be good to do it.’ When the time came, we both decided it should be through Dalhousie.”

A small gesture makes a big difference

More than honouring the support of their families, the bursary offered the Kanwals a way to thank the university. Through their degrees, they were able to upgrade their teaching licenses and make a better living. That gratitude is reflected in their efforts to grow the bursary from an initial gift of $25,000 to $500,000 in 2022. The goal now, they say, is to increase it to $1 million in the next two years. It’s a significant commitment, and one the Kanwals are firmly committed to meeting.

“Last year, there were 14 girls who received a bursary,” Teji says. “The bursaries seem like a small amount from my perspective, but I know it means a lot from their perspective. And once it is a million dollars, it will really make a difference.”

For Teji and Nimmi, their gift is not about being remembered or creating a legacy; it is about meeting a need and ensuring students are well supported for generations to come.

“I have always believed that if you make other people happy, you feel happier,” Nimmi says. “It’s quite satisfying to know that we have been able to do something for humanity.”