Over the years, Mawlana Hazar Imam has often spoken of the importance of civil society and of contributing towards the wellbeing of our communities. The iCERV programme in the UK has demonstrated that this ethic is very much alive within our Jamat.

It was a gloomy Sunday morning in December 2018; a thin layer of frost had settled overnight and there was a biting chill in the air. A December day much like any other. But for the Ismaili community in the United Kingdom, that Sunday would prove to mark a rather special milestone.

That morning, a number of Ismaili volunteers arrived at Emmanuel House, Nottingham — a centre which supports homeless, vulnerable, and isolated adults — to help set up and deliver the daily hot meal service.  What they didn’t know at the time was that this was the 60th iCERV project to be delivered in the United Kingdom.

iCERV — Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering — is a programme whose mission is to offer Jamati members an opportunity to serve the wider communities in which they reside. Upon its UK launch during the Diamond Jubilee year, the UK jurisdiction Jamat committed to engaging in 60 iCERV projects before the end of 2018 to commemorate 60 years of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat.

The following year saw iCERV volunteers up and down the country volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, park clean-ups, and training sessions for the aged, among many more. This included two iCERV weekends, which gave volunteers an opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals, step out of their comfort zone, and volunteer in a capacity they had not been involved with before.

As we approach two years since the launch of the programme, iCERV has continued to capture the imagination of the UK jurisdiction Jamat. In April 2019, the European Sports Festival was held at the University of Nottingham — just a few miles down the road from Emmanuel House. During the weekend, the iCERV team, along with the Ismaili Volunteer Corps, partnered with the Salvation Army — a branch of the universal Christian Church and an international charity headquartered in London.

Over the ESF weekend, iCERV volunteers packed up and donated a number of much needed goods such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shower gel, and snacks, to a Nottingham-based homeless shelter run by the Salvation Army. These were packaged with supportive messages written onto the bags by the young members of the Jamat.

“It was amazing to see how much common ground we have between our two faith-based communities,” reflected Farah Williamson, one of the organisers of the event and a member of the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for the UK. “Volunteers as young as five years old came to help pack the goody bags and write inspiring messages for the recipients on the bags. My favourite one was ‘We all have each other’s backs’.”

Our world is changing at a faster pace than at any time in history — progress in science and technology have meant that the world is a very different place to what it was a generation ago and what it will be in a generation’s time. But there are certain fundamental truths that will always remain. The importance — and the impact — of offering service to others is one constant that will never change.

Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” This message rings as true today as it ever has.