Fred has gone from fleeing war in Afghanistan to volunteering in Surrey by mentoring youth. He’s been through it all, and then some, but finds value in giving back to his community.
For the last six years, Fred has been a Big Brother and Mentor to Little Brother, Zubin. He’s also taken the extra step in serving his community by joining the Board of Directors with Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver for the previous eight years.
“It all stems from our experience of being so fortunate,” Fred said about his life’s journey.
The start of a long, long journey
Born in the middle of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Fred was four-years-old when his family made the difficult decision to flee their home as refugees.
In 1989, his family, consisting of his mother, father and older brother, packed up and escaped to India.
For the next 10 years his family would live in limbo in New Delhi.
There, the family sold everything to buy a one-way ticket for his dad to fly to North America so he could earn money to support them and ultimately bring everyone to a new home.
“Those were the most transformative years of my life” he said.
In that era, there was no FaceTime or Zoom. His father was only a voice on the other end of the occasional phone call.
During that time, the family had to seek asylum and obtain refugee status in India while dad worked toward getting permanent residence in Canada.
“It was obviously not easy to grow up without your dad and knowing that he’s out there. It made it good and bad. There was hope that you’ll reunite, but also kind of painful,” Fred explained.
A decade later, his father earned his Canadian permanent residency and, with his savings, brought the rest of his family over to Vancouver.
To this day, every time he lands at Vancouver International Airport and turns the bend behind the luggage pickup toward the automatic sliding doors of the arrivals gate, Fred can still vividly remember when he saw his dad for the first time.
“It was crazy,” he said, recounting the day of his family reunion. “I was almost as tall as my dad.”
Upon settling into his new home, Fred enrolled in school full-time. The last time he had regularly studied was in India several years before.
“I jumped from Grade 5 to Grade 8 and had to take ESL classes and take some [additional] classes earlier on to catch up on the gap in education so that I could to be able to graduate high school in a timely fashion,” he explained.
While it was a tough transition, he didn’t waste any time learning about his new community by getting involved locally.
“Volunteering is really near and dear to my heart,” Fred said.
As a teenager, he started volunteering with the Food Bank, with student clubs, and at any opportunity he could find.
After making the transition to post-secondary and then into the workforce, Fred has always remembered the big things and, especially, the little moments he has had with his mentors over the years.
Whether it was over a few years, a couple semesters, or over just a coffee, he always felt like there was someone there to support him along his journey.
It was only by chance that Fred found his way into the mentorship program at Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver.
Growing up in Vancouver, his family had always donated their gently-used clothing to the charity, but Fred was not aware of the full picture behind their actions: funding free mentorship programs for children and youth.
It was only when his mother asked him to make their next donation booking by himself when Fred discovered what Big Brothers was really all about.
“It instantly resonated with me” he said.
Not long after that, he got involved with the organization volunteering at community outreach events and fundraisers.
After a couple of years volunteering in that capacity, Fred joined the organization as a board member.
At his very first board member meeting he learned some hard-to-hear cold hard facts, which took him off-guard.
“I almost fell off my chair when I heard Surrey had a three-year wait-time [for children to be matched with a Mentor],” he said.
Jumping into mentorship
Surrey children in Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver’s waitpool continue to wait two years, or longer, to be matched with a Mentor.
It was at that meeting he decided to do something right away and applied to be matched with a Little in Surrey.
There was a big need, but Fred also thought of it as a great learning opportunity and excellent way of getting more involved in his community after having so many Mentors that supported him, and his family, along his journey.
“I feel very grateful for all those people,” he said. “I feel that I need to give back even more because it was all that support that helped us be successful and helped us get our career and schooling and everything sorted out,” he explained.
After getting matched with his Little Brother, Zubin, he’s never looked back.
“It’s all based-on friendship, hanging out and having a good time. It’s not like a business mentorship program where you’re asking tough questions or setting maybe like goals and stuff,” he explained. “It’s a lot more relaxed and a lot more fun.”
On a typical day, the pair’s go-to activity is playing drop-in sports at their local community centre. They both share a passion for all types athletics.
Other activities the duo get up to are visiting farmers markets, paint balling, playing giant scrabble at the local library, video games, getting food, going to the movies, and many other sports like basketball or swimming.
It’s also been a way for Fred to do the things he missed out on as a kid growing up. In high school, there were often field trips he wasn’t able to attend due to his family’s tight financial situation.
“I either stayed home or I was in class alone. But [now], I get to do some of those activities with Zubin, like going to laser tag and going to Science World,” he said. “It’s also kind of helped me have some of those first experiences that I didn’t as like a child or teenager here and it’s been a rewarding journey for me as well at the same time to experience those things with a friend now.”
The two have not only forged a strong bond, but he’s seen how Zubin has grown over the years. From being shy to being confident in himself and being curious about the world.
The experience has reminded Fred of how important mentorship is in the lives of everyone, especially children and youth.
“It’s really reinforced, to me, understanding the power of friendships and relationships in our lives,” he said. “This is the only program that clearly makes a difference in the life of someone, personally.”
“When you’re volunteering at Big Brothers, and you’re a Big, you actually get to see the individual, that person, and you’re going to be making a difference in their life,” Fred explained. “It’s very direct impact and you do all of this while you’re having fun.”
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