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MEDIUM- Fostering A Sense of Safety and Community through the Safe Buddies Program



Q&A’s with Faaiz Walji

Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?Although I am originally from Vancouver, I currently reside in Ottawa, where I am pursuing my postsecondary studies. A feature quite unique to Ottawa that I never seem to get enough of is the Rideau Canal. Not having experienced classic Canadian winters for most of my life, the ability to simply head out the door and lace up your skates never ceases to amaze me!

What community/communities are you part of ?
As an Ismaili Muslim, my religious community has served as an instrumental facet to my life and therefore continues to shape my perspectives as an individual. In the context of an ever-increasing cosmopolitan society, the value of pluralism is instilled within our community. Living by the value of pluralism has impelled me to constantly rethink what I know by learning from the cultures, traditions and the perspectives of others. Moreover, in being raised to exude a strong ethic of altruism, I strive to look for ways in which I can better serve my community and help generate a lasting impact. My commitment to service extends beyond the Ismaili community and informs my involvement in BOLT Safety Society.

What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
I am very passionate about sports; I grew up playing hockey and soccer which played a significant role in my life. As a result, I have always tried to incorporate components of active living into my daily routine, even in university. Currently, I play intramural hockey, soccer and dodgeball at the University of Ottawa which have allowed me to build on my social networks by engaging in a competitive team spirit. My athletic upbringing largely influences how I approach teamwork in my day to day life and especially in my role as the Safe Buddies Manager at BOLT Safety Society where I get to work with a talented team of dedicated volunteers who collectively contribute to the impact of our organization.

How did the idea for this project come to you?
A year ago, our Executive Director, Vedanshi Vala, approached me with the opportunity to spearhead Safe Buddies as a project manager. I agreed to take on the role since I was so excited for the potential of this program and the impact it could bring about within various communities amid challenges of the pandemic. When we were launching our program, Vala emphasized that “just one person being unsafe should be reason enough for a unified effort at the community level to improve safety” and that as a group of young advocates, it is our responsibility to use our platform, resources, and knowledge to make our community safer.

What was your motivation behind this project?
The conception of Safe Buddies was primarily in response to the rise of Anti-Asian hate across North America. Vulnerable populations within the Asian community, especially women and seniors have been experiencing heightened incidents of stalking and physical attacks since the start of the pandemic. Emily Huang, who held key involvement in Safe Buddies development, said that, “the need for Safe Buddies is only a symptom of a greater disease: that strangers are hurting each other, that predators and racists somehow do not consider their fellow human equal. While Safe Buddies attempts to address the symptom, it is also a declaration. You deserve not only to be safe but also to feel safe, and we will always be fighting for that.” Moreover, there were reports of women being stalked locally, as well as incidents of assault on university campuses, and we felt that it was imperative to fight against such harassment. Although the rollout of Safe Buddies faced numerous challenges, the dedication of our volunteers and support networks across other organizations and associations helped keep the ball rolling. Most importantly, individuals reaching out to us in order to share their personal experience and their hopes for the Safe Buddies program inspired us to continue challenging ourselves to generate a lasting impact.

How did your community react to your project? Have they been encouraged to get involved in any other ways?
We have received a lot of support from individuals and organizations. The Drishti Gala team entrusted Safe Buddies with ensuring their 700+ guests got home safely after the event; the Strathcona Community Policing Center is another organization we have been working with to increase Safe Buddies accessibility through local associations. The Chinese Community Policing Center aided our team in translating program materials to Chinese, as well as with outreach in their locale.

In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
The impact thus far has differed from what was initially expected. We have received a lot of feedback that made us shift focus for the in-person option of our initiative. As opposed to focusing on processing individual requests, we have started to reach out to event organizers who could potentially benefit from the support of Safe Buddies as people look to reach their destination safely. We offered in-person Safe Buddies for the first time last November at the 2021 Drishti Gala Awards which welcomed over 700 guests.

Were there some bumps along the road or things you may do differently in the future?
In taking on our community outreach initiative last summer, we learned that the need for Safe Buddies differs between communities. When looking to enter a particular community, we realized that we can not simply enter and impose what we see as the solution to promoting safety. Trust within communities takes time to build and requires partnerships with local associations who understand the needs of the communities in which they operate. In this regard, it is best to start off by engaging with community locals and listening to their grievances in order to better understand the issues at hand. We started Safe Buddies off with a broad scope, but have since realized the need to cater to smaller groups first prior to expansion. Our community outreach initiative served as a good research opportunity.

What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
Our Treasurer, Ravi Nichols, who applied for the grant, says, “Don’t set your expectations low: if you have a big idea, go all in. If you are passionate about the project, then your passion will shine through, and the RisingYouth team will see that. The process is simple and allows for variation, and you will have support all the way through. RisingYouth grants foster change at any level, so don’t be afraid to be creative with your ideas!”

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