We follow community health volunteers on their rounds in Kenya and Tanzania, to learn more about the key health and gender equality issues facing rural communities. We see the crucial role that these volunteers play in improving family health… particularly in combatting harmful misconceptions about pregnancy and newborn care, and ensuring that pregnant women get timely, professional care at a health facility. (This video was produced prior to the pandemic of COVID-19)
Many of us spend our weekends having much needed downtime, catching up with chores or spending time with family. How willing would you be to give that up? Yasmin Heath from Brighton Jamatkhana in the UK did just this when she served on a TKN assignment in Europe. For one weekend every month, for six months, Yasmin travelled to Germany to voluntarily help murids from Afghanistan learn English language skills.
Dr Shogufa Mir Malekyar was heavily involved in this language initiative. She said that the role of their committee was to bring the voice and needs of the German Jamat directly to the National Council. Being based in Germany, Shogufa had first-hand experience of the needs of newly arrived murids from Afghanistan, Syria and Tajikistan.
“English is an international language, important in German schools and the workplace. Learning English would also help newly arrived murids understand the farmans of our Imam, which are delivered in English. We worked with the Aga Khan Education Board to develop different activities to support their language development. One of the actions we took was to commission teachers for English and German,” she said.
“The initiative was very important to our work for these murids. The Jamat is very diverse, from different countries, with different mother tongues. While we supported them with learning the national language of Germany, learning English was equally important as it allowed them to communicate with the Jamat around the world.”
English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Murids migrating from Afghanistan and other countries face many challenges in attempting to assimilate into the communities where they settle. Learning English is crucial in assisting murids to communicate with others and helping them to find opportunities in Europe, so they can also support the families they have left behind.
Yasmin Heath (nee Merchant), now retired, enjoyed a long and varied career before she embarked on becoming certified in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).
Yasmin had built her career as a holistic therapist for 30 years. She felt that she did not want to continue doing this for the rest of her life so she decided to pursue her passion for education and helping others, particularly those in developing countries.
“I felt I had an internal calling to work in a community where the children don’t have access to education facilities.”
After she received her qualifications to teach English as a foreign language, she looked to warmer countries where she could travel comfortably and independently. She said teaching was the best thing she could do. “Children are like sponges, by helping them learn English, I can help them build a foundation to go further in their education.”
With her new qualifications and her spirit to help others learn and grow, she ventured to southern India, Borneo, and Malaysia where she could fit in culturally.
Yasmin’s change in trajectory was serendipitous as it was this skill of teaching English as a foreign language that helped her actualise the TKN niyat she offered during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee.
“After serving as Mukhiani Saheba of Brighton Jamatkhana during the Golden Jubilee, I was very privileged and humbled by being given this assignment to teach English to our Afghan murids, some of whom wanted to settle in English speaking countries.”
Yasmin initially spoke with each student individually, making a recording of their aptitude for English and determining their fluency in speaking and reading. Every student had different aspirations and expectations regarding the purpose of developing their English language skills. Yasmin describes how some wanted to move to England or Canada. Other murids already had qualifications or professions. “One of my students was qualified as an engineer in Afghanistan and therefore, to build and transition into a career in Europe or Canada, needed to learn English.” Others aspired to set up their own businesses or find a job. In addition to helping them with English language skills, Yasmin also assisted them in developing effective CVs.
Yasmin taught students with varying levels of proficiency in English. From a 15-year-old who learnt English at school to a 65-year-old student who could not speak any English. Designing a bespoke course was required to accommodate all levels of competency in speaking, reading and writing in English.
“I designed the course which I hoped would not only be educational in terms of grammar, reading, and writing but also for them to be proactive with suggestions. Hopefully I made their learning enjoyable too,” she said.
Over six months, Yasmin dedicated weekends to working with a group of 10 people to develop their English language skills. This required intense commitment from both Yasmin and the students she worked with – from 10 AM to 6 PM on Saturdays and Sundays, they devoted their time to the language classes.
Having recorded both their initial and final reading and conversation exercises, the murids who participated were able to see and hear how their skills had developed over the six sessions.
Reflecting on her TKN experience, Yasmin said:
“I often think of my students from Afghanistan and wonder where they are now or if they have accomplished their aspirations of moving to an English-speaking country. I learnt so much from them about how life was back home and the hardship they had to endure and couldn’t express enough shukrana for my own life here in the UK where there is freedom, independence, health, and social network.”
Amin Jamani, UK Ismaili Council member responsible for TKN said: “Yasmin’s TKN assignment shows us how the skills that we have developed even outside of our main career can help our Jamati and AKDN institutions with the problems they are trying to solve. It’s crucial that murids who have submitted a TKN niyat keep their profiles updated but also share information on all their skill sets. It might be skills that you’ve established outside of your main job or career path that could help our institutions.”
The Ismaili Magazine 2020: A Year of Extraordinary Service
Welcome to The Ismaili Magazine 2020: A Year of Extraordinary Service. This digital magazine provides a whistle-stop tour across continents, highlighting the various programmes, initiatives, and events organised by AKDN and Jamati institutions around the world over the past 12 months.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
Noureen leads an ECD class with a children's book.
Noureen leads an ECD class with a children's book.
If you have spent time with a small child, you may remember getting questions you did not quite know how to answer. As adults, answers to questions about why rules exist or why birds sing are easy to understand, but hard to explain.
When young children participate in faith-based activities, they do so with similar inquisitiveness. However, adults may struggle to convey faith concepts to their youngest family members. Rather than shrug off questions and miss opportunities for growth, Hazar Imam issued guidance to create programs that start faith education from a child’s birth. As such, Ismaili volunteers have been hard at work for the last decade creating early childhood programs for faith education.
Volunteers Noureen Teajani and Naseem Jaffer are two such volunteers, heavily committed to building and strengthening faith education opportunities for families with very young children.
Starting a Birth-to-Three Program
“To our knowledge, Ismailis are the only faith-based community to have a faith education program start from birth,” says Noureen Teajani, National Project Manager for Center-Based Learning (CBL) for the last eight years. She had always been involved in some kind of service since a very young age. “Once you start seva, you can’t stop,” she explains.
Noureen was first a REC teacher and then part of the management team for lower primary students. She felt she always related best to the younger children, so when offered an opportunity to launch Center-Based Learning for birth-to-three, she dove in.
The legacy Early Childhood programs had no faith-based component. Rather, outcomes were tied to secular child development milestones. But when the institutions were asked to incorporate faith into every part of the curriculum, Noureen was enlisted to take part in writing the curriculum and training the teachers for the program, “Faith and Ethics.”
In 2012 she helped with the pilot rollout in Florida. With hard work and many volunteer hours, this year, the “Faith and Ethics” program for birth-to-three year olds will expand to its seventh region in the USA. This is a parent-facing program that addresses all parts of birth-to-36 month olds’ development. In their first year and a half together, the child and parent(s) go through 50 children’s books, tallying one a month from 0-24 and two a month 24-36.
The “Faith and Ethics” Program uses metaphors from children’s stories to introduce concepts like Tawhid, Nubuwwa, and Imama. For example, stories on friendship help introduce the relationship of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Hazrat Ali, or images of libraries in books illustrate how the Prophet is a source of knowledge for Muslims. “Children take charge of their own learning,” explains Noureen, “and they learn through play. This allows for critical thinking which is very important.”
The impact of the program is clearest to Noureen when parents come back excited to report meaningful moments at home practicing or discussing faith with their small children. Many parents also volunteer to talk about the program or be facilitators, which shows their excitement to share what they’ve learned with their child.
Sustaining a Three-to-Six program
Naseem started volunteering for the three-to-six year old program when she was in high school. She was a teacher assistant, became a teacher, then helped evaluate quality as a teacher observer.
She had taught the same group of young children every year through ninth grade. That experience showed her the impact of early childhood education on students’ long term success. “It’s so rewarding to see them flourishing now, or getting into pre-AP classes in freshman year because of that strong, early foundation.”
She became Principal of the birth-to-six program in her region, and at the same time, Noureen and team rolled out the new “Faith and Ethics” Program. “Once I started working with the young kids in our Jamat, it was a part of me. It was something I wish I had growing up.”
Naseem is inspired by the progress she sees in the children and parents who complete the program. Some of them join the three-to-six program without any English proficiency. But as an example, by the end of the program, one such child was leading “Show and tell,” and her mother felt her child was prepared to start secondary school.
Although the three-to-six program does not target faith-based learning, it still can connect to other Jamati programs and wrap-around services. Naseem recalls “When a parent wanted to strengthen their English to communicate with their kids and schoolteachers, I made the connection to the Quality of Life group for adult classes, for example.”
Tradition of Service
Naseem and Noureen’s commitment to volunteering for so many years in early childhood education exemplifies how the dedication of Ismaili volunteers can accelerate a child’s development and strengthen social relationships, inside and outside the Ismaili community.
Volunteers from 27 countries come together to deliver a virtual camp to youth from the global Jamat
When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, the whole world stopped. While many experienced difficulties establishing a “new normal” for themselves, others struggled with remembering to click the “unmute” button before speaking on their Zoom meetings. Ismailis from all corners of the globe have stepped up to navigate the most challenging of situations in order to better the lives of others. Enter CONNECT, the first ever virtual camp for Ismaili Muslim Youth from across the globe.
Founded as a joint initiative of Global Encounters and the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Boards, CONNECT aims to provide inspiration and hope to our global youth, engage them in service to others in order to positively impact our local communities, strengthen connections between peers and to the Jamat at large, and offer virtual programming that is meaningful, builds skills and provides exposure to rich content. Over the course of 2020, CONNECT engaged 1,100 and 700 Ismaili youth (from over 30 different countries) respectively for its July and December sessions.
It takes a village to successfully implement a program of this size and scale, and it really was a village that came together to serve and impart their time and knowledge for the benefit of the youth of our global Jamat. Dedicated, passionate and resilient are just a few terms to describe the 300+ volunteers (which included 120 TKN volunteers) from 25+ countries for each program who came together to contribute their unique skill sets, creativity and countless hours. From STEP teachers, to world renowned artists, to those well versed in technology, to those studying to earn their Bachelor’s degree - volunteers from all walks of life bonded together from their own locations through a screen. A common sentiment shared by volunteers was expressed by one Facilitator who stated “I immediately felt connected to my global Ismaili community. In all my years, I cannot recall a time that I’ve been surrounded by so many dedicated, intelligent, and passionate individuals all at once”.
This sentiment translated to the participants as well. CONNECT enabled Ismaili youth who may not have otherwise been able to participate in an in-person camp experience, due to financial, sociocultural or other barriers, to access a program that connected them with their Ismaili brothers and sisters across the world, learn more about the work of our Imamat and build on existing or new skills. Camp activities such as a ‘Family Cultural Exchange Visit’ aimed to send powerful reminders of the idea that, no matter where we are in this world, or what difficulties we might be faced with, we always have a strong and united community that we belong to and that we can rely on for support.
A highlight of both programs were the incredible workshops led by experts from various fields which included Arts, Architecture, Entrepreneurship, Health and Wellness, Education and Technology, and Service and Civic Engagement. Workshops offered valuable skill-building opportunities for our global youth and served as an important platform to foster creativity and collaboration.
Additionally, the December CONNECT program brought together the values of our faith with one of the most pressing issues of our time, making ‘Climate Change and Social Action’ the theme for the week. Time and time again, Hazar Imam has mentioned our community’s responsibility to leave the world in a better condition than that in which we found it. The concept of Khalifa, or guardian of God’s creations, was introduced and emphasized throughout camp, and served as a foundation upon which volunteers built participants’ understanding of the role that each of us plays in the current global climate change crisis. Virtual AKDN field trips focused on highlighting the work of our institutions, familiarizing participants with the actions being taken to combat climate change and the stepwise changes which they can make in their own lives and communities to drive positive impact.
The final impression that CONNECT left volunteers and participants with was knowing that change does not happen all at once, but that taking small steps in the right direction is the path that a Khalifa must venture on in order to “live up to their exalted status as vicegerent of God on earth.”
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TKN Volunteers Teaching Nurses English in Khorog, Tajikistan
“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” Sir Winston Churchill
A rugged 14-hour drive to Khorog and grueling 12-hour days would tire anyone, but not TKN volunteers Yasmin Walji, Alisha Bhimani, and Shirin Nanjee. They were on a mission to ensure that clinicians from the Pamir region of Tajikistan can be familiar with the most relevant and recent literature in their profession, in order to provide the best care possible to their patients. To do this, they needed to be more proficient in the primary language of medical journals—English.
“The Pamir region is increasingly becoming a popular destination for European hikers, many of whom rely on services from the Aga Khan Medical Centrre, Khorog (AKMCK),” explained Yasmin, a nurse and midwife with a postgraduate degree in newborn intensive care, and a certification in ESL training. “We were not only training clinicians to be able to converse with their patients, but even worked with kitchen staff to be able to provide quality services,” she said. All of these aspects work collectively toward creating a quality experience at AKMCK. This was Yasmin’s sixth TKN assignment, having completed similar projects in Badakhshan and Kabul, Afghanistan.
Alisha Bhimani with one of her students from the nearby Dua Khana, for whom she left all her English books.
Alisha Bhimani with one of her students from the nearby Dua Khana, for whom she left all her English books.
“There’s no set curriculum that encompasses English language and medical terminology,” said Alisha Bhimani, who is completing a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) at Emory University. “We’re working without a playbook, and thanks to the TKN program, we’re able to provide a solution to an immediate need in the Jamat.” Alisha was a Master Trainer for the English language in the Quality of Life program of the Jamati Institutions, before serving her TKN assignment.
Alisha first became familiar with the English language curriculum through QOL’s Life Skills program. The original program—designed for about 10 months in 2015—had been changed during the Diamond Jubilee year to a two-month option, called “60 Days of Learning.” As part of the same initiative, Alisha also created a separate medical terminology curriculum—designed to be implemented simultaneously with the ESL curriculum—that helped to further customize the learning experience for the AKMCK medical staff.
Yasmin Walji (center) celebrating Dec 13, 2019, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s birthday and one year of the opening of the Outpatient Department with AKMCK team members.
Yasmin Walji (center) celebrating Dec 13, 2019, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s birthday and one year of the opening of the Outpatient Department with AKMCK team members.
Yasmin further customized the curriculum by using a content-based ESL instruction approach, which allows students to learn vocabulary in the context of their environment. For example, receptionists answering the phones, or kitchen staff taking food orders would learn English differently than clinicians. “This context and content-rich approach help meet specific needs and instill more critical thinking and global skills, moving beyond the functional English,” explained Yasmin.
The women’s task was not easy, but every student was a motivated learner. For Shirin Nanjee, a high school teacher from Houston, with a 15-year-long teaching career, the warmth of her students and patrons was her fuel. “I was overwhelmed with the love, humility, and graciousness of everyone there,” she said. She engaged the local community and had two Ismaili students from Tajik universities—an ECD-trained mother, and an MBA graduate – help her manage her schedule and help prepare for classes. “Teaching a language and set of skills that provide so many immediate socio-economic opportunities as a TKN volunteer, was the height of my professional career,” remarked Shirin, and “It paid off to be a teacher!”
There are also projects on the side. For example, inspired by the AKMCK community, and driven by the need for resources in the region, Shirin designed and launched pre-professional and supplemental learning programs. She established a mobile library for young children selling apricots on the street, allowing them to access literature and improve reading skills. “If children are given access to educational resources, they are willing to self learn and further their own learning,” she said. She also established SAT classes for youth, helping improve their chances of gaining higher education, a better life, and an opportunity to bring new ideas and methodology to their own communities.
Similarly, Yasmin was supporting evening classes for young children in the village, who walked into her classroom because there was an English teacher present. “They simply wanted to learn,” she said with a smile, surprised and pleased with the initiative and motivation of these young children seeking knowledge at every opportunity.
While Shirin and Alisha were there together for six to eight weeks, Yasmin took over after they left to continue the program. After completing their assignment, the women are all back in the US now, but they plan to keep the program running. They are working on a proposal to create a sustainable model to manage the ESL department at AKMCK, providing year-round training at least for the next three years.
Aga Khan Foundation’s TKN Pool Volunteers continue to make significant global impact
TKN volunteers are positively impacting the programs and initiatives of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in diverse regions of the world, whilst serving remotely from other regions in the world. Who are these volunteers? Dedicated women and men who are contributing their expertise in various areas of humanitarian assistance and rural development, and who have generously pledged their time and knowledge to support AKF’s work in communities around the world.
The inaugural AKF TKN pools were launched jointly by the Aga Khan Foundation, Geneva and the TKN Central Office, Toronto at the beginning of 2018, when the first cohort of volunteers began to serve in three pools of expertise: Research Analysts, Visual/Graphic Designers, and Writers and Editors. Pool volunteers are recruited on an annual basis to serve on a range of short term, remote assignments across AKF’s diverse geographical and thematic areas of work.
In 2019, the “tkn.ismaili” website posted the first article (https://the.ismaili/news/aga-khan-foundations-tkn-volunteer-pools-make-global-impact) on the contribution made by AKF’s TKN volunteers in 2018. Since the 2018 inception of the AKF Pools, over 30 volunteers from this Pool have served on an impressive 147 TKN assignments in support of 65 AKF projects globally!
This second story features some of the work done by three TKN AKF Pool volunteers, Asif Samnani, Asif Lakhani and Nevins Saeed, who have collectively served on 46 short-term assignments with AKF.
Asif Samnani applied his skills as a Research Analyst to conduct financial, legal, and reputational due diligence on more than 18 institutional partners and donors. The Civil Society Monitor is an annual internal publication produced by AKF to track the state of civil society around the world. In 2020, AKF produced an “Exceptional Edition” of the Civil Society Monitor to track the global civil society response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 14 countries where AKF is active. Asif’s invaluable input to this included conducting research on the response of civil society to restrictions on civil society activities and basic freedoms.
AKDN offers Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), which are free online courses available for anyone to enrol, providing an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills. Asif’s contribution to this project was the completion of a competitor matrix for AKF's Blended Learning Initiative, to inform on what other institutions’ blended learning platforms are offering, their business model, and the features they offer. The research investigated global and regional MOOC platforms. Emphasis was placed on those that have content focused on international development or aimed at non-profits and civil society organizations.
Asif says, “AKDN and Jamati institutions have played a significant role in my life. Born and raised in rural India, I attended the high school run by Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) and used health care services provided by Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS). I am extremely grateful for this TKN opportunity to serve AKF and AKDN and to pay back what AKDN has contributed to my personal and professional development”.
Asif Lakhani contributed his expertise as a Senior Graphic Design Specialist in visual design on 21 AKF projects to enhance the appearance, aesthetic appeal and readability of AKF documents intended for public consumption. Since visual design of a brochure, manual, report or other key document is the first impression a reader gets of the document, this is a necessary discipline to support the work of the writer/editor of a document to ensure capturing the readers’ interest.
Asif says, “TKN is a blessing for us to get the opportunity to work for different institutions around the world and learn from diverse people experiences. I am very blessed that I got an opportunity to work with AKF for different countries. The team always respects our work and communicates with kind understanding. I had a great experience working with many teams around the world. Inshallah I will continue to serve the AKF institutions till the end of my life."
Nevins Saeed used her extensive Writer/Editor skills with AKF projects in India, Kyrgyzstan and East Africa. Nevins supported the Kyrgyzstan AKF office to develop success stories on the impact of the AKF Mountain Societies Development Support Project on young entrepreneurs in Jalal-Abad region, encouraging them to remain in their country, rather than abandoning their families to seek jobs in neighbouring countries.
Safeguarding covers the responsibility of organisations to ensure that their staff, operations and programmes do no harm to children and adults. The AKF Safeguarding Manual sets out AKF’s Safeguarding Policy and Code of Conduct. Nevins assisted in the revision of the first version of the AKF global safeguarding manual, making it more user–friendly. Asif Lakhani then worked on the visual design. Additionally, Nevins worked on other global AKF projects, writing case studies, developing brochures, and editing reports and manuals. In all cases she worked closely with the teams on the ground, guiding and imparting her expertise to team members.
Nevins says, “I feel very blessed in being given the opportunity to use my skillsets to support the excellent work the AKF and AKDN continue to do to alleviate the suffering of rural populations in the most under-developed countries; and to enhance the wellbeing and uphold the rights of the underprivileged around the world, including women and children”.
AKF’s General Manager, Michael Kocher, praises the AKF TKN volunteers. “The exemplary service by these excellent and committed professionals continues to strengthen our institution, and enhance our impact in beneficiary communities,” he said. “The fact that they are doing so during an unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is particularly impressive, for which AKF extends its sincerest gratitude. Looking ahead, we plan to deepen further this important engagement.”
A Family that Reaches Across Borders to Help Those in Need
The entrepreneurial spirit is used to improve the lives of communities in need, from the USA to India, Dar es Salaam, and Tajikistan.
Everyone’s journey to serve begins at a pivotal point in their life, and their conscious awareness and ability, guided with opportunity, plays a part in how much time, energy, and resources they can contribute towards humanity.
Nizar Kassam was reluctant to be interviewed as he remarked that what we do for humanity is between us and our Creator. He prefers to be under the radar, and only after explaining the knowledge value to others, did he feel comfortable sharing a little. “So many have done so much,” said Nizar, “and my late wife, Mehrun, and my children are honored we had the ability and opportunity to do what we can, during this lifetime.”
Nizar and Mehrun taught their children the value of service at a young age, and each of their three children, Zeenat Kassam Mitha, Al-Karim Kassam and Rahim Kassam, have continued that legacy, most of it done very quietly, as their father reminded them of the Volunteer Corps motto of “Work no Words.” Nizar’s guidance for their secular lives is with a single ethical moral compass: “Mawla’s guidance will take you to the next realm, in the way you are supposed to go, as you have served your purpose in life.”
After serving in various Jamati capacities at the Karioko Jamatkhana in Dar es Salaam in 1967, while in his 20’s, Nizar Gulamhussein Kassam was also active as a Welfare Committee member. He and his wife then moved to Kinshasa, Zaire, and served in the Jamat, and moved again to Canada in 1974. In 1976, they became Mukhi/Mukhiani in Franklin Jamatkhana in Calgary, Alberta. Nizar was in real estate and Mehrun was working in retail, while taking college courses. They decided the following year to take a chance and purchased their first hotel in Tucson. A year later they sold it and bought the Sundowner hotel in Albuquerque, with other partners, and moved there. There was opportunity in the United States, and Nizar knew what hard work could accomplish, so he was ready to assist in building a community there.
An interesting tidbit is that Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen had been staying at the hotel; working as young programmers across the street. They left for Seattle when they received funding for what was to become Microsoft.
Over the next two decades, Nizar and Mehrun assisted in settling over 50 families, and provided their time, knowledge, jobs, finances, and whatever else was needed to start their new lives. Their hotel also donated a large space to be converted to a Jamatkhana, from 1977 to 1986. They welcomed new families and provided room and board for many, until they were settled.
During this time, as personal businesses and opportunities increased, Nizar and Mehrun’s financial support grew for the Institute of Ismaili Studies, as founding members, and other AKDN institutions.
In 2001, Nizar and Mehrun went to visit Kanalus, Gujarat, India, where Nizar’s father was born. The town was 25 minutes away from the city of Jamnagar. They saw their father’s and extended family’s living quarters and the lovely, quaint community where they lived. The Jamati leaders there asked for assistance to update and build an extension for the Kanalus Jamatkhana, recreation area, and courtyard. Nizar and Mehrun, and their cousins, Sadru and Shirin Allana, funded an updated purpose-built Jamatkhana, and other requested spaces. For local residents with limited means of support, a Jamatkhana offers a community a space for a place of worship and social interaction, reaffirming their identity and culture.
Travelling to Jamnagar, Gujarat, the group was asked for financial assistance as the Jamatkhana was in a small, rented space. The following year, Nizar’s cousin, Mirza, visited Jamnagar. He remained there for six months to supervise the projects. In 2003, the family opened a health clinic in Jamnagar. It began as a free service, but increased to two rupees (equivalent to US 10 cents) after a few years, when lines formed beyond what they could handle in a day, as many came even though they were not ill.
In 2005, Nizar and Mehrun fully supported a mobile health clinic that went to rural villages and offered the same health care as at Jamnagar, and to patients who couldn’t travel. In the same year, Mirza opened an English and Computer class for students that wanted to apply for college and learn advanced skills, but did not have the means. Nizar and Mehrun provided all the new computers and equipment to get started, and other family members funded the building and many other needs.
In addition to the Jamnagar Jamatkhana, the families also purchased housing for 12 needy Ismaili families so they could have a jump start in their life. Any extra funding collected from the families went to Aga Khan Foundation for development purposes.
Nizar and Mehrun also saw a need at a non-denominational children’s orphanage in Dar es Salaam, and have offered the children and staff twice- weekly meals, and weekly meals for the Ismaili senior community in need.
While in communication with Zarina Kheraj of AKDN in Tajikistan, Badru and Nizar learned of 20 students needing assistance to attend university for five years. The two brothers fully supported the students for their university education. They also managed to find friends and extended family that assisted another 20 students.
Thereafter, Zarina mentioned electricity was desperately needed in a rural village a few hours from Khorog. Badru visited the village and saw the difficulty people were having in surviving the winter. They did what was necessary for electricity to be brought in, changing the lives of the community. Today, others have assisted more villages in a similar fashion.
Nizar and his family have also given his time to many Jamati institutions, and their children continue the example of service in several capacities. The family exemplifies the ethic of service and one’s responsibility to help others improve their lives, wherever, and whenever possible.
“In the Shia Ismaili Muslim tradition, voluntary service to others is viewed as an integral and positive part of daily life, and never as a burdensome obligation or an elective activity. Service is a means for each individual to actualize Islam’s ethics of inclusiveness, of compassion, of sharing, of the respect for life, and of personal responsibility for sustaining a healthy physical, social, and cultural environment.”
Princess Zahra Aga Khan, International Association for Volunteer Effort, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on August 25th, 1998
During the week of April 18 through 24, we mark a week-long Celebration of Service to acknowledge and reflect upon the spirit of volunteerism that exists within the Jamat and beyond. We invite all Jamati members to join in the celebration virtually via the following activities:
A Bond of Unconditional Love
An inspiring journey to commemorate the 'Celebration of Service Week' and cherish the spirit of service of our uniformed and non-uniformed volunteers.
Ideal for Jamati members ages 16 and up.
Tuesday April 20, 2021 at 9:30 p.m. EST | 8:30 p.m. CST | 6:30 p.m. PST
Click here to register
Expressing Service through Art
Join instructor Kinza Hirani as she instructs and inspires you to use art to internalize and express our ethic of service. Supplies required are white paper, pencil, eraser, and colored pencils.
Ideal for children and youth ages 6 and up.
Wednesday April 21, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. EST | 5:30 p.m. CST | 3:30 p.m. PST
Click here to register
Follow us the Ismaili USA Social Media channels @theismailiusa on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for inspirational quotes and stories of service and volunteerism via hashtag #CelebrationOfService2021.
Each day, we will be posting short, entertaining stories or poems about service and volunteerism here. These stories are meant to be enjoyed by all members of the family including seniors, parents, young adults, teens, and children.
Pakistan’s English Language Program: Key contribution by TKN educators
The English Language Enhancement Programme (ELEP) is an 8-level English Language Diploma Programme adopted from the Pakistan American Cultural Centre (PACC) to provide English Language teaching to the Jamat. Lead educators are trained and certified by the PACC who, in turn, train other educators regarding the various pedagogies and didactic ways of instilling English fluency skills within the Jamat. These primarily focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening. 38 TKN volunteers, from all over Pakistan, serve as lead educators and educators and they undergo over 50 hours of training before they start teaching a class.
Fluency in the English language is a crucial factor in social mobility and plays a seminal role as an economic and educational asset. The challenges amid the diverse cultures that surround us include communication and language barriers, among others. It is clearly evident that English is seen as a passport to the global world in which we live today.
Mawlana Hazar Imam in his remarks at the White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy in 2000 said, “Many of the world's most important cultures cannot communicate in the English language. They are not able to communicate, their resources are constrained in their language; and, in fact, that has become worse due to the policies that were in place at the time of decolonisation, to treat language as a building block for nationhood.
I think there are significant cultures around the world that would need to be assisted to convey to the world their cultures in English. That doesn't mean giving up the national language. It means exposing to global understanding their own culture. It will improve the global understanding, it will enhance their own respect for their own culture.”
Zahra Bhamani and Munir Tharwani, academic leads of the ELEP noted “With Mawlana Hazar Imam's increased emphasis on the English language and his wish for the Jamat to become global citizens, it has become imperative that the Aga Khan Education Board for Pakistan (AKEB, P) scales up the English language programme that was earlier being run by the Aga Khan Education Services for Pakistan. Since its inception in 2015, AKEB, P has strived to train potential Jamati members in teaching English as a second language. Today, ELEP has trained Educators from across Pakistan, ensuring that the classes for English language learning are held in all regions.”
Classrooms are usually attended by 20 to 30 students under the supervision of an educator. The students belong to diverse backgrounds and walks of life - children in their formative years, professionals seeking better job opportunities, grandparents who want to communicate with their grandchildren in English, and individuals who simply want a better command of the language.
Farah Zahiruddin, a TKN educator hailing from Chitral, said, “My classes are student-centred. I want my students to practice their English fluency skills among their peers. They need to have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, to get encouragement from us and to be actively engaged in the learning process.” Some of the strategies she employs include classroom discussions, presentations, visual aids and dramatics. She adds “Witnessing your students’ progress is an immensely gratifying feeling, but working with frugality in a setting with resource constraints often takes its toll on us. There already seems to be a lack of awareness and appreciation for the English language within local members of the Jamat. Lack of access to quality education and the lower social stratum making up most of the local population are additional barriers. Despite this, our team of educators respond to these challenges with smiles on our faces”.
With more Jamati members enrolling in these classes, general awareness about the English language and its importance is also improving. A father who eagerly sends his daughter to the ELEP classes remarks, “English is the official language of over 50 countries today. It can lead individuals to more diverse career opportunities and help them pursue their education from better institutions. It provides them with an open door to communicate as global citizens. Therefore, I believe that programmes like the ELEP are a need of the hour.”
With the advent of COVID-19, ELEP in-person classes have currently been put on hiatus. Imtiaz Ali, another TKN educator from Lower Chitral, said, “The safety and health of our students are our top priority. While students and educators living in urban areas may have access to the ELEP classes online, it is difficult for us to replicate a similar model in the mountains of Northern Pakistan. We hope once schools completely open up, we can eventually adjust to the new normal.” Nevertheless, AKEB, P continues to monitor the progress of the ELEP in these areas and simultaneously devise projects more suitable for the nearby areas.
The significant impact of this programme has been possible because of the exemplary dedication and contribution of a large number of TKN volunteers serving across Pakistan. In the coming years, more Jamati members are expected to benefit from the programme and, in return, serve the communities they belong to.
Senior life is complicated, made even worse by a situation of limited mobility, due to dependency factors such as lack of skills to drive, which restricts an individual's ability to engage socially, and creates barriers to community engagement.
Anar Gulamali has served the Jamat with a smile since 2006. In her years of service, she held several honorary service positions. She has been appointed as Honorary Secretary of Golden Club, when three Jamatkhanas were represented under one Golden Club, and served as Vice Coordinator for Principal Jamatkhana for twelve years.
Among her prized long service to others, is teaching English classes to senior citizens in Sugar Land Jamatkhana. Many seniors residing in the US came with little or no secondary or tertiary education, creating an isolation barrier with other seniors within the community at large. To address this issue, Anar drew on her passion and inspiration for service to fill a unique gap identified within this aging group of the Jamat.
Leading from this deficient skillset, she found the seniors also struggled to successfully complete their citizenship interviews. Thus, she began working with them to teach them how to grow and succeed at not only their citizenship interviews but also become contributing community members through I-CERV. After identifying the need, she carefully articulated a citizenship curriculum and started offering classes to seniors at their local Jamatkhana.
In addition to her citizenship activities, she has been a driving force for the "Aging Gracefully" Initiative at Principal Jamatkhana in Houston, Texas. Perhaps her greatest contribution is widening the vision of aging seniors through organization of local outreach trips, one such program was to local rodeos exposing them to places they had never visited before, while providing them with the opportunity to practice their English skills.
Through her engagement she desires to ignite a spark of self-worth within aging seniors, as often times they find themselves in misery, or a state of despondency. She has encouraged many to join game activities, painting, floral arrangements, and more.
Since COVID, immigration activities for citizenship were paused but recently Anar was honored by one of the participants for their successful completion, "an experience which was truly humbling," said Anar. The most memorable activity for Anar has been "making learning fun, providing seniors with subtle ways to learn hints and helpful words, which will remind them of states or capitals."
Anar has been successful in her citizenship efforts, in 2019, twenty-six students successfully became citizens through her program and another twelve students in 2020.
Meet the Calgary cab driver who has delivered groceries to dozens of seniors for 15 years
Iqbal Alimohd spends every Saturday serving his community
Iqbal Alimohd, a Checker Cabs driver, delivers groceries to dozens of seniors in Calgary every week free of charge. (Submitted by Checker Cabs)
Saturday mornings start early for Iqbal Alimohd and his wife, Mumtaz.
They're at Real Canadian Superstore well before it opens, ready to buy and deliver groceries for dozens of Calgary seniors — just as they've been doing every weekend for more than 15 years.
Iqbal, a Checker Cabs driver, said this all began with his regular clients.
"With time going by, I see they're not doing good," he told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday. "And then I told them, 'From now on, I buy your groceries, because you [don't have] much energy left.' "
He said what started with two or three clients grew as the seniors started talking to each other.
Donating their time
The operation now serves 20 to 25 people, and keeping everything organized is no small feat. During the week, Mumtaz takes phone orders and tracks them in a spreadsheet.
On the weekend, they commandeer up to eight shopping carts and have a designated cashier aisle at Superstore. They'll spend two to three hours there before heading to several specialty grocery stores. Then Iqbal delivers and unpacks everything.
The day isn't done until 7 p.m. most weeks, but the time is something they give for free.
Iqbal, who turns 70 this year, charges only what he pays for the groceries. "But my service, my daytime gas, I just charge nothing."
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Their sons, Faisal Alimohd and Yasin Alimohamed, started helping with grocery runs during the pandemic so their parents wouldn't have to spend as much time in public. They feel like their father's weekly tradition has always been part of their lives.
"It was such a big commitment that whenever we would want to travel or go anywhere, he would be like, 'Well, what are my seniors going to do on Saturday?' " recalled Faisal.
But it's something they now look forward to each week.
More than just groceries
Yasin says delivering groceries is just a small part of what Iqbal does.
"I think the rest of it is so much more impactful," he said. "He becomes part of their family."
Iqbal spends hours socializing with the seniors, driving them to appointments and doing anything else he can to help. It's always been something he kept quiet.
Faisal said they didn't realize how much was involved beyond buying and delivering groceries until they would hear from seniors or their children or get thank-you notes.
Sometimes, he says, there are children of seniors who tell him, "Your dad's been there when we haven't been able to be there."
Karim Merali is one of those children. Iqbal delivered groceries to his parents, and when Merali's mother died five years ago, Iqbal visited or called his dad almost every day.
"He knew when people needed some companionship," said Merali.
Act of kindness
Yasin says his dad is a firm believer in "work, no words."
"He doesn't look for gratitude or a pat on the back from anyone."
He said the act of kindness itself gives his father "a sense of why he's here."
Yasin and Faisal say Iqbal is probably embarrassed by the attention he's getting, but they're glad he's being recognized.
"It's uplifting in the sense that I hope other people may take up on it [and] pay it forward," Faisal said.
Editor’s note: Sadly, while this Senior Spotlight article was being prepared for publication, Leila Visram passed away at the age of 87, in Los Angeles. While we do not usually post obituaries, it was felt appropriate to publish the story of her life as she had dedicated so much of it to others.
Leila Visram’s decades of service, both within the Ismaili community and across Los Angeles, has touched the lives of countless people. Her dedication to her community, passion for service, and zest for life shines through to anyone who knows her.
Born in Nairobi, and raised in Kampala, she was one of five children in her family. She discovered her love of travel and adventurous spirit at a young age. Her first solo trip was to India, before getting married, where she traveled around for six months visiting her father’s family in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Agra, Delhi, and Kashmir. Later in life, she sold her home and traveled across Europe.
Leila began her career working as a secretary at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, as a senior Consular Assistant, and spent 24 of years as a secretary with General Telephone (now known as Verizon) upon moving to Los Angeles. She formed strong relationships with the people she worked with, and these connections opened doors for her that would forever impact her life.
Through her job at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, she was able to get her visa to emigrate to the United States in 1970, where she arrived with her daughter, leaving her sons with family in Pakistan, and her husband back in Africa. She settled in Los Angeles, buying a house. General Telephone allowed her to spend some time volunteering in the community, and she became involved with local organizations.
Over the years, she has volunteered as a docent at the Getty Museum, giving garden and architectural tours, as a translator for the City of Los Angeles, where she translated Medicare D into Gujarati, and as an active poll worker during elections, after gaining her US citizenship.
While her husband never joined her in the US, Leila remained strong and independent, providing the best life she could for her children, never backing down in the face of
Leila performing in a play in the 1980s.
Leila performing in a play in the 1980s.
adversity, and remaining connected to her roots. She worked 10-12 hours a day at her day job as a secretary and sold samosas (which her colleagues called ‘triangles’) at her office for extra income. She raised her three children, and spent any free time she had volunteering both with the Jamat and the wider community.
Leila describes her proudest achievement as serving as a founding member of the Ismaili Burial Society. Her multiple language skills were an asset, as she spoke Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati and English, and she traveled across Southern California to educate the Jamat about the benefits of joining the burial society. She was also involved in writing excerpts on Ismaili history, which were read in Jamatkhana during Student Majlis, and she translated ginans into English for children to learn. She has given tours of the Getty to various jamati groups, from seniors to REC students.
Leila’s family was one of the earliest Ismaili families in the Los Angeles area. Arriving with little money, without her husband, and responsible for providing a good life for her family, she worked hard and always remained connected to her community. Despite her family responsibilities and financial struggles, she found joy in seva and made her mark through her Jamati work and volunteer efforts in the city. Listening to Leila’s story serves as a reminder for us all to always work hard, stay strong in the face of adversity, remain positive, and to always give back to our community.
Agriculture Development Expert’s Outstanding Volunteer Service
Amir Kassam, a dedicated and exemplary volunteer, has served AKDN and Jamati institutions for over 40 years. During the late 1970s, Amir assisted the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)-UK National Committee in its project evaluation work. In the early 1980s, Amir was involved in the establishment of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programmes (AKRSP) in Pakistan and India. He continued in India by supporting the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) School Improvement Programme and the India National Council in the formulation of the Jamat Advancement Programme.
Amir volunteered with AKF-UK in the preparation of the Silver Jubilee programme involving partnerships with the UK government and NGOs. He then served as Chair of AKF-UK and subsequently as Chair of FOCUS Europe in the 1990s. He was also the AKDN Coordinator for Hunger and Food Security in the Inter-Faith Development Dialogue Initiative.
Amir’s first TKN assignment, right at the start of the 2007 Golden Jubilee TKN initiative, was teaching a full semester course in ‘International Development from a Muslim Perspective’ at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London during the 2007-2008 academic year.
Since 2008, Amir has focused on sharing his extensive knowledge of agricultural development with AKF Geneva and AKF field units in Mozambique, Syria, India, Tanzania, Madagascar and Tajikistan, and with AKDN rural support programmes in Africa and Asia.
His expertise on the alternate agricultural paradigm of no-till Conservation Agriculture (CA) for food security, poverty alleviation and rural livelihoods was put to good use in training field staff and farmers to adopt this methodology in Africa and Asia. In 2010, Amir participated in training workshops organized by AKF Geneva in Dubai and Mozambique that were attended by Geneva programme directors and all AKF field units in Africa. During these workshops, Amir was able to expound on this methodology and explain how it fed into AKF’s agricultural and rural development strategy.
Amir’s first TKN assignment with AKF-Mozambique in 2008 involved a site assessment of the Bilibiza Agricultural Institute in Cabo Delgado and providing advice on its improvement for subsequent years. This was followed by a multi-year TKN assignment with the Income and Food Security Project in Cabo Delgado, which helped 30,000 households to adopt the CA methodology to meet their food security needs and generate surplus for the market. This successful project was documented through a PhD research study by Baqir Lalani at Reading University. In 2014, Amir led a team of prominent experts, including architect Farouk Noormohamed and Professor Gottlieb Basch from Evora University (Portugal), to formulate a long-term strategy for the transformation of the Bilibiza Agricultural Institute into a leading agricultural training establishment.
In Syria, Amir began his TKN assignment in 2008 with a focus on improving water use efficiency but was soon advising and training in CA systems to improve production and livelihood opportunities, and regenerate land productivity. He continued assessing improvement opportunities for the Agricultural School in Salemieh established by Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah. The civil unrest, beginning in 2011, interrupted this work for a few years but Amir has been able to continue fieldwork from 2016 onwards when conditions permitted. His last visit to Syria in December 2019 involved visiting CA farmers, holding a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture and participating in a workshop with national and international organizations to establish a national CA programme. The fact that AKF-Syria is considered a lead agency on CA has led to close cooperation on agricultural development with government and national and international agricultural organizations.
In 2011, Amir trained AKRSP-India staff and farmers in CA systems leading to a successful pilot project on sustainable production for resource-poor smallholder farmers in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. AKF-India and AKRSP-India are now able to mobilize more support to upscale this approach within their low carbon agricultural development programme, resulting in many more farmers adopting CA.
In Tajikistan, Amir began assisting AKF-Tajikistan’s Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP) in 2014 and visited every subsequent year. In 2019, he continued with agricultural development and CA mechanization training in Javshangoz, 3,450 meters in the Pamirs, and helped demonstrate the use of a no-till planter mounted on a two-wheel tractor.
In 2018 and 2019, Amir led a TKN team of four members including Professors Karim and Mywish Maredia from Michigan State University, USA, and Dr. Shafique Dhanani, Founding President of a micro-finance bank in Indonesia. This TKN team assisted the India National Council in the formulation of a strategic plan for the improvement of the quality of life of the Saurashtra Jamat in Gujarat.
Although the COVID pandemic has prohibited recent physical visits, Amir continues his service virtually with AKF-India, AKRSP-India, AKF-Syria, AKF-Tajikistan and MSDSP-Tajikistan. The significant impact of Amir Kassam’s extensive volunteer service is inspiring.
Nicholas McKinlay, AKF Global Director, Programmes says, “Amir Kassam is a rare individual for whom the term ‘getting his hands dirty’ applies in a literal sense. He is happiest on the farmers’ field, in the soil showing the presence or absence of earthworms, and patiently explaining the need for farmers to look after the health of the soil. His passion has created so many converts to conservation agriculture. His willingness to travel in the remotest places, his pleasure in teaching field staff and his outstanding expertise has positively impacted thousands of lives.”
The walls of the Ismaili Centre Toronto are lined with Canadian maple paneling repeating the word Allah (Arabic for God) in stylized Kufic calligraphy.
Let us reflect on what is the nature of love, what does it mean to love Allah, and what is the connection between love and taqwa, or God-consciousness?
In hadith qudsi, Allah the Almighty says:
“My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with voluntary acts so that I shall love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he holds, and his foot with which he walks.”1
This hadith holds many layers of wisdom for us. For instance, what is the nature of love? What does it mean to love Allah? What is the connection between love and taqwa, or God-consciousness?
In the Qur’an, we are taught that we were all created from a single soul. Our love and compassion must, therefore, extend beyond our nuclear families. In today’s society, however, much emphasis is placed on individual gains. We are told time and again to look out for our own needs over others, to love ourselves, and to be ruthlessly competitive. Social media, at times, further propagates this culture as we display ourselves for personal recognition and likes.
What do we lose when we pursue this obsessive love of ourselves? Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) explains, “No one of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”1
It is clear from this hadith that iman – faith – is entangled with the concern and love for others. Mawlana Hazar Imam has also highlighted this need for balance between enjoying personal freedom and rights and a responsibility toward others. At the Stephen Ogden Lecture at Brown University on March 10, 2014, Mawlana Hazar Imam said,
"In an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it is essential that we live by a ‘cosmopolitan ethic,’ one that addresses the age-old need to balance the particular and the universal, to honor both human rights and social duties, to advance personal freedom and to accept human responsibility.”2
What might these responsibilities be? Again, the Qur’an provides clear guidance. Surah al-Baqarah defines the righteous as those who “spend of [their] substance, out of love for Him, for [their] kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask.” The people of Medina who supported the Prophet (s.a.s) and his followers from Mecca are viewed favorably in the Qur’an precisely for practicing generosity, “even though they themselves were in dire need.” (Surah al-Hasr, Ayah 9).
Mawlana Hazar Imam has similarly emphasized the responsibility that each one of us has towards each other. During the Diamond Jubilee Inauguration interview, Mawlana Hazar Imam states,
“Social ethic is a strong principle in Islam and I think that Muslims would be well advised to respect that as a fundamental ethic of our faith and to live by that, which means that we have to be what I would call an empathetic society, a welcoming society, peaceful society, a generous society.”3
It is clear then that generosity, charity, and love are values through which taqwa is practiced. For if indeed we are one soul, then our hearts cannot attain peace while others suffer; if we are indeed conscious of God then we will understand our material and intellectual capacities for what they truly are: blessings and gifts of Allah that must be shared.
Practicing generosity allows us to control our desire to accumulate, which can be all-consuming and can lead to profound sadness and isolation, as the following story of The Dervish and the Confectioner so beautifully depicts.
Passing through a bazaar, a confectioner offers a dervish a cup of honey. Suddenly, a swarm of flies surrounds it. The confectioner tries to fan the flies away; those on the edges leave, but those inside the cup sink deeper and deeper. Seeing this, the dervish smiles. When asked by the confectioner why he is smiling, the dervish explains:
“To me, the cup of honey represents the world and the flies are the greedy competitors in it. Those sitting on the edges are satisfied with the small morsels whereas those inside are greedy and covet more. However, when death comes upon them, the ones on the edges easily detach themselves and return to their origin, whereas those inside struggle and entangle themselves even deeper.”4
Let us endeavor to practice these values of taqwa and be conscious of Allah in our everyday lives. Let us love those near and far for the sake of Allah. Let us share generously of what we have and enable our souls to take flight.
1 Faith and Practice in Islamic Traditions, Volume 1, Secondary Curriculum, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, p. 210
2 The 88th Stephen Ogden Lecture delivered by His Highness the Aga Khan at Brown University, 10 March 2014, click here
Paris Peace Forum volunteers gain unique insight into global governance process
Delegates gathered at the fourth Paris Peace Forum at the Parc de la Villette to debate global challenges and put forward new principles of action for a post-Covid world. This year, young Ismailis had the in-person opportunity to volunteer at the event, and to interact with speakers and representatives of international organisations and NGOs.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Paris Peace Forum gathered the most important actors in global governance for a hybrid edition from 11 to 13 November 2021. The event convened heads of state and government as well as NGO leaders, CEOs of global companies, and leaders of international organisations.
The Aga Khan Development Network has been a Founding Member of the Paris Peace Forum since its inception in 2018, and Prince Amyn, a member of the Paris Peace Forum Executive Committee, attended the event on 11 November.
Delegates met to advance concrete solutions to the enormous challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and improve global governance in times of Covid-19. The hybrid format featured several hundred attendees at the Parc de la Villette in Paris, while the vast majority of delegates engaged through a digital platform.
Young volunteers from the Jamat in France, Belgium, and Switzerland had the opportunity this year to attend in person and help coordinate the smooth running of the conference and its various panels and ancillary activities.
“I loved the panels - I tried to join as many as possible,” said Shamima Oshurbekova. “One of them was on Gender Equity where I met amazing female speakers.”
Volunteers had the opportunity to interact with guests and panellists at the event, many of whom are leading experts.
“After the panel I spoke with Trisha Shetty, who I am planning to reach out to, since one of my specialisations at Sciences Po is Gender, and her experience in this area is very rich,” continued Shamima. “I believe that there are many suggestions and guidelines which she can share with me.”
Other notable speakers included Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Union; and Kamala Harris, Vice-President of the United States.
In a rousing address to world leaders, Vice-President Harris spoke of the growing inequality gaps in society and the urgent need to address them. “This is not about charity,” she said. “This is our duty, and what we owe to each other as human beings.”
Sara Daredia travelled from Switzerland to Paris especially to assist at the Forum. "Initially, I was a little nervous coming to the PPF, but once there, the warmth from the other Ismaili volunteers really helped me during my stay in Paris as a whole,” she said.
“The general ambiance was very positive and friendly, even in the way I saw the heads of state and organisations interact with each other,” continued Sara. “This is very promising to see in the interdependent world that we live in today, where collaboration between countries, organisations, and global groups is paramount in bringing peace to the world."
Prince Amyn with Ismaili volunteers at the Paris Peace Forum on 11 November 2021.
The AKDN delegation included more than 40 virtual participants from multiple AKDN agencies and departments, and leadership from the Jamati institutions in France. Panellists included Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism; Matt Reed, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation (UK); and Onno Ruhl, General Manager of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat.
Partner organisations alongside AKDN featured well-known global names such as the Ford, Rockefeller, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, the United Nations, World Bank, Red Cross, L’Oréal, Microsoft, and many more.
This fourth edition of the Paris Peace Forum followed the UN General Assembly in September, the G-20 summit in October, and the COP26 climate conference earlier in November.
“I feel grateful to have been able to serve for such an organisation,” said Rabia Kara, a secondary religious education teacher with ITREB France. “I learned so much from listening to the discussions taking place on a world scale and feel hopeful about the changes that could take place from such forums.”
Topics discussed included combatting Covid-19; governing global commons (climate, oceans, biodiversity, space); governing cybersecurity and artificial intelligence; fighting fake news; gender equality; strengthening south-south cooperation; and reforming capitalism.
Conversations at the 2021 edition also focussed on addressing various gaps in global governance, and putting forward new principles of action for the post-Covid world.
“I gained new perspectives from the people I met,” continued Rabia. “For example, the various organisations present were eager to share their accomplishments and were equally interested in the work I do with the community and how our interests intersect.”
In addition to hearing new perspectives, meeting eminent guests, and participating in panels, volunteers at the three-day event honed their leadership, communication, time management, planning, and organisational skills.
"The Forum was an opportunity for me to work for the first time in a high-profile event. This unique experience confirmed my desire to work in an international setting in the future,” said Chanel Charaf Zadah.
“I really appreciated the new encounters. And talking to people coming from various parts of the world was enriching both intellectually and personally.”
These are experiences and skills that the young volunteers can take forward into other aspects of their careers and lives.
“What I gained from this experience is coordination skills, as I was mainly responsible for coordinating all general greeters, and a strong sense of responsibility combined with a lot of teamwork,” said Alina Samdjee.
“I will remember working with great people, the size of the organisation for this type of event, and interesting discussions with influential people.”
TKN expert helps set up first RT-PCR testing laboratory for Aga Khan Medical Center, Gilgit
The first health institution built by Aga Khan Health Services in present-day Pakistan was a 42-bed maternity hospital in Karachi that dates back to 1924. In Gilgit, the first maternal and child health centre was set up in 1974. While maintaining that early focus on maternal and child health, Aga Khan Health Services, Pakistan (AKHS,P) also offers services that range from primary health care to diagnostic services and secondary curative care. It reaches over 800,000 people across Pakistan.
AKHS,P has been implementing the Northern Pakistan Primary Health Care Programme since 1987 in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral – regions that have some of the most remote areas and rugged terrain in the country. Working in partnership with local communities, the government and other AKDN agencies, the goal has been to find sustainable ways of financing and delivering primary and secondary health care.
The varying disease burden in these unprecedented times, changes in the health service delivery landscape and access to healthcare led AKHS,P to implement a ‘hubs and spokes model.’ By adopting this model, AKHS,P has been successful in linking smaller health facilities with larger ones, which ensures optimal use of resources and results in spokes referring serious cases to hubs.
Since the establishment of the Aga Khan Medical Centre, Gilgit (AKMC,G), a number of specialties have been added along with diagnostic and imaging services. For specialties that are not yet available in Gilgit-Baltistan, the facility of teleconsultations with the Aga Khan University Hospital is available, saving the residents of this region time and money that they previously had to spend to travel to other cities to seek specialist care.
In response to the shocking magnitude and repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, AKHS,P acted swiftly and six Covid-19 response centres were rapidly set up. Forty-four beds for Covid-19 patients were set up at AKMC,G; eight beds at Aga Khan Health Centre, Singal; and six beds at Aga Khan Health Centre, Aliabad. AKHS,P has also played a key role in the Government’s vaccination programme. To date, more than 42,000 persons in Gilgit-Baltistan have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 40,000 persons have received the second dose at an AKHS,P health facility.
Additionally, in a first for the region, critically ill Covid-19 patients were treated at AKMC,G in collaboration with specialists at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi through a live video link. These tele-ICU services are groundbreaking for this region.
Although the vaccination effort undertaken by AKHS,P was widely appreciated, it was decided to transition from molecular testing to RT-PCR testing in order to improve the accuracy and acceptance of results. RT-PCR tests are widely recognized and they process more test samples simultaneously. In fact, for every GeneXpert machine that can process four test samples at a time, RT-PCR testing can process 96 test samples simultaneously. This increased capacity, coupled with wider acceptance, provided the impetus for AKHS,P’s Covid-19 response to set up a modern RT-PCR laboratory. RT-PCR testing is not just limited to Covid-19 and can include testing for HIV, Hepatitis C and other viruses.
It was difficult for AKHS,P to identify a local subject matter expert who could help set up an RT-PCR lab. Having worked with highly skilled TKN volunteers in the past, AKHS,P requested Sehreen Ali to serve on this assignment in November. Sehreen, based in Houston (Texas), has a proven record of accomplishment in clinical diagnostic laboratories and specializes in Flow Cytometry. Before visiting Pakistan, Sehreen successfully set up a Flow Cytometry laboratory in Kenya and trained a team there. Sehreen is a dedicated professional and an incredibly generous person. Commenting on her personal philosophy, she says, “My personal goal is to empower myself and others and share my knowledge with as many people as possible.”
Sehreen’s trip to Gilgit-Baltistan was short but fruitful, with some challenges. Although the equipment had been procured, it had to be set up. In addition to the laboratory staff at AKMC,G, two staff from the City Hospital Gilgit also provided their support. Sehreen and her team had to trouble-shoot a few hardware issues before they could have a running laboratory. She trained the testing team on RT-PCR testing and highlighted the measures required to ensure that the test samples in the laboratory environment were not at risk of contamination. At the end of Sehreen’s visit, a batch of samples were tested and the results sent to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad for cross-referencing. The NIH response is being awaited as it takes a few weeks.
Sehreen Ali says, “All in all it was a great experience and the staff were very helpful.” She plans to return to Pakistan in a few months to check on the progress of the RT-PCR laboratory and advise on any additional measures for improvement.
AKHS, P is immensely grateful to Sehreen for travelling to Pakistan for this assignment and for her exemplary commitment and contribution as a TKN volunteer.
AKAH emergency response volunteer named Mountain Partnership’s first Youth Goodwill Ambassador
Khorog, Tajikistan, 10 December 2021 – In a global, virtual event organised by the FAO in celebration of International Mountain Day, Dilshodbegim Khusravova – one of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat’s (AKAH) emergency response volunteers in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), Tajikistan – was nominated the Mountain Partnership’s first Youth Goodwill Ambassador.
Ms Khusravova, a 21-year-old native of the Pamir Mountains, has been a champion for mountain communities since she was a young girl. She leads a local community emergency response team – all volunteers – in GBAO and is passionate about protecting mountains and mountain life and encouraging women to speak up and lead. We spoke with Ms Khusravova about her work, her new Goodwill Ambassadorship and her message for other young people.
Dilshodbegim Khusravova, AKAH Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Leader and Mountain Partnership Youth Goodwill Ambassador.
What do mountains mean to you? Why is it important to protect them?
I was born and grew up in my hometown Khorog surrounded by the Pamir Mountains. Living in Pamirs means enjoying the freshest air, eating the sweetest fruits and uniquely beautiful nature. Even though high mountains possess uniquely beautiful nature, current harsh climate conditions pose a threat to the population of the Pamirs. It can increase the intensity of natural hazards and man-made disasters. In many cases, villages are cut off from communication routes for a long time after these disasters and must rely only on themselves and neighbouring communities. And that’s why we have to take care of mother nature and mountains. They do matter.
As volunteers, we can improve the ability of our community to better cope with the impacts of disasters and other emergencies. Thanks to AKAH and the Government for taking unprecedented actions to train and equip us with the resources.
What inspired you to volunteer?
When I was a schoolgirl, I observed a group wearing the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) vest and helping the community clean and do other stuff. But there was no girl in the group, and I wanted to be as brave as the guys are. So, I joined and eventually became first the leader of one team, then leader of the district and the whole CERT team.
Gender balance should be everywhere. That was the reason I joined the CERT team. But I’m truly sad observing how women are still struggling with defending their fundamental rights not only across the world but in some neighbouring countries. So, I’m trying to keep gender equity and maintain gender balance in the teams here as well.
What do you do as a CERT volunteer?
Besides being volunteers, we have our own lives studying, working and hanging out with our friends. But in an emergency, whenever there is a need, we can quickly mobilise and provide first aid before the actual professionals come. In addition, we receive a two-day professional CERT training session conducted by AKAH annually to improve our knowledge.
Dilshodbegim Khusravova and her team practice evacuating people during a drill. CERTs are an integral part of AKAH’s community-based disaster risk reduction and mountain development programming covering more than 800 mountain communities in Tajikistan.
The Mountain Partnership nominates well-known personalities to champion the cause of sustainable mountain development. What does it mean to you to be named its first-ever Youth Goodwill Ambassador?
I don’t even know what it means. But, when people started congratulating me, I acknowledged that it was something very important and serious, so I Googled it. It turned out that only stars and big-shot influencers could be nominated. And this is a huge responsibility for me. I’m so proud that the world community is noticing us – volunteers. Without the other 5,000 volunteers, I would have never achieved this nomination. So, we all deserve this, and everyone in our CERT team can say that they are Goodwill Ambassadors.
What is your message to other young women and girls?
So many girls out there think that volunteering is not for them; they are afraid of speaking up. But CERT is that platform where our voices can be heard. So, don’t be scared. Stand, and go for changes!
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