Meet Our 2023 Award Winners: Nasir Zakaria - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Meet Our 2023 Award Winners: Nasir Zakaria

July 26, 2023

Health & Medicine’s Health Award recognizes an individual working within the health arena with an emphasis on public health and improvements in the health of populations.

This year’s recipient, Nasir Zakaria, is a community leader for the Rohingya population and is known nationally and internationally throughout the Rohingya community for establishing the first-of-its-kind Rohingya Culture Center.

Nasir is a Rohingya refugee who fled from Burma to Bangladesh at the age of 14. In 2013, after traveling to Thailand and Malaysia, he resettled in Chicago with his wife, daughter, and grandfather. While learning English, Nasir got a job as a dishwasher at the Rivers Casino.

Because there were no Rohingya people in Chicago before refugees began arriving in 2010, Nasir quickly saw the need for a place for the Rohingya population to gather and receive services. In 2016, with help from the Zakat Foundation of America, he founded the Rohingya Culture Center to support his community—splitting his time between his dishwashing job and the Center.

Nasir remains Executive Director for the Center, which has become not only a place for programs serving Rohingya and other refugees but a place that offers community-building activities. He is highly respected for his integrity, dedication, and commitment to putting the needs of others before his own. “Our team works hard to promote health equity in the Rohingya community,” he shares. “My goal is always to protect and serve my community.”

Nasir has a deep understanding of the culture and traditions of his people and uses this knowledge to create meaningful initiatives that strengthen the community.  As a proud Rohingya American who is thankful to be welcomed into the United States, he uses this opportunity to help others.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center worked hard to ensure the Rohingya community did not fall behind, as most of the community is pre-literate and require in-person support. “Were not scared,” Nasir says. “The Rohingya community has been challenged by social injustice our entire lives.”

In the coming year, Nasir and the Center plan to focus largely on two constant health issues in the community—diabetes and mental health—while continuing to adapt to the community’s needs.

Join us on September 20, 2023, as we connect honor these local health justice advocates, enjoy food and refreshments from The Fat Shallot, and celebrate 42 years of working together to advance health equity.