As I mentioned, in my last blog, I’m currently making preparations for my 8th. Annual Run/ Walk event, to be held, on December 31st from the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre, here in Cochrane. Participation is by donation and all of the money goes to the charity that I have chosen to support, that particular year. Although, sometimes, I think it’s the charity that has chosen me!
This year, I will be supporting girls in Afghanistan, through the charity Free to Run. This is a NGO, whose mission is to use running and outdoor adventure to empower and educate women and girls who have been affected by conflict. Now I know that there are some people that wonder why I don’t solely support local or National charities. My answer to that is “I do”.
Personally, my wife and I support several charities, including CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the blind), the Alzheimer’s Society, the Alberta Lung Association, the Cochrane Food Bank and The Cochrane Activettes, to name but a few.
But it’s not all about donating money, sometimes, just giving of your time can make a huge difference to a worthy cause.
It was with this thought in mind, that I was moved by a story, by Sarfraz Manzoor, published in last Sunday’s British newspaper, The Observer, about a Muslim couple, who decided to enter the fostering system, in the UK.
This is part of their story:
Just before Christmas seven years ago, Riffat and Sajjad were at home when the phone rang. It was the foster agency letting them know that three children they’d never met would be arriving shortly. The children – two sisters and a brother – were in urgent need of short-term care. Sajjad and Riffat had been approved as foster carers only two months earlier and these would be their first placements.
“We were excited, but I was also a bit nervous,” recalls Sajjad, 50.
Both Riffat and Sajjad are observant Muslims of Pakistani heritage. Riffat, 46, was wearing a headscarf when we met, and prays five times a day. How did they cope with the arrival of three white English children raised in a Christian household?
“I will never forget that day,” recalls Riffat, who grew up in Pakistan and moved to Britain after marrying in 1997. “It really was like being thrown in the deep end.”
That evening, once the children were asleep, Sajjad headed out on an urgent shopping mission. “We are Muslims and we’d never had a Christmas tree in our home,” says Riffat. “But these children were Christian and we wanted them to feel connected to their culture.” So he bought a Christmas tree, decorations and presents. The couple worked until the early hours putting the tree up and wrapping presents. The first thing the children saw the next morning was the tree.
“I had never seen that kind of extra happiness and excitement on a child’s face,” remembers Riffat. The children were meant to stay for two weeks – seven years later two of the three siblings are still living with them.
Riffat has grown used to surprised looks from strangers and people asking if the reason she has such fair-skinned children is because she married a white man. But she focuses on the positives – in particular how fostering has given her and Sajjad an insight into a world that had been so unfamiliar. “We have learned so much about English culture and religion,” Sajjad says. Riffat would read Bible stories to the children at night and took the girls to church on Sundays. “When I read about Christianity, I don’t think there is much difference,” she says. “It all comes from God.”
Just as Riffat and Sajjad have learned about Christianity, the girls have come to look forward to Eid and the traditions of henna. “I’ve taught them how to make potato curry, pakoras and samosas,” Riffat says. “But their spice levels are not quite the same as ours yet.” The girls can also sing Bollywood songs and speak Urdu.
“I now look forward to going home. I have two girls and my wife waiting,” says Sajjad.
I love this story because Riffat and Sajjad didn’t let the barriers of race, religion or culture stand in the way of their desire to help others in need.
I sincerely hope there are lots of people out there who feel the same and will be joining me, on December 31st. and, if you can’t make it. You have the opportunity to donate directly to this worthy cause through my website www.martinparnell.com . Just hit the big red “DONATE” button.
If you think that a local or national charity is where you would like to donate your well-earned money, then that’s great too.
All I ask is that you consider the act of donating and making a difference in the life of someone else, next time you go shopping and are tempted to buy just one more decoration for the tree, one more stocking stuffer, or that extra box of chocolates.