Written for Vancity Buzz by Attiya Hirji, International Development Champion for Aga Khan Foundation Canada
From a very young age, I knew I wanted to devote my career to improving the quality of life of those living in developing countries. Upon graduating with a degree in International Development, I was anxious to get out into the field, to work in rural communities, and to see sustainable, long-term change firsthand. However, like many new grads, I believed sitting in lecture halls for four years meant that I was equipped with the knowledge and skills to go out and change the world on day one. Although my undergrad laid the groundwork to get started in this field, I quickly realized I needed real hands-on experience, which led me to join the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC)’s Speaker Bureau.
As a volunteer speaker, I have the pleasure of speaking to groups of Canadians about the country’s role in development and sparking discussions about the world’s toughest issues. I aim to inspire people to get involved and make a difference. Many of us are well aware that problems exist in developing countries, however this is often an abstract idea; an issue that we’re sympathetic towards, but aren’t personally touched by. So how exactly can we take action?
Recently, I was lucky enough to go on a trip to Tanzania and Mozambique to visit a few of the programs AKFC and Global Affairs Canada have undertaken. Going on this trip really opened my eyes to what rural communities truly need, which is a sense of hope. Hope that tomorrow will be better and that they can pull themselves out of poverty, which stems from access to education and healthcare, and improvements to livelihoods.
One of my favourite stories from the trip was when we visited Ms. Sophia’s pre-primary classroom of nearly 70 students, five hours outside of the capital of Tanzania. She was trained by a colleague that attended the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development, thanks to a scholarship funded by Canadians. Ms. Sophia told us she’d learned to put her students at the centre of learning and to use singing to teach and engage them.
We asked her to call on one of her most promising students and she introduced us to Yasmin, a petite and timid four year old. Yasmin told us her favourite subject was writing, so we brought her a small chalkboard and piece of chalk and, in perfect, printing she wrote “Mama” and “Baba”. One of my fellow travellers had tears in her eyes and shared that her four year old back in Canada had just learned how to write “Mommy” and “Daddy”. These two girls were worlds apart, but each had an opportunity for quality education.
My trip to Africa reignited my passion for development and I vowed to come back to Canada and continue talking to Canadians about development, but through the stories of the individuals I met to show that, even halfway across the world, we can be change makers. These people are resilient and capable; they don’t need a new grad out in the field teaching them how to improve their livelihoods. What they really need is hope. They need ideas and resources that allow them to improve their lives by harnessing their own talent, intellect, and drive.
I’m now devoting my time to encouraging Canadians to take this opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people who aren’t able to meet their full potential. Change starts right here at home. It’s as simple as understanding the root causes of these problems, engaging in discussions, and coming together to fundraise and generate awareness through activities such as the World Partnership Walk, Canada’s largest event supporting poverty alleviation. It’s in the hands of our generation to step forward and engage in development – something that comes full circle and affects us all.
When: Sunday, May 29
Time: Registration (free) opens at 8:30 a.m., opening ceremonies at 10:15 a.m.
Where: Lumberman’s Arch, Stanley Park
Vancity Buzz is a proud sponsor of the World Partnership Walk
Attiya has been an ambassador and strong advocate for the World Partnership Walk, since the age of five, raising both funds and awareness. She recently joined the Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s Speaker Bureau, which has allowed her to meet many Canadians and encourage them to take an interest in global issues and international development. Attiya feels that we all have a part to play, as global citizens, in improving the quality of life of those living in poverty.
Read the full version of the article on Attiya’s blog on Medium.