My commitment to volunteerism was born of parental expectations; however, I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that “one of the most beautiful compensations in life is that no person can help another without helping themselves.”
My parents came to Canada as African refugees in 1972. By the time I was born, my parents had survived re-starting their lives and had realized that their new country had much in common with their former homeland — notwithstanding the polar opposite weather patterns, of course. One commonality was the spirit of volunteerism. From an early age, my siblings and I were encouraged to join my parents in volunteer work, whether it was assisting seniors in the community or donating to the food bank. We were expected to “give back” as a way of celebrating the good fortune of making Canada our home.
Upon entering the work force in 1999, I lost access to the plethora of volunteering opportunities associated with student life. As a result, I began volunteering for the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton (CBE). Although I am Muslim, Christmas is my favourite holiday because it brings ample opportunities for showcasing generosity and performing good deeds. In December 2013, I participated in my 15th annual CBE campaign. Since 1999, I have rallied friends, colleagues and family members to join me in packing and delivering hampers, sponsoring families, staffing donation desks and providing support at the annual Walk-In Days, including upwards of 40 colleagues who joined me in sponsoring 8 families in December 2013 (and the same was the case in December 2012).
In September 2013, the CBE approached me to share my volunteer story as part of their annual campaign. This was an incredible honour since one of the things I love most about the Christmas Bureau is the philosophy of providing a festive meal to those in need – regardless of race, religion, ethnic origin, etc. This non-denominational practice truly exemplifies the Canadian spirit and tradition of multiculturalism and acceptance. Years after my parents’ displacement from their African homeland, we’ve come to realize it as a blessing in disguise as a result of the good fortune and opportunities my siblings and I gained as a direct result.
The blog post you are reading today is an expansion of my story that appeared in the CBE volunteer newsletter in September 2013 and that was also featured in the Edmonton Examiner in November 2013.
Tonight, at the CBE’s annual volunteer appreciation event, I was incredibly touched to receive the Kevin Lowe Outstanding Service Award. This award recognizes exceptional leadership and service by an individual who has given a minimum of 10 years of service to the organization. I love the work of the Christmas Bureau and am so incredibly grateful I have the opportunity to contribute my time and energy and love annually and in so doing celebrate the spirit of the Christmas season. I am so grateful that I have an amazing network of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who join me and thereby compound the good.
Here I am with a larger-than-life smile – it truly is gratifying to be rewarded for pursuing one’s passions. Special thanks to Mimi for the awesome snap.
So, why do I choose to volunteer now? I volunteer because it’s the easiest way to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi).