Sustaining the Mosaic with Bridges
After sixty books and publications, one mosque, ten years on a NASA space shuttle, and many years of professorship, at 81, instead of enjoying some quiet time at home, Dr. Farouk Chebib spends most of his time travelling, with his laptop, to oversee a project that is taking up all of his waking hours.
But that's ok. The cause is worth every minute of investment.
It was one day in late March 2012 that showed Dr. Chebib how much the Canada he knew had changed. Its multicultural and multi-religious mosaic was being reshaped by prejudices brought in by wars, 9/11, and the spreading wave of Islamophobia: a nationwide poll indicated that more than half of Canadians now mistrusted Muslims.
The Canada Dr. Chebib recalls is the one that welcomed him as the first Syrian to settle in Manitoba in 1958, and the one that helped him fundraise for the construction of the first mosque in the province. It's also the one that granted him his PhD in computer science and watched him teach at the University of Manitoba, where no discrimination or racism were involved.
However, seeing that matters were slightly different today, Dr. Chebib, and (as behind every great man there stands a great woman) his wife, Laila, founded the Canadian Federation of Bridge Builders (CFOBB) in July 2012, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building multi-faith, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural bridges of understanding and respect among Canadians.
Built with creativity, innovation, and self-expression, these bridges would be constructed by high school students who employ any form of art and incorporate it in activities inside and outside school, spreading awareness and tolerance between the different racial, faith, and cultural groups of Canada.
And the incentive? Teachers and counselors of participating schools watch and pick the most dedicated of these builders and eventually nominate them for the "Bridge Builder" award. Once chosen as a "Bridge Builder," they become a life-long member of the CFOBB and receive at least $500 upon graduation.
Not a bad start to the summer.
Although naturally, along with titles come responsibilities. Once given the title of "Bridge Builder," Dr. Chebib hopes that the receivers will live up to this title for the rest of their lives, becoming leaders in their own communities and defenders of human rights.
But, as comedian Lily Tomlin mischievously notes, "the road to success is always under construction," and, in this case, good-old bureaucracy is to be credited for most of the scaffoldings. While partially satisfied with the ten "Bridge Builders" awarded in Manitoba, Dr. Chebib cannot but feel slightly disappointed with the bureaucracy that held back most of the other schools in the other provinces. Besides the ten schools in Manitoba, only one school in the province of Alberta adopted Dr. Chebib's initiative, granting their awards in graduation ceremonies held this past June.
Still, this is only the beginning – Dr. Chebib knows that time is key and that locating more "Bridge Builders" will take over the bureaucratic and administrative hassle. Their fresh energy will team up with his and Laila's vision, affecting future lives and changing preconceived notions.
And maybe when that happens, his laptop companion will take a back seat while the couple enjoys a work-free vacation.