As a boy in British Guyana, Firaaz Azeez recalls going about his community with his father on a big black bicycle. Describing his village as a melting pot of Muslims, Christians and Hindus, he says;
“My dad as a Muslim cleric never saw an issue in multifaith. They were not religious duties, but community duties. Bridging the gap comes naturally to me.”
One of 11 children, he immigrated to Canada with his family immigrated when he was 12. Growing up in Scarborough, his faith and service to community were an integral part of life.
Firaaz graduated from U of T Scarborough with a degree in commerce and started a career in banking. Growing disenchanted with the wealth gap he saw around him, he resigned to return to his roots in community engagement, volunteering for a number of groups and agencies. A chance meeting in the lobby of his parent’s condominium with the founders of the Muslim Welfare Centre (MWC) led to his involvement with the multi-service agency, where he has worked developing collaborative programs since 2013.
“Collaboration comes from care and compassion and finding a way to help.”
Founded in 1993 as a halal food bank by Major Muhammad Abbas Ali, a retired Pakistan army officer, and his wife Sarwar Jahan Begum, MWC has grown to serve individuals and families, including refugees and new immigrants, providing food and essential items, Meals on Wheels, a free medical clinic and an emergency shelter for women and children. Its Project Ramadan fundraises, assembles and distributes baskets containing staple food items to more than 11,000 community members. The non-denominational charity operates under the credo Service to humanity is service to God, and its reach extends from Malvern to Regent Park to international disaster relief.
Partnering with other agencies is part of the approach, which Fareez regards as neighbours helping neighbours. MWC has supported the Toronto District School Board’s student nutrition program and is a key player in Malvern Eats, a collaboration among six diverse groups that includes Toronto Police Service, Taibu Community Health Centre and a local church. Every Wednesday, they serve 175 hot, healthy meals, primarily to seniors, in a restaurant-style setting.
“I wish the world was such that we didn’t exist, but collaborations create opportunities. For anyone wanting to build a better community, there are many opportunities for engagement.”