Take a Blessing, Leave a Blessing

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It all began on their front lawn in Calgary.  

Although Syed Najam Hassan and his family, who arrived in Canada in 2009, faced integration challenges, they realized they could use their own experiences to help others like them. 

Helping the less privileged comes naturally to Hassan. As a youth, he organized a clean drinking water project at bus stops in Karachi, Pakistan – his home. “In the hot summer months, I observed how important it was for people to have access to water,” says Hassan. His enduring passion for helping those in need moved him to action in Canada. 

Noticing that seniors and new immigrants had difficulty accessing transportation and getting to libraries, the Hassan family hit on the idea of a multicultural library. Within three months, they had a good collection of books in many languages and on various topics; their own and contributions from well-wishers. They placed the books in boxes on their lawn with coffee tables and chairs, and an open invitation for anyone to sit around, browse, borrow books, and socialize. And so, the Multicultural Outdoor Library project was established in 2018.  

Syed Hassan with other volunteers at the Multicultural Library in Okotoks
Syed Hassan with other volunteers at the Multicultural Library in Okotoks

Soon, medium-sized cabinets replaced the boxes to hold the books. As words got around, there were requests from other communities and towns, and today, there are 16 multicultural libraries in areas surrounding Calgary, such as Chestermere, Airdrie, Okotoks, and Cochrane.  

In 2018, they took their library project to further heights by launching Love with Humanity association, described by Hassan as a “grassroots, non-profit registered organization.”  

The association’s mission: “Spreading the LOVE Among People regardless of Race, Colour, Religious and Ethnic Background, together Everywhere,” is a reality because of its many volunteers, says Hassan.  

Despite being a fledgling organization, Love with Humanity is continuously busy assisting seniors and the homeless; and during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping those who have lost employment or living on reduced incomes. To help those affected by COVID, the association installed food banks by stocking cupboards in various communities with non-perishable food items. These are usually set up on someone’s lawn with the provision that the community takes responsibility for it. Its motto: Take a blessing, Leave a blessing, ensures the food bank is always stocked. To date, the association has set up seven outdoor community food banks in Calgary that are open 24/7. Currently, the association is seeking places to set up more food banks and libraries.  

Since its launch, the association has carried out a winter clothes drive for the homeless. Before the pandemic, the association accepted donations of gently-used clothes but now requests new or hand-made winter clothes. “When you are homeless, a simple smile and a word of kindness can make a big difference in a day full of hardship. This winter campaign is dedicated to helping them,” Hassan explained to Immigrant Muse. 

The association also organizes birthday celebrations for homeless Calgarians, who are served a meal and given a gift. The association’s On Wheels Campaign ensures that those self-isolating because of Covid have food supplies by dropping off food hampers for them.  

At Christmas each year, the association hosts Coffee with Seniors and drops gifts at Seniors’ Homes. The association delivers food hampers at seniors’ residences through the Seniors Care Campaign to let them know they are not alone. 

For newcomers, the association conducts seminars to help upgrade their skills and get them job-ready.  

Hassan says these campaigns and many others are possible because of their volunteers and support from grocery stores and other entities. All of the preparatory work, including the fabricating of cabinets, take place on his lawn.   

Their work has not gone unnoticed. In a letter to the association in 2018 recognizing their work, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote: “Through the creative book exchange program, this organization promotes a love of reading, encourages literacy, and brings people together.” The fledgling organization has received many awards, recognitions, and appreciations from various organizations, community groups, and various levels of government. 

Kshama Ranawana
Kshama Ranawana

Kshama Ranawana is a freelance writer, publishing both in Canada and in Sri Lanka, her country of birth. She is a contributing columnist to EconomyNext.com and Counterpoint.lk. Kshama is also a human rights activist, with decades long commitment to freedom of speech, protection of journalists, freedom of worship, women’s rights, and protection of vulnerable communities and the environment. 

Email: kshama@immigrantmuse.ca

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