Last month, students from Algonquin College, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, joined together to volunteer at the “In from the cold” event held at Parkdale United Church.
The event is held every Saturday through the winter months, to not only feed the hungry and the homeless but also in hopes of “bringing a smile to their face” and “making them feel less alone” according to Gary Crocker, the church’s coordinator.
The church was filled with both Christians and Muslims with a common goal: to reach out to our neighbours in need.
“The feeling of unity and brotherhood was undeniable,” said Amani Ali, president of the Ahlul Bayt Student Association (ABSA).
For the church, this was just the Saturday routine, but for the members of ABSA and volunteers, this was both an eye-opener and opportunity to understand each other on a new level.
“We want people to realize that we as humans all have the same moral values no matter the difference between our religion or ethnicity,” ABSA executives Amani Ali, Rukiah Jheran, Mariam Hachem, Batoul Hodroj and Adam Bawab said in a statement in an email.
“Hand by hand working together, Muslims and Christians, there was a shared bond with a main focus of working together towards an act of kindness that needed to be held by welcoming and kind people, which concluded a successful event,” they added.
Having enough volunteers isn’t always a guarantee, having the event run smoothly varies week after week.
“Sometimes we don’t have enough people to help out and it can get a little hectic,” said Crocker. “But today, we had enough volunteers, so we even got a chance to sit with our guests and have conversations with them. It went great.”
For Algonquin student and ABSA member Fatima Beydoun, this was an opportunity to tackle misconceptions.
“Events like this help shed some of the stereotypes surrounding Muslim people,” she said. “It is important for us to be able to show people how together we are stronger…Hopefully this inspires others to get involved and take action.”
Natasha Prokopchuk, University of Ottawa modern languages and culture program student and event volunteer saw this as a loving and open event that was also an opportunity to meet and work with new people.
“I am a Christian, and I had been a part of an inter-faith meeting with ABSA to talk about getting interactions going between Muslims and Christians so that we can better understand each other and develop relationships,” said Prokopchuk.
“The volunteers were people from different religions and walks of life, and it was such an incredible experience to have us all working together,” she added. “I hope for us volunteers, some boundaries were broken down and that relationships can grow and continue even after the event.”
ABSA president Amani Ali stated that the event was organized to build a tighter relationship with the Christian community.
“We organized the event to bridge connections between the Muslim and Christian community whilst serving people in need,” said Ali. “We also wanted to provide our members with the opportunity to explore different religious communities…It was time to explore the needs of the Christian community and find out what we could do for them.”
Ali is optimistic that this is just the beginning of ABSAs involvement with various religious communities in Ottawa. “This event gave me a better understanding of our duty as individuals and as an Islamic organization.”