Iranian Canadian Youth
One of Eight Fellowship Winners With Tony Blair Faith Foundation
The Faiths Act Fellowship which is an initiative of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Interfaith Youth Core is an international team of thirty religiously diverse young leaders embarking together on a 10 month journey of interfaith service. Fellows are based in cities across the US, UK, and Canada to mobilize young people of faith to raise awareness and resources to promote the Millennium Development Goals. They will focus on fighting deaths due to malaria.
Sara Eftekhar who immigrated to Canada from Iran at the age of seven was one of eight Canadians awarded the Faiths Act Fellowship who has been working in Ottawa with Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Unitarians to put on the Multifaith Week of Action.
During the week, youth from different faiths will be active in an array of service projects throughout the city to advocate, raise awareness and funds for the eradication of malaria.
Sara says, “It’s an international grass roots movement of young leaders from different faiths working towards a common cause. By being involved in service projects locally, you break barriers and stereotypes between people and that often leads to dialogue and mutually inspiring relationships.”
Sara felt that this was an opportunity to follow her grandmother’s example of putting compassion into action and giving generously. Attracted by the combination of interfaith and action, Sara credits her Muslim faith with the inspiration to take on the role of an interfaith ambassador. She explains that “In all religions, the value of compassion exists but it’s important to act on this compassion. This is why malaria is such an important issue that requires all people of faith and even no faith to act together to eradicate it.”
Sara has been very active in her community at a very young age and for her commitment; she has received numerous awards including the Youth Community Enhancement Award from the Mayor of Vancouver. She also travelled abroad to Ecuador to build houses, has volunteered in an orphanage in Iran and this year had a chance to travel to Tanzania as part of the training for this fellowship. Sara explains, “my ability to look at humanity as a whole and my willingness to make positive changes in society has been passed down to me by my parents who were both human rights activists during their time.”
As well, growing up, Sara had a hard time defining her identity. As a second generation immigrant; she felt that in school she never fully belonged with any group of students, until she became involved in her community. “Being an activist was a way I could define myself, so I continued to be involved in my local community but then branched out to care and act on global issues as well.”
Sara believes that being an immigrant has made her a global citizen and has given her a global outlook on the world because she has experienced two cultures, which has enabled her to relate to diverse communities.
However, Sara admits that all of the wonderful opportunities and points of view that have been presented to her in Canada came at a hard price. Leaving everything behind in Iran, learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and struggling to survive in Canadian society were all a challenge for her and her family. Sara remembers when children made fun of her in elementary school and how she cried every single night because she wanted to go back to Iran.
As she grew older, Sara felt that she didn’t have to choose to be Canadian or Iranian, she could be both. Sara feels that the Faiths Act Fellowship has given her a new sense of pride for being Canadian because the culturally and religiously Canadian communities she has been working with have been so welcoming, hospitable and accepting to people who are different from them. “This fellowship has shown me the Canadian model of multiculturalism and that it truly exists. I’ve had the chance to bridge gaps between communities and I’ve met so many diverse people that I wouldn’t have met if she hadn’t been given the opportunity. I have travelled a lot and I’ve always been so fascinated by diverse people, I just didn’t think to look inside my own community for it.”
Sara’s fellowship ends at the end of May. Then, she will be representing Canada as a delegate in the World Youth Congress in Turkey this summer. Her long term plans are to go into medicine but for now she says, “I don’t define my success by how far I go in my career, I define my success in what I contribute positively to society and what I do for humanity.”