“COVID-19 comes to us in a masquerade, disguised as a health crisis”. This sentiment, shared by Khalil Shariff, CEO of Aga Khan Foundation Canada at University of Victoria’s Global Days in November last year, caught the audience’s attention. Students, faculty members and staff had gathered to hear Khalil’s thoughts on “Challenges and Impacts of the Global Pandemic on International Development”.
Khalil went on to explain that while COVID definitely is a health crisis, lurking under this health crisis is a multidimensional crisis of very significant proportions. In addition to a health crisis, it is at least an educational crisis, a food crisis, an economic crisis and a gender equality crisis. A look at the news articles on the World Bank, World Health Organization, United Nations and other websites tell the story of unimaginable educational setbacks caused by school closures, the reversal of the gains achieved in international development over the past decades as individuals and communities were forced into extreme poverty, and how the spread of illness, school closures, the fact that women around the world have been in the front line of the most risk exposed sectors, have resulted in women having disproportionate care responsibilities. “So”, said Khalil, “while in our part of the world we have framed this crisis as a public health crisis where vaccines have been part of the solution, in the experience of the majority of humanity, COVID is the culmination of all the above crises, for which no vaccine will respond.” He then posed a question for us to reflect upon: “What does this mean for people of good will and good heart for whom global development is not just a professional responsibility but also a moral calling?”
Khalil’s words bring to mind the words of the famous 13th Century Muslim poet Sa'di-yi Shirazi, which are inscribed at the entrance to the United Nations Building in New York:
(loose translation from Persian)
“ The children of Adam are like the limbs of one another.
For they were all created from a single soul.
When the winds of time afflict one limb with pain,
How can the other limbs remain at peace...?”
Well, the world did not remain at peace – individuals, institutions, businesses, civil society organizations and governments stepped up to address the multiple crisis that the world was facing, both at the local and global level. And these efforts continue to this day. Throughout COVID, Canadians also continued their support of international development by participating in the World Partnership Walk, a volunteer-led Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) initiative that raises funds to address the root causes of poverty, and create “a more equal and prosperous future in which everyone can reach their full potential”. Through COVID, AKFC programs in Africa and Asia shifted to respond to COVID-19 and remained a constant and steady force that helped communities navigate the challenges the pandemic presented. The long term commitments to international development made by AKFC in partnership with Canadians and the Canadian government have been, and continue to be a source of strength and hope for millions around the world. This year, I urge you to continue providing this hope to those who need it most – celebrate Father’s Day with us at the World Partnership Walk on Sunday June 19th, 2022 (9.30 am to 1 pm) at the University of Victoria as we take steps to continue our efforts to end global poverty. This year we are also walking in solidarity with the local Ukrainian community as they fundraise for the Ukrainian refugees. Register at www.worldpartnershipwalk.com
Karima Ramji serves as Associate Director, International, Indigenous and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Victoria's Co-operative Education Programs and Career Services. A Certified Advanced Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Professional, Karima espouses values of pluralism and servant leadership in all she does, and contributes to international development, poverty alleviation and community development through various community service engagements locally and internationally.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE: https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, May 28th 2022