This morning, my cousin Tasneem is joining us from Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  I was really happy that she chose to write about her passion for helping those in need – and the event that rolled this path out before her.  As I read this, I am reminded that acting on our heart-calls is essential to feeding our spirit, and that we should not miss an opportunity to do so…no matter how impossible the situation may seem.  Our actions can have a great effect on others, even those we may never meet.

Please welcome Tasneem!

I never met the man who changed my life forever.  His name was Pulod Davlatnazarov and his death connected the two of us in a way that I could never have imagined.  Since 2007, his spirit lives on in the lives of some little girls in Tajikistan whose parents couldn’t afford life saving surgeries. As for me, Pulod has created the kind of meaning in my life that I had been looking for.  I never thought I could do it on my own – busy with work, marriage and raising a child -but when I continue the work in his honour, I am passionate, energetic and can’t think of doing anything else with my life.  Let me tell you the story of how I met Pulod, a young man from Bartang, Tajikistan –a remote mountainous, beautiful region of the poorest part of the ex-Soviet Union.  Even as I write this, I don’t want to stop but will soon need to take my 4-year old son to the school bus.

Ok I’m back.

It was a summer evening in 2007 and I was putting dishes in the dishwasher after having dinner with my husband in our cozy 1 bedroom apartment in Kitsilano.  My husband, who was glued to the computer screen called me over to have a look at a video of a man being shot by a thief in a liquor store in Hollywood, California.  It was Pulod – he was on the night shift stacking drinks in the warehouse in the back while a thief pulled a gun on the owner at the front cash register.  Pulod came to the front to put some milk in the empty refrigerator and got caught in the middle of a heated argument between the two men.  The thief grabbed Pulod by the hand, pointed the gun to his head and shot him. Pulod fell to the ground and died instantly.  It was all caught on the security camera in the store!

Having spent some time in the region where Pulod comes from and being married to someone from there, I knew his family, who I later heard included a wife, son, parents and extended family, were unable to afford bringing his body back to Tajikistan – a minimum of $10,000 easily. “We have to do something – I don’t know what, but we have to do something,” I told my husband. And so I did…

I wrote to all my family, friends and colleagues and asked them to help in whatever way they could and to spread the word – I attached the video clip to the email.  Over the next couple of months, I watched as my inbox was flooded with emails from people wanting to help.  One anonymous donor sent $500 via online Interac – I didn’t even know that existed. I created an Excel spreadsheet called Pulod’s fund and jotted down every dollar that was donated, in addition to creating a trust fund in his name so that individuals could go deposit the money at the bank if they wished.  In two months, there were more than 40 donors, including a number of Tajiks living in Canada, with donations ranging from $25 to $500. I ended up sending over $6,000 to Pulod’s wife who cried in gratitude when my husband spoke to her (I couldn’t speak the local dialect) and thanked all the donors for their gesture.  She later wrote a thank you note and I sent the translated version to the donors.

Since then, Pulod’s fund (the Excel spreadsheet honoring his name still exists on my computer) has expanded to include 1 adult who needed an eye surgery, 1 little girl who needed double hip replacement to walk and another little girl who needed a life saving heart surgery.  They are all from Tajikistan, where I have been living with my husband and 4-year old son for the past year.  In total, Pulod’s fund has raised a little over $10,000!

This past March, I met Farangis, a 4-year old spunky little who dreams of becoming a dancer when she grows up.  A typical girl, she loves makeup, purses and playing with her friends.  I learned about her 2 years before when a friend of mine from Tajikistan told me about her – the doctors had given up hope of her walking again and said she would be tied to a wheelchair for the rest of her life if she didn’t get a much needed surgery.  I saw pictures of this little girl lying down in her bed all bandaged up from her hip down.  I wrote an email to all the parents and grandparents I knew and with their generosity, sent $1,500 to Farangis’s mother on February 1, 2010. Just over two years later, I had one of the best days of my life – watching Farangis run around with my son, playing near the fountains of Rudaki Park in the center of the town. Her mother told me about the difficult labour she had and how hard it has been to take care of Farangis’s medical needs when they cannot even meet their basic needs.  She thanked me profusely and I told her that it was my responsibility and if she was in a position to help me, she would.  For the next couple of weekends, our kids got together and we spoke about Farangis’s future needs – more surgeries and medicines. A local NGO heard about her and donated some of the proceeds of a recent charity concert featuring local bands.

I hope to meet Pulod’s wife and son one day so I can tell them how many people have been helped because of their husband and father – a great man whose name will live on. His death gave me meaning and I hope to share this story with my son when he grows up.

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Tasneem Damji recently moved with her husband and son across the world to live a life of authenticity, simplicity and gratitude.  Currently living in Dushanbe – Tajikistan, Tasneem coaches young people to pursue their passions, study abroad and live lives of meaning and service.  As a mother, she is inspired to raise a son with positive values to help him contribute to society when he grows up. She has written some stories of him in her blog, Ode to My Son, and hopes to write more regularly (an ongoing challenge).



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