"Passion for helping others"
For Sharmaarke Abdullahi, helping and serving others is simply second nature. Having emigrated to the nation’s capital with his mother and 3 siblings at the age six, Mr. Abdullahi remembers his mother’s passion for helping others. “I recall my mother, being super active in our community; she helped organize a lot of community events… At first, this was painful for my siblings and I because we were dragged to a lot of community meetings,” he recounts with a laugh. “In hindsight, it instilled the value of generosity and the importance of giving back at a young age.” This helped to shape Mr. Abdullahi’s passion for serving and helping others. He describes his community activism as a “completely natural” fit.
Over the last 17 years, Mr. Abdullahi has helped initiate and implement dozens of community projects, including homework clubs, youth leadership and mentoring programs -- and a youth basketball league. One of his first projects, he helped found during his time at Carleton University the Somali Youth Basketball League (SYBL), a non-for profit organization. SYBL helps youth living in social housing develop leadership, social and basketball skills. Although overseen now by one of the city’s social service agencies, Mr. Abdullahi was directly involved in organizing the non-profit effort for 10 years, and has been able to see the project grow and expand far beyond its original demographic focus. “After the first year, we noticed that more than half of the participants were from other ethnic, diverse communities,” he says, estimating that Somali youth now compose approximately thirty five percent of the league, fostering inter-community dialogue across youth from different socio-economic backgrounds and neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The league has provided an important opportunity for youth to constructively channel their energy through sports, as well as offering educational and mentoring support. “We worked really hard to recruit young professionals who were interested in coaching basketball, so they can serve as positive role models for our youth.” Abdullahi recalls.
Mr. Abdullahi is also the vice president of Awakening: Reviving the Spirit of Somali Youth. Awakening is an annual conference organized by young Somali-Canadian professionals in Ottawa. The purpose of this conference is to highlight Somali-Canadian achievements, while raising awareness and creating dialogue about key issues facing the Somali-Canadian community. “Awakening is about taking back our narrative and telling our own stories. We hear a lot about the negative portrayals of Somali’s in the media so we wanted to create a platform for youth to share the many achievements of Somali-Canadians”.
He is also a board member of The Friends of University of Hargeisa School of Social Work Committee, which came together in 2008 in partnership with Carleton University School of Social Work. In 2013 the committee succeeded in establishing the first ever School of Social Work in East Africa, opening its doors to 45 incoming students, including 22 young women. The first cohort to complete the four year Social Work degree program is expected to graduate in the spring of 2017. “I am really excited about the first cohort graduating next year. Building strong institutions like the School of Social Work in post-conflict societies is extremely important and I am so fortunate to be a part of this project.”
Most recently, Mr. Abdullahi, in partnership with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, co-founded “Election Energized: Activating Canada’s Muslim Voters,” a civic engagement campaign to encourage informed voting in the 2015 Canadian Federal Elections. “One the interesting things about this initiative was its official forming on Canada Day, while the nation was celebrating its birthday. There were a number of issues in the last election that affected so many people, including the Muslim community, so it was really important to get the vote out and encourage informed voting”.
Mr. Abdullahi has received numerous community development awards and, in 2015, was appointed to the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). He works for the City of Ottawa as a Business Consultant and has worked as part-time Lecturer at Algonquin College in the Social Service Worker program.
Mr. Abdullahi says he has learned how resilient people can be, despite the many challenges they face. “I have seen how beautiful it is when young people recognize how much agency they have in their life and start pursuing their dreams and aspirations; it’s a beautiful thing…find allies and find a way to make Canada a better place, regardless of where you are”