Canadians taking steps to improve the global village

Thousands to join 10-city walk on Sunday to further Aga Khan Foundation's work

Globe and Mail
Friday, May 24, 2002 - Print Edition, Page A2

Karim Mamdani remembers well the smiling face of a woman he met cooking food on her new chula in a village in India.

"I wondered how come she had a big smile on her face. She just got her appliance," said Mr. Mamdani, the Toronto-area convener for this Sunday's annual World Partnership Walk, organized to raise money for the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

The chula was a stove run on biogas. It converts cow dung into methane, freeing women in the village from chopping wood and allowing them to participate in other activities.

The Aga Khan Foundation Canada sponsors programs such as these, and because 100 per cent of the money goes toward international-development projects, including biogas stoves, the foundation is "actively making [people's] lives a bit better," Mr. Mamdani said.

On Sunday at 11 a.m. local time, 60,000 individual participants and sponsors and 800 corporate participants in 10 cities across the country will take part in the walk.

They are expected to raise $2.5-million for the foundation's projects, which include health, education, and rural development in Asia and Africa.

The walk was developed in 1985 as Walk for a Cause in Vancouver and drew 300 participants, raising $30,000.

This year's Vancouver target is $500,000, and 5,000 people are expected, said Farid Damji, the local convener.

Mr. Damji said the events of Sept. 11 and the crisis in the Middle East have made people more globally aware and have filled them with a desire to do something for those in developing countries.

John Bouza, spokesman for the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, said the foundation is increasingly receiving expressions of interest from Canadians who want to feel a part of the global village.

"The world is our back yard. Canadians are very global; they travel a lot; they see this stuff, and they want to do something," Mr. Bouza said.

Mr. Damji said that this year he has also seen an increase in interest from companies that want to raise money for international development.

"I think over the last four or five years and a lot more in the last one year, organizations are realizing that the entire world is linked . . . realizing that their customer base, as well as their employee base, have strong ties to the developing world, and have an interest in helping to alleviate the problem," Mr. Damji said.

The foundation is a non-profit, non-denominational agency established in 1980 to support international-development projects in Africa and Asia.

It is named after the wealthy philanthropist who is also the spiritual leader of 15 million Ismaili Muslims. So far, it has raised more than $17-million.

"It's harder to explain in a way in terms of the good it does.

"It's not sponsoring one individual child, but rather, work with a group in a community to completely change the educational system so that teachers are getting better training. That's more complicated than sending books overseas.

"But by doing teacher training . . . that obviously elevates the entire education of the kids.

"It's grassroots and yet at the same time sophisticated," Mr. Bouza said.