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As a newcomer to Canada, Cadigia Ali recognized almost immediately what volunteering could do to help her integrate into Canadian life. After just two years in Canada she was profiled in the Toronto Star for her work with the United Way and the Red Cross. During the height of the Somali crisis in 1992, Ali led an effort to mobilize performers and other volunteers from her home country of Somalia in a fundraising concert that raised $22,000 to send home some badly needed relief supplies through the Red Cross. She soon became a member of the organization’s Etobicoke District Council.
But her volunteer efforts did not stop here. In fact, the list of organizations she helped found and is engaged with today is staggering. From her involvement establishing Midaynta, a family reunification agency for newcomers, which is now one of the largest African-Canadian social service agencies in Toronto – to launching an annual soccer tournament that brings Somali athletes together with 15 other communities and raises thousands of dollars for United Way and Canadian Red Cross – Ali gives generously of her time and experience. “Well-consumed time” is how she describes it, sometimes working seven days a week. She laughs when she mentions her son’s reaction to her tireless efforts. “Mummy, you’re not Mother Theresa.” While Ali’s context may be different the motivation to serve others is the same.
Trained as a medical doctor, much of her work in Canada has been in the healthcare field. “Because I couldn’t work here as a doctor it was natural for me to help people in other ways,” she said. She has trained Canadian doctors, nurses and social workers to better understand the influence of culture in the diagnosis and treatment of newcomers affected by mental health illnesses. She has also educated healthcare workers about cultural practices like Female Genital Mutilation and started out by writing health-related articles in the Somali press to better educate newcomers who could not read in English on the health care system of their adopted country. Today, she works as a civil servant for the provincial government and sits on the board of Rexdale Community Health Centre and local Etobicoke/ York health committee.
“When you go to bed at night,” she says, “you want to say what I did today was worth living. I don’t spend my time for nothing.”
Cadigia Ali is a graduate of DiverseCity School4Civics.