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Hero in Education- Gurp Mahil: Vice-principal celebrates everyone

Clearbrook Elementary educator remembers struggles of being first-generation son of immigrants
Mahil has coached youth soccer in Abbotsford for many years (Submitted photo)

The community of Abbotsford helped nurture Gurp Mahil into the person he has become, and now he is choosing to give back as the vice-principal at Clearbrook Elementary.

Mahil is the son of first-generation immigrants from Punjab in India who made a living growing berries.

He attended Simpson Elementary and also Rick Hansen Secondary School, but said the Abbotsford of the 1980s and ’90s was a lot different than what we see today. He said the South Asian representation was a lot less in those days and sometimes made attending school challenging.

“We were more of a mixed group back then with a lot of different backgrounds, but the South Asian students were the minority,” he said. “I faced a lot of racism and discrimination back then based on my appearance. I wondered why I had to be different than anyone else when I just wanted to fit in.”

Mahil said he overcame the hatred and he now works hard to eliminate that in his school and the local school system.

“Now I really value that I was able to keep my hair and respect my religion, and hopefully by me being that visible role model, then other kids will feel safe to do so,” he said. “At that time it wasn’t always safe to be that different person.”

He said South Asians are now the majority in several local schools, but that at Clearbrook Elementary they try to celebrate everyone.

“You have to represent your demographics, and they are changing,” he said. “We have lots of different background, and they are all starting to be represented at my school.”

Mahil noted that Clearbrook has had a number of students arrive to Abbotsford from Africa, and they also celebrate events like Lunar New Year and Diwali and recognize Black excellence.

“We want to make opportunities for all students to feel like they belong,” he said. “We all should have an understanding about the different members in our community and what kinds of things they celebrate.”

After graduating RHSS, Mahil attended the University of the Fraser Valley, where he thrived as a student and in several different roles on campus. He was a walk-on for the UFV Cascades men’s soccer team and went on to play four years with that team and was also the first-ever South Asian to become the Student Union president.

Mahil said he initially wanted to go into accounting, but wanted to be in a position to do more good for the community so he went down the education route.

“My wife was on her way to being a teacher and I thought back to all those experiences of teachers that were important in my life when I needed them,” he said. “And just that passion for education and helping others brought me to teaching. It’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Prior to becoming the vice-principal at Clearbrook last year, Mahil worked as a teacher in the Langley school district starting in 2005.

Outside of the education realm, Mahil has become a notable figure in the local soccer community. He founded the Athletic India Football Club to help keep local youth out of trouble and give them a sense of community.

He’s also now heavily involved with the Abbotsford Soccer Association. Mahil has been coaching youth soccer locally for over 27 years.

As for the future, Mahil stated that he would like to be a principal one day and continue giving back to the community – as he’s attempted to do for most of his life.

READ MORE: Heroes in Education 2024

Ben Lypka

About the Author: Ben Lypka

I joined the Abbotsford News in 2015.
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