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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. 🙂


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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Good and Evil

I’ve subscribed to various mailing lists that provide me with continuous motivation, inspiring quotes, beautiful stories, and tips and tools. One such daily email is called, Makes Me Think.

One of today’s stories “made me think” and is an inspiring example of the power of individual action. Here it is:


This story brought to mind a quote by Albert Einstein:


And it also brings to mind the following quote by Edmund Burke:


It’s my hope this story and the two quotes made you think and also I hope this post inspires each of us to take a stand against injustice, bullying, and rude behaviour.

Have a great weekend, friends.

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Today is Martin Luther King Day, which is celebrated in the U.S. It’s a federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (His birthday is January 15 and is observed on the third Monday in January to allow for a long weekend).

Martin Luther King, Jr. is known for his (peaceful) role in the U.S. civil rights movement that sought equality for African Americans under state and federal law.

MLK, Jr. Day was established following his assassination in 1968.

Best known for his “I have a dream” speech, there are far too many quote worthy sayings attributed to MLK, Jr.

Here’s one I ponder regularly:


Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Whether you’re American matters not. We can all learn from the life of MLK, Jr.

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Think on These Things #12

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the day the world changed forever. It’s a good time to reflect on some words of wisdom from Nelson Mandela.


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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 #8

N has a two-part spelling test this Wednesday and Thursday. We have been practicing the 120-word list since June 6th. Yesterday, N brought home his spelling scribbler from school and as I flipped through the pages while we got ready to review another 60 words (I am a slave driver, I know!) I was amazed to see that N has been getting at least 80% on all of his weekly tests since October. More often than not, he gets 100%. And the times he got one or two wrong, it’s only because he mixed up a “b” and a “d” or he reversed two letters (like “re” instead of “er” in the word over).

I am constantly in awe of my nephews – the fact that they perform as well as they do despite the fact that they only do homework a few days a week. I know they are both wired for positive reinforcement (aren’t we all?) and when I told N that I was very proud of his achievements and that seeing that he had gotten such good marks all year, I said, I expected him to do just as well on his spelling tests this week. He, of course, negotiated how many wrong would be okay by me. I told him I expected him to do really well and that if he got a few of the tougher words wrong then it would be okay but that we were going to focus on those words until Wednesday so that he could have a very good chance of getting them correct on the test.
I am learning over and over again that N performs exactly as those around him expect him to and that his sense of his own abilities is completely aligned with the cues he gets from the adult role models in his life. So after I told him I expected him to do well on last night’s 60 words, he got more than 40 of them right – even ones that he found tricky (his word) last week. And of the 15 or so that he found challenging, they were words like “would” and “which” and we practiced spelling them out loud a few times and I think he’ll remember them when we review them tonight.
It is scary to realize how much influence I have over my nephews and to know how big a role I am playing in shaping them into the men they will become. I have said before that I have incredibly high expectations for both E&N and those two kids not only live up to those expectations, they frequently exceed them. I really hope and pray that most of what I am doing is going to help make E&N strong, independent, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, and successful men. And I am really looking forward to a summer that tips the scale towards a bit more fun (although we will still be doing some math, spelling, and reading throughout the summer). C & I are kicking off their summer (and rewarding them for another great school year) with a camping trip. We’re all pretty excited. 🙂

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Think on These Things #7

Belated post for last week. I had prepared something and never got around to posting it. This is, in part, because the past few weeks have been very busy – just the usual life stuff and to add to that it feels as though I am on the brink of lots of change. And so the post I meant to publish was going to focus on those very things – taking risks, embracing change, and overcoming fear.

Change is what gets us where we need to be, what drives us to do things we wouldn’t have done otherwise, and what helps us to see things more clearly. Change wakes us up, keeps things exciting, and makes us try harder. Change brings on appreciation for where we have been, makes us more careful about where we are going, and helps us weed out everything that is not good for our lives. Change is good. Sometimes it’s really scare, sometimes it’s really uncomfortable, but change is good. ~ Brave Girls’ Club

As I stand on the brink of change I am consciously making efforts to shift my thinking towards hope, optimism, opportunity, excitement and not allowing myself to linger on fear, risk-aversion, uncertainty.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
~ Neale Donald Walsh

And as I push myself to the outer edges of my comfort zone I am allowing myself to realize that “failure” is a possibility and that all experiences are an opportunity for learning and for growth. And that is pretty exciting.

In order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail.
~ Anonymous




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Words to Live By #14

“Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them” – another lesson taught to me by my nephews.

I am incredibly proud of E&N for completing yesterday’s 5 km walk in the rain. And for a long time to come, I am going to remember how excited they both were and how brightly their eyes shone when I told them I was so, so, so proud of them for doing the walk in the rain and for doing it rather quickly (less than 90 minutes).

I am especially proud of N because I know how important it is for me to celebrate his successes – for my own sake as well as his.


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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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