Aroona Toor was born in Lahore, Pakistan. She immigrated to the U.S. with her parents, two brothers and sister when she was 4 years old. Her family settled in St. Louis, Missouri.
Aroona’s story begins with her grandparents and parents.
Her father, Mohammad, grew up in a rural village of Punjab, Pakistan where he experienced extreme poverty. As a kid, he often had to wait naked while his mother washed and dried his clothes, as it was the only outfit he owned. He recalls sleeping on cold cement floors and walking to school barefoot. After completing high school, Mohammad ran away from home in hopes of escaping the cycle of poverty through the pursuit of a higher education. Although he started college he eventually had to drop out to support himself and his family. There were long periods of time in his life where he was homeless. He recalls bargaining with shop owners to allow him to sleep outside their store in return for watching over their stores at night. In a recent trip to Pakistan, Aroona learned that her father remained one of the most educated people from not only his village but all the surrounding villages. Eventually, through hard work, Mohammad successfully started his own metal scrapping business which he continued until he moved with his family to the U.S. Mohammad shared stories with his children about his experiences growing up in hopes of helping them practice gratitude, humility and to always remember their roots.
Aroona’s maternal grandparents were internally displaced refugees during the India/Pakistan partition. Her grandparents migrated by foot from Amritsar, India and eventually settled in Lahore, Pakistan. Her maternal grandpa eventually became a renowned teacher whose students have included current and past high-level government officials including prime ministers. Her mother, Gulnaz, who was 1 of 7 children and also 1 of 5 daughters, was the only female in her family who sought out a professional career. This was not customary for women in Pakistan at that time, but she was determined to help people and was admitted into a nursing/midwifery program at a local hospital. Before moving to the US, she spent her last years as a nurse treating patients in Pakistan. Unlike most other healthcare providers, her mother treated her patients with the utmost respect and care. She believed, and still believes, that it is through the prayers and well wishes of these patients and their families that she could bring her whole family to the U.S.
Upon arriving to the U.S. Aroona’s parents faced extreme difficulty in finding work. Her parents eventually secured minimum wage jobs from which they are now retired. Her father had a 14-year tenure with Walmart where he worked stocking shelves in the chemicals isle. Her mother retired after an 18-year tenure as a sandwich artist at Subway. Although her parents had minimum wage jobs and had very little to offer after making ends meet, they still prioritized giving back and set aside money to donate every month.
Throughout her childhood, Aroona saw her parents struggle in navigating different systems as immigrants. She saw many people (including other immigrants) take advantage of her parents and treat them as if they were lesser. Both Aroona and her siblings served as translators for their parents at a very early age.
As the youngest of 4, Aroona always had a natural love for school and learning. She learned how to read at a very early age. Her father would take Aroona and her siblings to the library every Saturday, and even asked teachers to give them Math homework for the summer. She grew up in a family where doing anything in the name of education was always encouraged.
In high school, Aroona participated in every free extracurricular activity she could find, because as a child, she wasn’t afforded these opportunities because they usually came with a price tag. She was involved in sports, theatre, student government, honors societies and volunteer organizations all while working part-time at Subway and maintaining an above 4.0 G.P.A. Aroona graduated as a salutatorian of her graduating class and was chosen as one of the speakers for her graduation ceremony. Her senior year of high school, Aroona was awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship, a full ride scholarship awarded to 1,000 high achieving minorities who come from low-income backgrounds. She was also awarded the Ferguson Lion’s Club, Ferguson Kiwanis and the Kiwanis Earl Collins Missouri-Arkansas Scholarships for her work in the local community as a high school student.
Aroona continued her educational journey by attending Saint Louis University (SLU) for both her undergraduate and graduate studies. As a first-generation college student, attending a private university was an incredibly difficult academic and social transition for Aroona. She openly shares her first three semesters at SLU, her G.P.A. dropped to almost a 2.0. She recalls crying to her family after completing her freshman year and even discussed the possibility of dropping out of college. Her motivation to stay in college was the fact that she had a full-ride scholarship, that wouldn’t be taken away from her despite the challenges she was facing in school.
Aroona ultimately not only completed her undergraduate program where she double majored in Public Health and International Studies and minored in Spanish, with a 3.3 cumulative G.P.A., but she went onto an accelerated Masters in Public Health Program with a concentration in Epidemiology, completing her graduate program with a 3.7 cumulative G.P.A.
Throughout her educational experience thus far, Aroona’s intense curiosity to learn from and about different cultures and faiths, has led her to study abroad in Spain and spend a summer in Ethiopia teaching English. She has also partaken in immersion trips to Mexico, Morocco, West Virginia and the Navajo Nation Reservation; through these trips, she learned about social justice issues impacting the local communities.
Aroona has worked as a Health Promotion Intern for the Saint Louis County Department of Public Health focusing on mental health and substance abuse prevention in North Saint Louis County Youth and as a Legal Assistant for CG Immigration Law, LLC.
After graduating from her graduate program, Aroona spent almost three incredibly difficult years looking for a full-time job in her field. During this time, she Co-Founded an organization, the Muslim Women’s Professional Network (MWPN), for which she is currently the Executive Director. MWPN is a St. Louis based nonprofit organization that aims to empower and connect Muslim women, with a focus on professional development and community engagement.
During this three-year period, Aroona also volunteered with organizations she was passionate about. Aroona became increasingly more involved with the Alumni Association of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. She is in her 4th year serving on the Gates Millennium Scholars Alumni Advisory Council as the APIASF Partner Organization Liaison. Through this role she has helped create and sustain engagement and recognition opportunities for alumni, has led groups of scholars to D.C. to advocate around policies affecting cancer patients and their families with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and provided continuous mentorship to younger scholars. Additionally, she is a member of American Cancer Society’s Global Young Professionals Council, the Gen2End Roundtable, and the HPV Vaccine Workgroup. Her additional advocacy efforts have included local efforts for the Missouri Immigrants and Refugee Advocates.
Aroona Toor now lives in Atlanta, GA and works as a Project Manager for Health Equity at the American Cancer Society. After working for a few more years, Aroona hopes to obtain her Doctorate in Public Health and continue to serve as a voice for economically and socially disadvantaged groups.
Aroona’s older brother Jawad is now a Chemical Technician for Afton Chemicals, her older sister Mamona just completed her last year of medical school and her other older brother, Zeeshan, is a pharmacist.
Aroona credits all her accomplishments and all that she is today to the incredible sacrifices her parents have made for her and her siblings. She also credits two major life events with the extraordinary opportunities she has had, the first being coming to the U.S. and the second being becoming a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. To her, she would not have been able to pursue a higher education, travel, start a non- profit, or even be a recipient of this incredible award if it weren’t for these life changing moments.