There was a palpable sense of anticipation as walkers and volunteers gathered at David Pecaut Square in downtown Toronto.
AKFC Chief Executive Officer Khalil Z. Shariff introduced Prince Aly Muhammad, building the anticipation of the crowd, noting that “Every World Partnership Walk is special, but this one... this Walk is extra special,” to a clearly delighted audience. “We have the extraordinary honour of having with us today Prince Aly Muhammad Aga Khan.”
Prince Aly Muhammad was present to support the Walk and to see first-hand the many Canadians who contribute to improving the quality of life in some of the poorest and most remote parts of the world. In his remarks to the gathered crowd, Prince Aly Muhammad spoke passionately about his recent trip to Northern Pakistan where he witnessed the impact of climate change. His observations, captured in the short video “Close to Home”, recount the dramatic impact that fluctuations in climate have on the habitats and lives of vulnerable communities in the northern regions. The piece also highlights the initiatives undertaken by AKDN agencies, partnering with local communities, to mitigate the human impact of such disasters.
Describing his visit, Prince Aly Muhammad remarked “In October of last year I was lucky enough to go to [the] northern areas of Pakistan, a stunning area of the world, truly beautiful, with an incredible culture. And what I saw there were excited and inspired students going to quality schools set up by Aga Khan Education Services. I saw new and cutting-edge health centres led by Aga Khan Health Services, and I saw what can only be described as a bright and vibrant future full of hope and determination. I saw all of these things, but I saw one thing that we cannot ignore, and that is climate change and its long-lasting effects on the people living in these regions.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory, a long-time supporter of the Walk, in his welcome remarks, recalled his visits to AKDN projects in Pakistan and the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, citing the crucial role that the Network played in the education of future generations of leaders, and applauding the exceptional work of the World Partnership Walk in contributing towards such initiatives. He concluded by proclaiming 17 June as World Partnership Walk day in Toronto. There were several other dignitaries in attendance, including federal Minister Carolyn Bennett, MP Yasmin Ratansi and Parliamentary Secretary Arif Virani, who read a special message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the occasion of the Walk. Several corporate leaders also participated in the event.
The World Partnership Walk, started by a small group of women leaders in Vancouver 34 years ago, has grown to become Canada’s largest public movement dedicated to raising funds and awareness to address global poverty. Over its history, the Walk has raised more than $100 million to eradicate poverty and help communities across Asia and Africa.
For many present, it was a moment of pride and inspiration, particularly for the young professionals and corporate team captains who were able to walk with Prince Aly Muhammad, and to hear his words of encouragement for all those working to improve the quality of life of marginalised communities.
Ariana Rajan, age 10, donated $20 for the matching funds initiative. She wanted to give for “kids who don’t have much,” and spoke of her excitement at seeing Prince Aly Muhammad at the event. For Zahra Mehri, originally from Afghanistan, seeing Prince Aly Muhammad and hearing his powerful message was an emotional experience, knowing the positive impact that Mawlana Hazar Imam and the AKDN’s work has had across the world.
The beautiful sunny day reached a high of 40 °C with humidity, but that didn’t deter the crowds of people, children, and pets, all out to participate and demonstrate their support. With Prince Aly Muhammad’s presence, this was an exceptional event, one that will be remembered for many years to come.