Aiza's Teddybear Foundation: Connecting Communities (By Aiza Abid)
I have always had a deeply rooted desire to bring peace, justice and healing to the lives of children in need. Growing up, I witnessed several instances where, while I continued to move forwards in my own life, children my age were being left behind. In elementary school, I was introduced to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was an overly curious kid, so this got me thinking. If all children were born or raised in a country that acknowledges their basic human rights, why are some children growing up with more or less than others?
"The more I investigated, inquired and read about this issue, the more I learned how complicated it really was. But one thing remained clear; all children have a set of human rights that are inextricably theirs and that must be fulfilled."
Aiza’s Teddybear Foundation
Aiza’s Teddybear Foundation (ATBF) was founded in 2013 as part of a civics class project in grade 10. I had always dreamt of creating a platform that amplified the voices of the children we were serving, rather than having other individuals speak on their behalf.
Our non-profit was the product of realizing that there were not very many existing children charities at the time that provided opportunities to engage youth in service activities that were personal and meaningful to them. I wanted to offer something that encouraged community members to look within themselves and give in ways that did not require opening their wallets to every cause.
Since then, we have repurposed and distributed well over 300,000 stuffed toys, thousands of clothing & school supply items to serve purpose in the lives of individuals in need. We receive phone calls and emails from low income families every week and put out calls to our community to help fulfill their needs with things that they already have at home. We then work to clean, sort, iron & pack donations, making them like new before sending them out to our recipient families. It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life to be able to bring members of our community together in this way.
Many families who reach out are redirected to us by their local food banks and homeless shelters because these organizations are unable to support their needs, or they have criteria in place that limits their capacity to give. We created Aiza’s Teddybear Foundation on a different foundational belief. We recognize how challenging it can be to ask for help, so we alleviate any nerves by omitting to include any exclusion criteria that would weed out anyone who needs help.
Our team consists of student volunteers from across Canada and overseas, advisory board members with a variety of professional backgrounds, community members, educators and like minded organizations. I launched our Bear Hugs Club as a result of being asked to mentor students of all ages for as long as I can remember. As much as I had always wanted to connect with kids in this way, being in school myself, I lacked the time I needed to fully devote myself to the task.
Fast forward to our present times, we ended up welcoming three times the number of students we had anticipated to our team. Every meeting, we invite a new guest speaker to our call to share their story, lead a workshop and answer questions from the group. Guests consist of career professionals, youth champions, change makers and motivational speakers.
"If you have the capacity to engage in service and are looking for ways to do so, I encourage you to seek out existing organizations that align with your values and channel your creativity and time into supporting them!"
Every month, our team sets personal goals and tracks their progress, works on weekly assignments, advances their knowledge on children’s rights and the sustainable development goals, develops their public speaking skills, contributes to our projects and programming and so much more. If you have the capacity to engage in service and are looking for ways to do so, I encourage you to seek out existing organizations that align with your values and channel your creativity and time into supporting them! There is so much we can learn when we lend our time and open our hearts to the experiences of others.
Aiza Abid is the Founder & CEO of Aiza’s Teddybear Foundation. To connect with Aiza, you can find her on Instagram or Twitter @aizabidxo. To learn more about Aiza’s Teddybear Foundation and learn more how you can support their work or volunteer, visit: www.aizasteddybearfoundation.com or follow on Instagram or Twitter @aizastbf!