Red Cross Volunteer Overcomes Hardships to Help Others

As a Canadian Red Cross volunteer for 11 years, Mahmood Jafari could undoubtedly be described as dedicated; but it’s his desire to help, rather than the amount of time he has given, that makes him extraordinary.   

Mahmood was born in Gonbad, Iran, and grew up in Tehran. After he completed his high school education, he joined the army during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. After the war, he worked for a carpentry company and also volunteered with an assortment of community action programs. In 1989, Mahmood was shot and sustained a spinal cord injury that resulted in paralysis from his chest down. Consequently, he has been in a wheelchair since. “(I) spent the subsequent two years in recovery and relative isolation,” he says, “during which time I kept myself occupied and motivated by focusing on my studies and overcoming my new challenges.”

Shortly after he arrived in Canada from Iran in June 1997, Mahmood started volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross. “When I came to Canada I didn’t know about other organizations,” he says. “Whereas I was familiar with the Red Cross.” He began volunteering in the Medical Equipment Loans Service (MELS), but has since volunteered for many other programs within the Red Cross, including Disaster Management, Community Housing, RespectED: Violence & Abuse Prevention, and the Financial Development department.   

In addition to volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross, Mahmood also works part-time for the financial development team in the Calgary office. He has also volunteered for several other organizations including Bow Valley College and the YMCA.  

So why does he volunteer? Well, according to him, it’s quite simple: “I would like to share my knowledge and experiences with others, helping them to overcome whatever hardships they may be facing.”  

Mahmood has done an excellent job of overcoming his hardships, and uses his strength to inspire. “I have been involved in fundraising for community development programs (in) Canada,” he says. “For example, I wheeled from Banff to Calgary to raise funds for (the) Red Cross, or from Calgary to Edmonton to raise money for the Ability Society.” He was awarded the YMCA Medal of Peace for the work he did on the Journey for Peace project in 2006, and hopes “to be more involved with international projects” in the future.   

But where does Mahmood see himself in the future? “I would like to volunteer internationally with the Red Cross…” he says. In addition to that, he hopes to get involved with the United Nations. More locally, he hopes to work with other Red Cross offices to educate them on how to better accommodate those in wheelchairs “and to disprove the stigma that people in wheelchairs cannot perform on the same level as others.”  By looking at all he has done in the past, one can safely assume that he will accomplish his goals. 

Mahmood’s only difficulty thus far has been during the 2003 forest fires in BC. “I wasn’t able to join the Red Cross teams on the ground … as it presented an unsafe and inaccessible working environment for me.”   

Nothing has stopped him yet; he proudly received the Red Cross 10-year service award a year ago and is looking forward to continuing his work with the Canadian Red Cross.  

In his spare time, Mahmood enjoys watching films, listening to music, working out at the YMCA, and going out with friends. His interests include hockey, soccer, and backgammon.