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Aga Khan's message of plurality a lesson for us all - 2008-11-25

Tuesday, 2008, November 25
The Province
Mike Roberts

She is another statistic in the Kenyan medical horror story that estimates up to 50 per cent of the country's hospital deaths are due to misdiagnosis.
In the village of Kiboje, on Unguja Island, Zanzibar, five-year-old Riziki Emmanuel cannot use her legs. Her impoverished parents have always carried her around because they have been unable to afford the crutches needed to help Riziki move on her own and go to school.

Like many of the poor in Northern Pakistan, Sifat Gul's family survived on less than $1 a day. The roof of her home leaked during the rains and her children had no education. Her husband did odd jobs and traditions barred her from working outside the home.

Today, thanks to a humanitarian called the Aga Khan, hope has taken root in the lives of Rose, Riziki and Sifat.

While Rose is getting the medical attention she needs, The Aga Khan University Hospital is developing a system to capture community healthcare data from the grassroots level in Kenya. The plan involves connecting all hospitals in Kenya with the Internet to help doctors make informed diagnoses before they administer any drugs.

Riziki's life has changed and today she can count, sing songs, narrate stories, and draw pictures. The Aga Khan Foundation of Canada helped build a preschool in her village and her father brings her to class on his bicycle every day. Riziki is thriving.

As for Sifat Gul, a $30 US loan from The First MicroFinanceBank, a part of the Aga Khan Development Network, got her a sewing machine that she has turned into a thriving business. Today, her two daughters and son are studying in a private school while she runs a tailoring program for illiterate girls in the area.

These triumphs over adversity are but a small reflection of how the Aga Khan and his global network of private, non-denominational development agencies are working all over the world to eradicate social problems.

His Highness the Aga Khan may not rule a country, but his nation knows no boundary.

He may not have an army. But his soldiers are everywhere fighting poverty, without regard to faith, origin or gender.

This is one side of Islam we seldom see in the wake of the negativity that has engulfed the Muslim world.

Celebrating his Golden Jubilee as the spiritual leader of millions of Ismaili Muslims, the Aga Khan brings his message of pluralism, peace and prosperity to Vancouver today, in an address to some 30,000 of his followers at B.C. Place.

The Aga Khan's message is a familiar story for us, one we too often take for granted.

Canada, built on a foundation of inclusiveness, shines as a beacon in a world of increasing discord and intolerance, the Aga Khan says.

Pluralism, he says, is a deliberate set of choices that a society must make if it is to avoid costly conflict and harness the power of its diversity in solving human problems.

'Canada has an experience of governance of which much of the world stands in dire need,' he writes in his latest book, Where Hope Takes Root.

The Aga Khan, by his words and actions, challenges us to learn from our past and use our present to create a better tomorrow.

It is a challenge we should all accept.

Michael Roberts is the managing editor of the South Asian Post

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