The i-CERV initiative was launched in the United Kingdom jurisdiction Jamat during the Diamond Jubilee year with a great sense of excitement. i-CERV — Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering — is a programme first established in the United States, with a mission to offer its members an opportunity to serve the wider communities in which they reside.

To celebrate the launch of the initiative, the UK jurisdiction Jamat has committed to engaging in 60 i-CERV projects before the end of 2018, to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat. Over the past few months, Ismaili volunteers have been participating in a wide variety of charitable initiatives across a number of areas of need.

During this time, the i-CERV team has begun to build relationships with a number of public organisations and charities, including Ealing Soup Kitchen, New North London Synagogue, Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen, Abbey Community Centre, and Friends of Sutcliffe Park; and is looking forward to long and fruitful partnerships with these organisations over the coming years.

The highlight of the year thus far was the inaugural i-CERV Weekend, which took place from 2 – 4 June 2018. The weekend, which fell within National Volunteers Week in the UK, saw Ismailis from across the country volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, park clean-ups, and training sessions for the aged — to name a few.

For many, the i-CERV weekend was an opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals, get out of their comfort zone, and to volunteer in a capacity they had not been involved with before. Participants — many of whom also serve with the Ismaili Volunteer Corps within the Jamat — mentioned the different feeling serving outside of the community for those who are less fortunate.

As part of a group of students from the Ismaili Student Network in Birmingham, Noureen Lakhani served at a FoodCycle base, where volunteers prepared a three-course meal for guests, from scratch, utilising ingredients leftover from a local supermarket. FoodCycle is a UK-based charity that combines surplus food, kitchen spaces, and volunteers to serve meals for people at risk of poverty and isolation.

Noureen spoke of her time at the weekend, saying, “The experience was different, yet also somewhat similar, to volunteering within the Jamat. Different in that we were working with people from completely different backgrounds and cultures, some who were regular participants, others were new just like us. Yet what made it familiar is that we all had the same goal of wanting to support others and give our time to the local community.”

“After cooking, we helped with serving the guests and mingling with them too. To see their smiles and happiness after being well fed was the most warming feeling of the day.”

Other participants volunteered at parks and public spaces; collecting litter, de-weeding, and cleaning up rivers and waterways; and at tech sessions, helping elderly members of the community with technology-related queries relating to their smartphones and tablet computers.

Mawlana Hazar Imam has often spoken of the importance of civil society and contributing towards the wellbeing of our communities. As he said in an address to the Houses of Parliament in Canada on 27 February 2014: “Faith does not remove Muslims from daily, practical matters in family life, in business, in community affairs. Faith, rather, is a force that should deepen our concern for our worldly habitat, for embracing its challenges, and for improving the quality of human life.”

The i-CERV initiative is a step towards contributing to this vision, and the Diamond Jubilee proved a very fitting time during which to introduce it in the United Kingdom. There are plans to scale up the programme, with further events, and ongoing relationships.

Noureen summarised the contribution of the initiative, saying, “Volunteering during Ramadan was another way for us to make a difference in the wider community and work within the ethics of our faith. The i-CERV weekend illustrated clearly what a great sense of community there is in this city; despite being strangers to each other, we all had one goal: to work together, support each other, and through this collaboration, make a positive impact on someone else’s life.”