Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 148, Issue 116

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Volunteerism in Canada

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Mercer calling the attention of the Senate to Canada’s current level of volunteerism, the impact it has on society, and the future of volunteerism in Canada.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, this inquiry has been adjourned in the name of Senator Callbeck. I have requested her permission to proceed before her and then have this inquiry adjourned in her name, if I may.

Honourable senators, I rise before you today to speak to Senator Mercer’s inquiry, which calls the attention of the Senate to Canada’s current level of volunteerism, the impact it has on society and the future of volunteerism in Canada.

I would like to thank my honourable colleague Senator Mercer for drawing the Senate’s attention to the importance of volunteerism in Canada. I have always admired Senator Mercer for the service he personally renders to various charitable organizations, including the Canadian Diabetes Foundation, the YMCA of Greater Toronto and the Kidney Foundation of Canada. In Senator Mercer’s inquiry, he stresses the importance of saying “thank you” to all donors and volunteers as a symbol of respect and appreciation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all the work he does on behalf of Canadians.

Honourable senators, as Canadians, we truly understand the value of service in the name of humanity and take great pride in being recognized as a caring, generous and peaceful nation. Compassion, generosity and unity are all values that have defined Canadians for centuries. Similarly, these are also values at the cornerstone of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan’s philosophy.

The Aga Khan is the forty-ninth hereditary imam or spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. The Aga Khan has emphasized the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith, one that teaches compassion and tolerance and that upholds the dignity of man, Allah’s noblest creation. As a proud Ismaili Muslim woman, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be the beneficiary of the Aga Khan’s guidance and wisdom.

Today, I would like to draw the Senate’s attention to the volunteerism within Canada’s Ismaili Muslim community and shed light on the ethics and principles that motivate Ismaili Muslims to give back to their communities and to our country.

Ever since I was a young girl, I remember my parents teaching me the importance of giving back to the community. I fondly recall getting dressed up in my Ismaili junior volunteer uniform and going to various functions organized by the Ismaili community in Uganda. Even though I was just a young girl, the older volunteers always found a task for me to complete. My own two children also proudly wore their volunteer uniforms. My husband and I watched them do all kinds of tasks, and we were proud parents of our two children.

Today I proudly watch my grandson, who is six years old, as he proudly participates in functions like I once did. I admire his eagerness to get involved and lend a hand. Whether it is organizing a canned food drive in anticipation of the holiday season, cleaning up a local park, serving food at a community event, or facilitating a clothing drive, there is always an initiative that is welcoming volunteers of all ages, even young boys of his age.

The spirit of giving has always been the bedrock of the Ismaili community’s philosophy, and the importance of offering time and service is something that is instilled in Ismaili volunteers from a very young age and reinforced throughout their adult lives. For example, Challenging Ismaili Volunteers in Communities, which is commonly referred to as CIVIC, is a volunteering initiative that seeks to leave a positive impact on local communities throughout Canada. This program allows youth between the ages of 13 and 25 to become ambassadors for the spirit of voluntary service. The impact left in local communities by CIVIC volunteers has been felt throughout many communities across Canada, as their mission is not exclusive to the Ismaili community. It is an inclusive effort to make positive contributions to the community at large, regardless of faith or origin.

On each designated CIVIC day across the country, more than 1,100 participants come together in their respective regions and contribute over 4,400 hours of voluntary service to designated projects. These projects can be geared toward the restoration of rundown neighbourhoods or the rejuvenation of flora and fauna in natural regions. CIVIC has conducted many environmental preservation projects that exemplify this mission. For example, in 2009, in commemoration of the Aga Khan’s Golden Jubilee, youth in my province of British Columbia planted 50 fruit trees, which will produce approximately one tonne of fruit every year that will be donated to shelters in downtown Vancouver. It is small, voluntary acts of kindness and hard work like this that can inspire others to help on a large scale or in different arenas. The Ismaili community has always embraced the spirit of volunteerism, always emphasizing that it does not matter if one is five or ninety-five, one can never be too young or too old to make a difference.

Another example of how Ismaili community, both young and old, came together to serve the community was during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The Ismaili volunteer corps was asked to help with the logistical planning and organizing of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games after being recognized by the committee and the community for their expertise in streamlining other large-scale events that we regularly hold. During the 2010 Winter Games, the Ismaili volunteers provided multi-faceted services, ranging from providing information to tourists and athletes, to managing scores of energetic crowds, to escorting senior government officials and ministers to special VIP Olympic events in and around Vancouver. By engaging in voluntary service within the larger community, the Ismaili Muslim community seeks to give back to the communities in which it lives by putting the ethics of volunteerism into action.

Not only do Ismaili Muslim volunteers offer their time and knowledge, they also organize several initiatives which raise funds for vulnerable and marginalized populations living both in Canada and abroad. For example, every year thousands of Canadians gather in 10 cities across Canada and participate in the World Partnership Walk, which is Canada’s largest fundraising event that is dedicated to fighting global poverty. Since the first walk, which was held in 1985, the World Partnership Walk has raised over $17 million for international development programs and initiatives.

For the past 27 years, the Aga Khan Foundation, with the support of its devoted volunteers, has organized the walk in an effort to show Canadians what people in other parts of the world are going through and to create an awareness of being part of the global family in which every member is as valuable as any other. The Aga Khan Foundation Canada directs all of the money raised through partnership walks to sponsorship of projects focused on health, education, culture and economic development, primarily in Africa and Asia.

Another initiative spearheaded by the Ismaili community is the Ismaili Walk which is held annually in British Columbia. In fact, just a few short weeks ago, I had the honour of walking alongside 1,500 British Columbians as the Ismaili Walk celebrated its twenty-first anniversary. For over two decades, men, women and children from across British Columbia have gathered at Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park where they have enjoyed live music, delicious food and a festive atmosphere while at the same time supporting a great cause.

In the past, the Ismaili Walk has partnered organizations such as the YMCA, an organization that I am personally very close to as I was its national president for six years, the Women’s Health Research Institute at B.C. Women’s Hospital, Health Centre Foundation and, most recently, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, raising awareness and funds for remarkable and deserving causes. In fact, over the past 21 years, the Ismaili Walk has raised more than $3.8 million for community organizations in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver.

Honourable senators, I would like to conclude by shedding light on the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, which is the institution that anchors many of the different projects and initiatives I have mentioned today. Aga Khan Foundation Canada is a non-denominational, non-profit international agency that supports social development programs in Asia and Africa. As a member of the Aga Khan Development Network, Aga Khan Foundation Canada works to address the root causes of poverty, finding and sharing effective and lasting solutions that help improve the quality of life for poor communities.

For more than 25 years, Aga Khan Foundation Canada has worked with Canadians to support sustainable improvements in the quality of life of poorer, marginalized communities in Asia and Africa, as well as foster dialogue on critical global issues to enhance Canada’s unique leadership in world affairs. The excellent work done by Aga Khan Foundation Canada would not be possible if it was not for the hundreds of volunteers who generously give their time and lend their support to the many projects it conducts every year.

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From the individuals who help organize the World Partnership Walk and the World Partnership Golf tournament, to the interns who travel to the developing world to make a difference in the lives of people residing in communities plagued by hunger, poverty and conflict, volunteers help make the Aga Khan Foundation’s vision a reality.

Honourable senators, Governor General Johnston has made volunteerism a key component of his mandate as Governor General. In October 2011, at The Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, Hi Excellency addressed a distinguished audience at a Canadian Club of Vancouver luncheon and underlined the values and ideals which shape a vibrant Canadian identity in the 21st century and enjoined upon all Canadians the importance of volunteerism and philanthropy.

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being generous, open-minded and forward-thinking. By working together selflessly and courageously, we can build a world for future generations that is full of opportunity. If alone we have the desire, then together we know we have the ability, and we know that when we unite we realize the potential of collaborative voluntary service.

Honourable senators, we know that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something to create opportunities for all.

(On motion of Senator Jaffer, for Senator Callbeck, debate adjourned.)

 

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