The Spirit of the Ismaili Volunteers at an Extraordinary Place

The Ismaili Centre, Burnaby, Canada. Geometry governs the entire site, the buiding.Editor’s note: The poem below was spontaneously written by Jalal Jaffer in 2011 at the time of the 25th anniversary of the Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana, Burnaby, in recognition of the enormous amount of work the Ismaili volunteers do, day in day out. Simerg is pleased to publish it as part of its 4th anniversary special series, Stories of Ismaili Volunteers from Around the World.

His Highness the Aga Khan applauds Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, following his remarks at the Opening Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Burnaby. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur RamjiThe Centre was opened on August 23, 1985, by the then Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, in the presence of the 49th Ismaili Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The Imam designated the Jamatkhana as Canada’s Darkhana* when he met his followers later that day.

Spirit at Darkhana

A group of Ismaili volunteers at the Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

By Jalal Jaffer

He is seventy-five years old
A luminous rain cover
Baseball cap, worn the right way
Garden gloves, noticeably worn out
The wheel-barrow now full
With trimmings, leaves, debris
A shovel and spade on top
Off he goes, gently pushing his load
Smile on his face, gratitude in his heart. 

Yes it is hard work
But this is no ordinary place

Dozens of teenagers smartly dressed
Red and green ties, blue blazers
Etiquette befitting experienced waiters
Going from table to table
Picking up plates and forks and knives
Sharing cheerful smiles with guests
Engaging graciously with small talk. 

Yes, they missed going to their party
But this is no ordinary function

Many youngsters in early teens
Side by side with forty and fifty and older
Create a solid crew, a solid team
Arriving after hours, ready for long nights
Without much training, much guidance
Build together scaffolds and platforms
Reaching high inside domes
Changing bulbs and cleaning walls
Dome after dome, window after window. 

Yes, it is risky work
But, these are no ordinary domes

Dozens of gardeners
Scores of cleaning crews
Hundreds of young volunteers
Untold number of all others
Individually and in unison
Resonate and reflect
A spirit, an understanding, innate knowledge
That Darkhana of Canada
Is no ordinary place
Holds no ordinary functions
Has no ordinary domes
Enabling them to strive
To maintain, preserve, enhance
This special monument
This sacred space
For today, tomorrow and forever.

Date posted: Saturday, August 23, 2013.


*The Darkhana can be considered as the chief or main Jamatkhana in any given country where Ismailis reside. The decision to designate a Jamatkhana as a Darkhana is made by the Imam of the Time, presently His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.

About the author: Jalal Jaffer is a practising lawyer in Vancouver.

THE VOLUNTEER SERIES: We invite you to contribute to the special volunteer series which was launched recently for Simerg’s 4th anniversary. For an introduction to the series, please click Stories of Ismaili Volunteers from Around the World.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the LEAVE A REPLY box which appears below. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters. Please visit the Simerg Home page for links to articles posted most recently. For links to articles posted on this Web site since its launch in March 2009, please click What’s New.

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