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A Passion for Volunteerism

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.

Edmonton Examiner - Nov 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. 🙂

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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).

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Think on These Things #26 (March 16, 2013)

I haven’t posted a Think on These Things message in a couple of weeks. Today, I’m sharing a couple Makes Me Think stories that I saved to share via my blog. I very much appreciate the work Marc and Angel do to collect and promote these stories. Every week there’s at least one that speaks to me. The two that I’m sharing today reminded me again that generosity is something anyone can practice. And sometimes the people who have the least to give have the greatest spirit of generosity. Yay for life lessons that we can learn from anyone and at anytime.

Story #1: Today, a homeless woman who I have seen at a few of our community outreach efforts in the last few months came into our donation office and donated a fairly well-kept pair of winter boots. She said, “I already have two other pairs, so I figured someone else probably needs these more than I do right now.” MMT

Story #2: Today, I was in line at a hotdog stand that was selling hotdogs for charity for $2.50. A homeless man approached me and asked for a dollar toward a hotdog. I looked in my wallet and handed him a $5 bill – the smallest bill I had. He got in line behind me and bought two hotdogs. Then I watched as he excitedly gifted one to a homeless woman who was resting under a nearby tree. MMT

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Let’s all remember these examples the next time our generosity is requested. There are so many ways to give and to help make life a little easier for someone else. Who knows, they may even pay-it-forward to someone who needs it even more.

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Think on These Things #11

The poor don’t know that their function in life is to exercise our generosity.
~ Jean-Paul Sartre

A story from Makes Me Think: Today, I bought a homeless man a full sub from Subway in downtown Orlando. I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but he was sitting out front of the subway, looking extremely skinny and frail in the hot sun, and I just felt like it was the right thing to do. He was so happy, he tossed me two quarters out of his collection bin, and insisted that I keep them. On my drive home my toll transponder’s battery died, so I had to pay the last 50 cent toll in coins. I usually don’t have any coins on me, but today I had the 50 cents the homeless man gave me. MMT

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson</

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Words to Live By #17

I just read a “Makes Me Think” story that really resonated with me. It’s about a CEO who does volunteer work. Take a read and remember:

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Think on These Things #6

Time got away on me this past week and I kept postponing my usual Tuesday “Think on These Things” post. Turns out this was a good thing — and helps to reinforce for me the reality that things happen for a reason. I say this was a good thing because today was the 28th annual World Partnership Walk. And my nephews, E&N were able to join for today’s Walk despite the inclement weather and some earlier uncertainty that we’d get to spend the day with them. So for this, a fitting quoto:

The above quote is a reminder that when I set my intention and do so with a very clear purpose, then the Universe conspires to help it come to fruition. Also, the sun DID break through today. It wasn’t until after the walk was over and we were already on our way home after a long day. However, today’s rain made for an incredible teaching moment for my nephews and for my teammates – we realized that we are so blessed to be able to CHOOSE to walk 5 km in the on again off again rain in an effort to show our support for global development. We did so with warm clothing, proper footwear, and the knowledge that a delicious BBQ lunch awaited us at the end of the route. The people for whom we were walking often have no choice but to walk long distances for clean(ish) water, education, sharing of resources, medical attention, crops, etc.

I generally don’t grumble about the weather because I have come to accept that it is beyond my control. I have even learned to be glad for the rain because it gives me an excuse to wear my funky rain boots and my lime green rain coat. But today, the rain became another lesson in gratitude. And one that I could share with my nephews – and any time I can positively influence my nephews is a blessing and a gift.

And tonight, as I created my nightly gratitude post, I also had the amazing experience (AGAIN) of realizing just how blessed I am to be surrounded by generous and incredible people who support my vision for thriving communities and people in Asia and Africa.

And on that note, I conclude with quotes from two of my favourite and most inspirational  role models.

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A Life That Isn’t Boring

Three of my nephews are participating in the 28th annual World Partnership Walk. One is only six-months-old, and he and the oldest one, who is seven, have reached their fundraising goals. The middle one, six-year-old Nicky, is a mere $15 short of his goal. Please help him make a difference on the other side of the world. Sponsor him at his page.

My two older nephews already understand that we have a responsibility to help the less fortunate. They have been participating in the World Partnership Walk since they were the same age as my baby nephew. I have no doubt all three will grow up to be incredible men who will have a strong social conscience and will have a deep love for the people and places they have helped since their first steps.

And, yeah, I’m proud of these boys already. Every day, in fact.

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Making a difference has never been easier

What if you could make a difference in Asia and Africa with just one click? You wouldn’t have to leave your comfortable chair in front of your computer, let alone the comfort of your home and country. What if just one click raised up to $9 for development initiatives in the areas of health, education, rural and development, community capacity, gender equality, and the environment? Would that be incentive enough to make the click?

Here’s your chance to make a world of difference.

All you need to do is “like” the “World Partnership Walk Edmonton” page on Facebook and you’ll help raise $1 for Asia and Africa. Every dollar we raise locally gets leveraged through partnerships with organizations like the Canadian International Development Agency (aka CIDA). These partner organizations match up to 8x. And just like that — the 10 seconds you took to “like” the WPW Edmonton page means upwards of $9 for Asia and Africa. Pretty good return on investment, eh?

So what are you waiting for…visit World Partnership Walk Edmonton and click “like”. Your generosity will be felt on the other side of the world. Isn’t that a great way to kick off your weekend? I’d say so. And I also say THANK YOU.

Read the document What are you Walking for? for more stories about how we are making a difference one step at a time through the World Partnership Walk.

And if you are inspired to participate in the Walk, which takes place in 10 cities across Canada — and you can even participate in the Virtual Walk if you do not live in one of the cities. You can walk in Toronto, Vancouver, or Victoria on Sunday, May 27, 2012, in London, Montreal, or Regina on Sunday, June 3, 2012, or in Calgary, Edmonton, Kitchener-Waterloo, or Ottawa on Sunday, June 10, 2012.
If you aren’t able to participate in the Walk and want to make a donation instead, you are welcome to sponsor me or donate directly to the Walk. Keep in mind that 100% of your donation goes directly to projects in Asia and Africa; not a single cent is spent on administrative costs. And if you donate online then you will get your tax receipt electronically within a few business days – and there is no minimum donation amount to qualify for a tax receipt. You can donate even if you don’t live in Canada.
And here are some images of my trip to East Africa in 2009. No other place has quite captured my heart in the same way as the African land and the African people. ImageImageImageImage
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The world is calling…

The World Partnership Walk is my main philanthropic effort each year. It is an initiative of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), a non-profit international agency that has a remarkable track record for successful global development efforts in Asia and Africa. As a member agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), AKFC works to address the root causes of poverty with a particular focus in the areas of health, education, rural development, and capacity building. Every project also factors in gender equity and protection of the environment.

Although His Highness the Aga Khan, the founder and chairman of AKDN, is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, AKDN projects and initiatives aim to improve living conditions and opportunities for people regardless of their particular religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. His Highness the Aga Khan has made a commitment to help improve the quality of life of those living in some of the poorest parts of the world and he has dedicated more than 50 years of his life to development efforts.

For more information about His Highness the Aga Khan, the AKDN, and AKFC, please click here, here, and here.

I truly believe that changing the world for the better forever starts wtih just one step. For me, walking the talk means participating in the World Partnership Walk and helping to educate my family, friends, and colleagues about how we can make an impact in some of the poorest and most beautiful and inspiring places in the world. We never even have to leave the comfort of our lives in Canada in order to do so, although I personally think that seeing is believing and it wasn’t until I started traveling to places like India, SE Asia, and Africa that I realized the incredible impact I could make simply through compassion and education and awareness.

I have learned so much from people who previously would have had my pity. The developing world is full of bright, capable, beautiful people. They have taught me about gratitude. About hope. About faith. About resiliency. I no longer have pity for those in the developing world. I have a deep sense of respect and awe for them. They make do with far less than I can ever imagine and despite the common images of helplessness of people in developing societies, the vast majority of my experiences have been of people who are enterprising and who are creative and who want the same things that I do – a better life for our families and a chance to make the world a better place no matter how far reaching our impact.

It is only by chance that I was born in Canada. My parents left Uganda as refugees 40 years ago. It has meant a world of difference for me. Until the past 10 years, I didn’t realize that mine was a privileged upbringing if only because there was always food on the table, a roof over my head, parents who loved me, access to education and health care, and security that was my birthright. It is so very easy for me to imagine now that my life may have been very different if it weren’t for the politics of East Africa in the late 60s and early 70s. It wasn’t until I went to East Africa in the fall of 2009 that I truly realized how strong a calling it is for me to do what I can to help the people who very easily could have been my fellow countrymen and women.

Over the past 10 years it has become clear to me that the way to better the world is by recognizing one another’s humanity and working together to deal with the root causes that limit the potential of people everywhere. Nowhere is this easier to do than in the developing world for there is so much that we can do and it won’t require too much time or money – we are so lucky that our western currencies go such a long way in places like Asia and Africa (and if you’ve ever traveled to these continents you know what I mean – $10 allows you to live and eat like a rich person) and the people in these places are incredibly motivated to contribute the hard work and dedication that will result in their kids having access to education, clean water, and basic health care. That’s actually one of the things I love about projects supported by the Walk – they take into account the needs of the communities by consulting with the people and getting them to join in the development effort. The people in these communities may not have monetary resources but they have a limitless supply of innovation and gumption.

We really are blessed to live in a country where strong and free is not only part of our national anthem but it is also part of every aspect of our existence. Here’s our chance to ignite the spark of hope for people who only want some of what we take for granted. Let’s make the world a better place one step at a time. Join me in supporting the World Partnership Walk. You’ll make a lifetime of difference with just one click.

You can sponsor me here.

Some added incentives are the facts that 100% of your donation will go directly to projects in Asia and Africa (not a single cent is spent on administration), you will get your tax receipt by email within a few business days of making your online contribution, and partner agencies like the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) match funds at a ratio as high as 8:1. What an incredible way to make your dollar go the distance in the developing world.

If our animosities are born out of fear, then confident generosity is born out of hope. One of the central lessons I have learned after a half century of working in the developing world is that the replacement of fear by hope is probably the single most powerful trampoline of progress.
~ Aga Khan IV

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