Jan. 14, 2020

Profs’ initiative spreads warmth around the world

Social Work fundraiser buys sweaters and clothing for schoolchildren in Pakistan

This holiday season, the University of Calgary showed that it’s possible to hug someone on the other side of the world.

The unique fundraiser was led by social work professors Dr. Aamir Jamal, PhD, and Dr. Liza Lorenzetti, PhD. They asked people to donate $10 that would be used to buy a sweater for a child attending school in Pakistan. Their goal was to raise $1,500 — and they surpassed that, raising $2,805.

“I was really amazed and gratified at the response from our UCalgary community,” says Jamal, who visited the school during the holiday break. “We raised so much money that we were also able to buy their siblings sweaters and their mothers warm clothing.” 

Children celebrated their new sweaters

Children celebrated their new sweaters.

Canadian Association for Children Education in Pakistan

'There was a joy'

Jamal says the schools, which are located in Abbottabad in northwest Pakistan, are in a war-torn, conflict zone on the ancient China-Pakistan Silk Road bordering Kashmir Valley. It’s often hard for families to put food on the table, much less afford luxuries like a warm sweater.

“It's really very cold during the wintertime,” says Jamal. “The schools are in a very mountainous area. So in the winter it's really cold, and most of them cannot afford to buy a sweater. So, when their Canadian friends bought them sweaters, and literally ‘spread the warmth’ over there, they were really delighted!”

Instead of buying a bulk order of identical sweaters, Jamal thought it would be more empowering to have the children and families pick out their own garments from local shops. Needless to say, they were thrilled, and he says you could almost feel the excitement in the room as the children ran around admiring each other’s colourful sweaters.

“There was a joy. There was joy,” says Jamal with a smile. “It was really warm, with a feeling of joy and compassion in the room. There were lots of smiles and laughter and appreciation of everything. And I told them that all of your friends in Calgary are conveying their best wishes to you.

"They loudly said, 'Please convey our love and thanks to our Canadian friends!' So it was a very good example communities thousands of miles away feeling connected in a very profound way. In a very meaningful, positive way.”

Professor Aamir Jamal with students in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Professor Aamir Jamal with students in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Canadian Association for Children Education in Pakistan

Little scholars

The children are part of an initiative led by Jamal called the Canadian Association of Children’s Education in Pakistan (CACEP). While the focus is on providing education for children in Pakistan, Jamal has also worked at creating a community connection here in Calgary with Calgary children, their parents and social work faculty members. 

While in Pakistan, Jamal made several presentations, conducted a qualitative research workshop for 80 PhD students, and gave lectures on his research on gender justice and youth identity. However, he says the highlight was definitely spending time with those resilient children who live in a conflict-torn region of northern Pakistan.

“We had a good couple of hours together,” he says. “We shared stories, lots of jokes and lots of laughter. We also discussed topics like the value of education, human dignity and ethical values. We also spent some time responding to a question about why it’s important for girls to go to school. The children were so thoughtful .... I called them little scholars, and they liked it.”

Donations were used to buy a sweater for a child attending school in Pakistan.

Donations were used to buy sweaters for children attending school in Pakistan.

Canadian Association for Children Education in Pakistan