When Syed Najam came to Canada in 2009, he experienced firsthand many of the barriers he’s trying to break down today – book by book.
There were language barriers, system barriers and social barriers, making the integration into Calgary a slow one. A long-time volunteer who participated in many community-building programs back in his native Pakistan, Najam wanted to put together a system for immigrant families that could help smooth the transition to Canada.
Najam created workshops and activities and provided tutoring for many in Calgary’s immigrant community through his Love With Humanity Association, but his latest endeavour has rapidly expanded in the Calgary area.
Little free libraries first started popping up in Calgary back in 2012 – now numbering more than than 50 – but few were dedicated to serving the city’s multicultural communities. That’s where Najam stepped in.
His first Multicultural Free public library opened up back in May in Saddleridge, where he lives. Since then, others have popped up in Airdrie and in Chestermere. His fourth will be opened up mid-August in the southeast Calgary community of Mahogany.
“I asked the seniors and other newcomers about some of the problems they were having and why they were feeling lonely,” Najam said.
He’d thought about the book project but assumed that many were getting their information and reading material online. That was a problem, he thought, as he felt they needed to get out of the house and into the community.
So, they built, and now fully operate, the three multicultural libraries complete with a variety of ethnic books to read and comfortable chairs to sit. It’s become a gathering place, Najam said. There are books written in English, Punjabi, Urdu, Arabic, Chinese, French and other languages.
His team of volunteers has grown from two to six.
“I first launched it at my home and I observed very good feedback. So, I thought, why don’t we build other Calgary locations,” Najam said.
Najam’s work is being noticed. He’s received three community awards, including one delivered recently by Mayor Naheed Nenshi – the Mayor’s Special Recognition Award.
“You’re doing great work. This kind of community grassroots work is so incredibly important to keep the fabric of our communities strong,” Nenshi told Najam at the award presentation.
Najam’s not done spreading his message of love and community. While he’s got the Mahogany opening slated for August 11, from 2:30 to 3:30 pm at the Mahogany Beach Club, he’s got letters out to other communities in Calgary, and surrounding towns and cities like Okotoks, Cochrane, Red Deer and even Edmonton.
“It’s a passion. I love to do something for the community,” Najam said.
“When I do something (for the community) I feel happiness inside.”