Salim Bhojani, an Aga Khan Foundation volunteer in Dallas, Texas, spoke recently about starting the We Care team, which hosts an annual dinner to raise funds for the Foundation’s programs.
How did the We Care team get started?
We started the We Care events in 2014. I had volunteered with the Foundation in Canada before moving to Dallas in 2012. So in Dallas I wondered, ‘What if we have a small dinner with family and friends to raise funds for this cause I believe in?’ My family and I hosted at our house and each person would bring a check to donate to AKF. We collected $8,000 or $9,000 that night.
After a couple of years, I felt settled in Dallas. So we talked about hosting a slightly larger event at a club house. We set the fundraising goal at $10,000 for the evening, thinking maybe it would cost about $800 to put on a small event. The chair of Dallas AKF volunteers would give a talk about the Foundation. Our friends came through! We went way beyond our goal and raised $15,000 for the Foundation.
We knew we could make a difference, so we kept going. The following years, we got sponsors to help cover the costs for arranging a dinner at the Hyatt Regency. We went from 90 attendees the first year, to about 220 people last year. Last year, we raised a total of $127,000 for the Foundation.
Who else was involved?
Our team has people from age 20 to 50, with a lot of diversity, volunteers with lots of ideas. To share stories from the Foundation’s work, we adapted stories from the AKF USA website and created skits. Young people put on the skits and they really helped show the impact. On top of direct donations, the team added a silent auction and a speaker.
We divided up tasks. One person arranges the silent auction items as donations, for example. Another sells tickets, and another manages marketing and social media. We have a finance volunteer from AKF at each event to take the donations.
When did you first see the work of the Aga Khan Foundation?
I was born in Pakistan, so as a boy I saw the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi get built in the early 1990s. My dad donated to that effort, and I was impressed by the hospital’s mission to provide healthcare regardless of people’s ability to pay. The spark for We Care came from that time.
People respond to the stories from the Aga Khan Development Network. The skit about Roshan, the telecommunications company that the AKDN created in Afghanistan, showed its life-changing impact. Roshan makes a tremendous difference in Afghanistan. One time, the skit received a standing ovation.
Did you find a challenge that you didn’t expect?
Since our team has one main event each year, we faced the challenge of, ‘How do we keep the team motivated all year?’ We have a group gathering or dinner at a local café every couple of months, and we’ll meet more often as the event gets close. We order desserts and make our plans. After the event in the fall, morale can get tapped out. Last fall, we had a Halloween event to give it a boost. I try to make sure the team stays connected.
What comes to mind when you consider the impact of your fundraising?
I can’t stand the idea of kids going to sleep hungry. Growing up in Pakistan, I saw poor kids on the street. Nobody should sleep hungry. So seeing how the Foundation supports families so that kids can get healthcare, education and nutrition—that gets me going.
How does it feel to give to the Foundation in this way?
I don’t have the words. For me and for the team, it feels amazing. We feel very good about what we’ve done. At the final tally, each time we’ve passed our target, there’s lots of laughing and crying. It helps us reach for more, even if it makes us ask: What if we can’t make our target? If you trust yourself, you can do it.
This post is part of the #humansoftheworld series on our blog—a collection of tales we can both relate to and marvel at. Here, we share stories of appreciation, self-reliance, and strength from across the Aga Khan Development Network.