Tearing down the walls that block development and promoting the development of poverty-stricken countries is the main theme of the Nickle Arts Museum exhibit, Bridges that Unite running until Tue., Apr. 13. The exhibit focuses on how Canada has partnered with the Aga Khan Development Network, providing evidence of Canada's work over the last 25 years in underdeveloped countries. The title Bridges that Unite comes from the idea that the world must build bridges of communication between developed and underdeveloped countries.
The Aga Khan Foundation of Canada is a cell of AKDN, an international development organization that focuses on underdeveloped regions of the world. AKFC has worked to improve the lives of the poor in marginalized communities in Asia and Africa.
"The organization was named after the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims," stated Aga Khan CEO Khalil Shariff. "Aga Khan works to support high-impact initiatives in the world. We work as a family to create a link between Canada and the developing world and we actually build real bridges as well."
The exhibit begins with a showcase of values that the AKFC has chosen to promote in the developing world. It focuses on the Canadian values of pluralism, democracy and a vibrant civil society. Shariff explained pluralism is the capacity to manage differences in a country and use them to better a society. Canada's vibrant landscape outside of government expresses the energy of its citizens to improve the world.
"These are important assets Canada can share with the world," he said. "Our aspiration for the exhibit is to bring to attention of students and the public that Canada has been doing work in the Third World. The exhibit uncovers the bridges that do unite Canada and the developing world."
The second focus of the exhibit shows how the AKDN provides help to countries at a community level. The major community developments AKDN implemented are the Circle of Chairs and Flipchart. A community gathers together and outlines what they want to accomplish, then AKDN provides help where needed.
"In communities, it is important to give a hand up and not a hand out," said Aga Khan Canada employee Laurie Peters.
Shariff explained work at the community level was an important section of Aga Khan's work.
"The Circle of Chairs and Flipchart is a symbol for bringing communities together to address their own problems," he said. "Communities need to feel they are in charge of their path. We help communities to solve their problems, [we don't] solve the problems for them."
The exhibit also features the individual stories and major projects AKDN has completed around the world. Projects include the restoration of the Royal Gardens in Kabul, Afghanistan and the creation of a 30-hectare Azhar Park in the historic district of Cairo. These projects promote urban renewal in some of the world's most congested cities. AKDN is also embarking on a project to build three universities in Asia.
Shariff noted the exhibit is important for teaching students about the work Canada is involved in.
"The government of Canada has provided millions of dollars and major collaboration over the last 25 years," explained Shariff.
Shariff explained that interaction with the exhibit is important, noting that there are numerous computers and movies designed for people to interact with--as well as displays posing questions designed to prompt discussion.
"I want Canadians to be inspired to be an agent of change," said Shariff. "There are many ways for Canadians to explore their own ways of helping international development. I want young people to understand what international development is. It is not just handing out food. It looks like a big circle of chairs, [like] universities in Asia and university graduates in underdeveloped countries."