Helping women in India develop business and marketing plans to sell their traditional beadwork for fair wages was an eye-opening experience for Fatima Sachedina, who spent seven months in a program sponsored by Aga Khan Foundation Canada.
Ms. Sachedina was sent to work in Ahmedabad, in the province of Gujarat in India, as part of the AKFC's International Microfinance and Microenterprise fellowship in September, 2001.
Now, back in her native Vancouver, the 25-year-old will be taking part in the 19th annual World Partnership Walk, organized by volunteers of AKFC to raise money and awareness for the fight against global poverty, bringing with her firsthand knowledge of the effect the organization's activities have on the lives of those in developing countries.
"Impact-wise, it [the experience] was amazing," she said. "My roots are originally from India. One of the things you think about is, that could be me, living that lifestyle."
Ms. Sachedina said she was impressed by a AKFC-sponsored project to conserve rainwater during the rainy season to help locals through severe water shortages.
"It was literally saving people," she said.
The desire to help others fuels people's interest in the foundation and the annual fundraising walk, said Nazeer Aziz Ladhani, chief executive officer of the non-profit development agency, whose mandate is to support social development projects in poverty-stricken countries.
One hundred per cent of funds raised go directly toward the foundation's projects.
Key efforts this year are focused on Afghanistan, including bringing girls back into schools, improving agriculture, and training nurses.
Other initiatives are taking place in northern Mozambique and central Asia.
This year, with events such as the war in Iraq and the reconstruction efforts, Canadians want more than ever to become involved in global issues, Mr. Ladhani said.
"There is heightened awareness and concern about what's going on around the world. Canadians feel very compassionate, more than ever."
Last year's walk, held in 10 cities across the country, raised just under $2.8-million.
This year, organizers are aiming for more than $3-million.
For 2003, the AKFC has focused on getting more businesses involved.
More than 250 corporate teams have signed up and will compete to raise the most funds.
Corporate sponsor Scotiabank will match the amount raised by the teams.
"I think the corporate sector is intimately concerned with what is happening around the world," Mr. Ladhani said.
More than 60,000 people are expected to take part in the walk, to be held Sunday at 11 a.m. local time in 10 cities: Montreal; Ottawa; Toronto; Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.; London; Winnipeg; Calgary; Edmonton; Vancouver and Victoria.
Since its inception, the walk has raised more than $20-million for international development.
After spending time at a tribal village in East Africa, Ottawa's Stephanie MacGregor, 33, looked into ways to help improve the local school and well-water system.
While researching development agencies, she became involved with the Aga Khan foundation.
This year, she will not only participate in her first-ever walk but is helping to organize Ottawa's corporate drive. "The funds they [the foundation] raise go toward phenomenal projects. They really help people."
For complete listings of walk events, see http://www.worldpartnershipwalk.com.