Profiled by: Sister Sana Rana
Upon hearing the alarming results of a survey conducted in March 2102 that revealed that more than half of all Canadians distrust Muslims, Farouk Chebib and his wife Laila decided to do something about it. In August 2012, they instigated what they call the “Bridge Builders Award.” Farouk explains, “my wife and I placed at each of the six Winnipeg School Divisions and the two French School Divisions a six-year award giving $500 cash to one student in each school division who demonstrates significant achievements in building or mending cultural bridges between Canadian Muslims and other cultures. The objective was that the students would get active in actions that will improve the image of Islam in Canada.”
Their initiative was well received by the Manitoba Minister of Education and the Manitoba Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism.
Encouraged by the acceptance of their Bridge Builders Award by the school divisions and the Muslim community, Farouk and Laila founded a non-profit corporation called the “Canadian Federation of Bridge Builders, Inc.” or CFOBB for short. Their hope was to expand their awards nationally. The CFOBB’s mission statement states that they are “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the improvement of the image of Islam in Canada.”
Farouk commented, “our goal is to eventually install at least one award in each school division in Canada thus giving a chance for every graduating student throughout the country to apply for these awards. We hope that, in a few years, if we are successful, every young Canadian would have been exposed to the values of harmony among the various cultures, races and faiths, thus leading to the society that Canada deserves.”
The awards will be funded by individual sponsors who can sponsor one or more awards to be placed in their names at the schools of their choice. The donations from these sponsors will be given to the school divisions directly and thus qualify for tax deduction. The sponsors will select the winners of their awards and will be invited to present the awards at the high school graduation ceremony. Farouk further explains that “the CFOBB promotes and administers these awards on behalf of the sponsors by identifying the school divisions that will receive awards in each province, pairing sponsors with the school divisions, installing the awards in the sponsors’ names, helping them to select the winners (Bridge Builders) and present them with the awards. The CFOBB will honour the sponsors and the young Bridge Builders in an annual function.” The CFOBB is dependent on the generosity of the Muslim community to help them carry on this worthwhile project by general donations and by sponsoring the awards.
This year Farouk and his wife were happy with a modest eight awards that they sponsored themselves. For the 2013/2014 school year they hope to add private and rural schools to their family of Manitoba schools.
Farouk Chebib is a retired professor from the University of Manitoba. He is originally from Syria and his family consists of his wife, two children and four grandchildren. Farouk migrated to Winnipeg from Syria in 1958 as a graduate student at the University of Manitoba. He and his family decided to become Canadian citizens after Farouk’s graduation and also as a result of political problems back home. Farouk and his family consider themselves the first Muslim pioneers in Manitoba. Farouk recalls how “in the first few years of living in Winnipeg, the Muslim community grew very slowly mainly by students and professionals from Arab countries and Pakistan. In the recent few years, we experienced a huge surge of Muslims from all over the world which increased the Muslim population in Winnipeg to several thousands.”
Farouk has made a number of contributions to the Muslim community in Winnipeg. He is one of the founders and authors of the constitution of the Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA). He was also the first trustee on the MIA’s first Board of Trustees around 1972. In addition, Farouk secured a donation of $25,000 from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to build the first mosque in Winnipeg. This money was used as seed money to build the Hazelwood Mosque in 1976. Farouk was also president and one of the founders of the Canadian Arab Federation in the 1970s. He was also instrumental in setting up the Muslim cemetery at Glenn Lawn Memorial Gardens by cornering a section for Muslim burials and purchasing a few plots for the MIA and other families. He is a leader at the University of Manitoba at various Islamic and Arabic functions and President of the U of M Arab Association. Lastly, he is the founder and President of the Canadian Federation of Bridge Builders.
Farouk hopes for a bright future for the Islamic community in Winnipeg. He believes that “this can be accomplished only by an open mind, mutual cooperation, understanding and respect of other cultures and faiths.”
Farouk encourages our readers to support the Canadian Federation of Bridge Builders. For more information, please visit the CFOBB’s website at www.cfobb.org.