Category Archives: Volunteering

Turning a Weakness into a Strength

Since this blog has the word “explorations” in its title, I find it compelling to share my experiences from the vantage point of the 2017 United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. I’ve been fortunate to travel to several countries both as a child and adult which prompted me to self-reflect upon my tour of Spain in the spring of 2017. This does not make me a special person, but a traveler in life on this planet we call earth.

The slideshow above shows the magnificent architecture and beautiful countryside of Madrid, the capital city as well as Southern Spain. It is a country rich with culture and history, whose people are warm and friendly. Despite being a non-Spanish speaker and largely thanks to fellow travelers on my tour, I was able to navigate around Madrid and various Southern cities. My trip was a vacation, but I turned it into a project through my work in psychotherapy and volunteerism. I am not a trained therapist nor am I a certified peer specialist, but over the course of my adult years, I have gained increasing exposure to the world of mental health services.

I’ve enjoyed travel through my work and have learned that in many ways it is similar to coaching. It is worthwhile, to focus on the “process” so that the results will show for themselves. Perhaps, one of the reasons why I made the slideshow was to acknowledge and give importance to the challenges of travelers with mental health considerations. Particularly solo-travelers as the issues of navigation, housing, meals and medication adherence may be difficult without a relative or friend to assist.

Explorations are not only for explorers to visit or live in distance lands, but they can also be in one’s own backyard, town, city, state or country. As long as I am able to travel, there will always be something to write and reflect on which leads me to believe that perhaps my dream job would be as a travel writer or blogger.


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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Education, Leisure, Networking, Psycho-Social Support, Public Policy, Recreation, Rehabilitation, Stakeholder Engagement, Volunteering

Promoting Volunteerism: How to Recruit and Manage Dedicated Volunteers?

Over the last several decades, there has been a lot of research, training and advocacy about volunteer recruitment and management in nonprofit manuals, websites and handbooks. A more recent strategy for recruiting volunteers and staff to become dedicated personnel is through the creation of online videos. For example, I recently registered and attended an orientation to become part of the 2017 Lowell Music Festival Volunteer Family. Here is a video produced by the Festival volunteers.

I found the online volunteer registration to be easy and efficient, plus the professional guidance and delivery of training from the National Park Service staff before the start of the 2017 Lowell Folk Festival was superb. My motivation for volunteering at the event was primarily to build upon my commitment to volunteerism for peace and development. This is the 31st year in which the Lowell Folk Festival has been running, mostly thanks to many dedicated volunteers and generous sponsors who keep the festival free of charge to the public.

My focus for this blog has been explorations in sport for development and peace, however, I have made occasional references to musical events and concerts as a means for bringing people together in peaceful settings. If you are unable to attend the Festival, many talented volunteers have created a tremendous Festival website with a wide array of information, including compelling music videos of the artists line-up to attract future Lowell Folk Festival doers and goers. I was introduced to the Lowell Folk Festival through my parents, aunts and uncles which brought the event to my attention and have also attended the Lowell Summer Music Series. Both the Festival and Music Series are worth it!



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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Community Development, Leadership, Leisure, Peace Building, Recreation, Rehabilitation, Volunteering

Health and Wellness at Global, Local (Glocal) and Personal Levels

On a global level, I would like to share the work of the Aga Khan Development Network which for the next year, starting from today (July 11, 2017) will be celebrating His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee, or 60th year as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. The AKDN videos below (shared on the organization’s website) are part of the press releases for this year- long celebration.

I am a firm believer in experiential education such as internships, study abroad and exchange programs. My paid internship (almost 20 years ago) with the Aga Khan Foundation USA in Washington DC was a highly rewarding and fulfilling professional experience which led to many exciting professional experiences and conversations in the realm of international development management. The Aga Khan Development Network’s pluralistic approach to international relations and local community development make its  programs compelling for both Sunnis and Shias as well as non-Muslims. Below is the positive impact of His Highnesses’ and AKDN’s work over the last 100 years.

At the local level, being a certified squash coach with ups and downs of mental illness, I am a strong believer in the health benefits of exercise and physical activity to aid in recovery. Through my ongoing professional and personal explorations in sport for development and peace at global and local levels, I would like to share a research study being conducted at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation on “Exercise and Cognitive Training, If there is anyone reading this blog, who knows of individuals who fit the parameters for the study, please contact the principal investigators.

The reason I am sharing this study is that this important research may advance the knowledge and capacity to effectively treat others with severe mental illness and support them with their recovery, whether it be in the United States or overseas, particularly in developing countries. Without going into details, I know how tough it can be for others struggling with mental illness and therefore can relate with what experts call “lived experience.”


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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Community Development, Education, Foreign Policy, International Development, Leadership, Literature Review, Networking, Peace Building, Philanthropy, Private Public Partnerships, Professional Development, Psycho-Social Support, Rehabilitation, Volunteering

My Evolution as a Developmental Coach

Today happens to be my Mom’s birthday and the month in which Mothers are celebrated, among other national and international awareness activities (such as Mental Health Awareness Month). To readers of my blog, I hope you have a few minutes to read this post.

I’ve made a couple of references to my parents on this blog largely because I know it is thanks to them and many others, that I am able to stay healthy, volunteer my time with causes I care about and explore new places and things.

The video above is a culmination of my journey in squash. I have enjoyed every moment of playing, coaching and volunteering in squash at various levels, as well as being a team member on winning and losing teams.

I plan to stay physically active with and without squash, as it definitely keeps me well and balanced. Thanks, Mom and Happy Birthday!


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2017 Emmaus Martin Luther King Day of Service

Bowdoin squash alum introduced me to VolunteerMatch, a wonderful website that connects nonprofit organizations with volunteers. Hence, in an effort to continue volunteering locally I was matched with Emmaus Inc, a Haverhill, Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that addresses homelessness through empowerment. How did this happen?

T-shirt for Emmaus Volunteers, special event for 2017 MLK Day of Service.

Emmaus Volunteers received the T-shirt above for its 4th Annual 2017 Martin Luther King Day of Service.

The process to act upon my volunteer interest was to register with VolunteerMatch, express interest in organizations and causes near my zip code and then select volunteer opportunities based on mutual interest and availability. My first onsite meeting with Emmaus’s Empowerment Project Coordinator facilitated registration, identification verification and completing background (CORI) checks. I was then emailed by the coordinator the general volunteer responsibilities.

As a Family Guide, my volunteer role for the 2017 Emmaus Martin Luther King Day MLK Day was to provide a welcoming atmosphere for disadvantaged families and individuals at the Resource Fair and Family Theater  Almost 200 people from the Haverhill community attended the event and Emmaus Inc had over 130 volunteers respond to the call to work on various MLK day projects. Each volunteer received a free T-shirt, as seen above. For more information, check out pictures from the event on the Emmaus Inc. social media pages! Thank you to VolunteerMatch for helping me to make the Emmaus event a success.

If you are looking for ways to give back to your local community, connect with like-minded individuals and organizations as well as ease your way your back to full-time paid employment, VolunteerMatch, might be a useful tool to make your next steps in the new year.

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Community Development, Education, Homelessness, Networking, Peace Building, Philanthropy, Poverty, Stakeholder Engagement, Volunteering

Enriching High-Ability Middle School Students in Sustainable Development

This spring, I’ve been teaching part-time at Acera: The Massachusetts School of Science, Creativity and Leadership: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Enrichment Program focusing on current events, political activism and global issues for high-ability middle school students to help them become the best version of themselves.

As the Political-Science / Model United Nations Club Leader I co-facilitated simulations and discussions related to international sustainable development and the U.S. Presidential Elections. We started with global issues and then domestic political issues. The Acera middle school students are highly intelligent, passionate and creative leading to animated discussions which were engaging, lively and heartfelt.

Poli Sci - Model UN students from Acera School attending the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Lowell, MA.

Political Science – Model UN students from Acera School attending the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Lowell, MA. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed

As part of the course design, I initiated a Field Trip for 2 boys to the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Convention at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena. This was a unique opportunity for Jakob, Jamie and myself to listen and observe to the leadership of the Massachusetts Democratic Party establishment. After checking in at the registration desk, we made our way into the Tsongas Arena Indoor stadium where we able to get a close view of the many speakers such as Elizabeth Warren, Maura Healey, Marty Walsh, Ed Markey to name a few.

While sitting in the 5th Middlesex District seating session we had an opportunity to ask Sue Thompson, a Massachusetts delegate about the nature of the 2016 convention, the role of delegates and super delegates and how young people can get more involved in the Massachusetts Democratic Party through its youth wing. In addition, as attendees we were able to collect brochures, literature, pins, posters and bags to further raise awareness of the candidates and issues which Massachusetts Democrats seek to address and take action on 2016 and beyond.

Overall, it was my pleasure to facilitate the teaching and learning for a group of cooperative and coachable middle students who were keen to learn more about active citizenship. Thank you Acera students, staff and parents for the opportunity!

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Reflect, Renergize and Restart: Where to Next?

         As you are probably aware this blog is outdated and no longer being updated. I didn’t want to stop without being able to reflect with you upon three lessons gained from life experiences, which I believe can be one of our greatest teachers. My hope is that it will help you think about your own life.

         The first lesson was learned while I was a high school student in the United Arab Emirates. This was among the several countries my siblings and I grew up.

         After a long day at school, I decided to go for a run to take my mind off homework. At the time, Laylah, my youngest sister was the only person home. I asked her to let my parents know that I had gone for a run and that I would be back home in time for dinner. Little did I know I would not make it home for dinner that evening.

         I set forth on my usual route with Walkman in hand. (For those of you too young to remember what a Walkman is, it is one of the early precursors to the iPod). My memory of what happened next is unclear. All I remember is waking up in a hospital emergency room and my entire upper body soaked in blood with my mother at my bedside. I have no recollection of how I ended up there.

         From police reports it appeared that while running, I was knocked down and unconscious by a car. Except for the shattered glass that had scared my face and back, there were, fortunately, no serious injuries. No broken bones. No lost limbs. Nonetheless, doctors told me that I had experienced a severe shock to the body and mind (deemed a concussion) and that I would need to miss the remainder of my 11th grade.

         On one hand I was relieved, that I wouldn’t have to take final exams, but on the other hand disappointed that I had to stay home and could not spend time with fellow classmates. During the recovery, I had time to reflect upon the seriousness of what had happened and came to the conclusion I had a near death experience.

         At first this troubled me, but as I thought more deeply I came to understand that I had been given a second chance to live. I felt fortunate to be blessed with a miracle. While not everyone believes in God, I do believe there is a force greater than humanity.

         Some call this force God. Some call it Jesus. Some call it Allah. I’m not a very religious person, but I could not help think about this force. It kept me alive and is why I am here today.  Thus the first lesson, I would like to share with you is that, I believe, we are each here to serve a purpose.

         My second lesson stems from an international childhood and brief career in international affairs. I am an American citizen of Indian heritage but was born in the United Arab Emirates and educated in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, India and the United States. My multicultural upbringing might appear unique, but there are a growing number of Americans and international students, who also hail from diverse backgrounds and venture to and from foreign lands.

         During 2003-2004 I served as a United Nations Volunteer under Kofi Annan, former Secretary General’s initiative called United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) in Kampala, Uganda to promote volunteerism as well as foster peace and sustainable development. Based at Makerere University, a leading institution of higher education in East Africa, I was living in a country with a history of Indophobia.

         In the early 1970s, Idi Amin, a former President of Uganda expelled thousands of Indian immigrants due to fear of economic insecurity for ethnic Ugandans. Fast-forward to present day Uganda, Indians are gradually returning to Uganda – mostly in small numbers – to reclaim their properties.

         Given the historical plight of Indians in Uganda I was anxious as to how I would be received by my Ugandan counterparts. Would they see me as another Indian threatening their livelihood? Would I be considered a naïve, twenty something Indian-American aid worker imposing Western values? Would they just accept me for my ideas, thoughts and actions while being a guest in their country?

         My mission in Uganda was to strengthen and expand the Cisco Networking Academy Program, a global online curriculum for schools and universities across the country. The Cisco program prepares students and working professionals to design, build and maintain computer networks.

         I am not an expert in networking computers, but did have prior work experience publishing research on the intersection of business, technology and policy under the direction of Jeffrey Sachs, a highly acclaimed economist, at the Center for International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

         Fortunately with hard work, openness and a willingness to learn about Ugandan culture I was able to build trust among Ugandan colleagues. Living in a foreign country, far away from family and close friends, I learned how to make new friends and appreciate how human bonds tie us together. This is what truly enriches our lives.

          At Concord Academy everyone is valued for their individuality and at the same time their is a respect of common beliefs. Hence, the second lesson I would like to share with you is that while everyone is unique in their own way, we must not forget to celebrate our common values in this increasingly complex world.

         My third lesson is a culmination from my lifelong passion for squash – the sport, not the vegetable (Although after living in New England, I have also grown to like squash soup!). I became acquainted with the sport when my mother would go for her squash lessons.

         Curious to know how this racquet sport was played, I eventually made my way on to a squash court by the age of 12. Living in Saudi Arabia it was also a way to beat the heat and exercise in an air-conditioned room.

         Looking back, squash has opened many doors for me. During my college admissions process Dan Hammond, an All-American squash player at West Point and Head Squash Coach at Bowdoin College, a highly selective liberal arts college in Maine, actively recruited me as a student-athlete. I would not have gained admission based solely on my academics. Squash opened the door.

         Also, my first paycheck in the United States was thanks to squash. During the summer of my freshmen year in college, I worked as a counselor at the Harvard Junior Squash Camp under the direction Bill Doyle, a former Head Squash Coach at Harvard. Squash opened the door.

         During my junior year of college I was invited to attend an alumni function with key donors and was seated, by the organizers, at a table with Robert Edwards, a former President of Bowdoin College and his wife, along with several accomplished alumni.

         Puzzled at first, I came to understand that I was selected to be seated at that particular table, not because of my academic prowess, but because I happened to be co-captain of the varsity squash team under the direction of Satinder Bajwa, a world renowned squash coach who was subsequently the Head Squash Coach at Bowdoin College during my senior year. Looking back, meeting Baj (as he is known in the squash world), was a tremendous, positive life-changing experience.

         Squash has continued to provide many opportunities even after college. For instance I got my first desk job at Harvard, because Geoffrey Kirkman, Managing Director of the Information Technologies Group at the Center for International Development liked the fact that I was a squash player and coach who showed promise beyond academics.

         Again, if it were not for my interest in squash, I would not have been able to coach at various New England colleges, universities and prep schools. Neither would I have had the opportunity to help implement the 2006 Super Series Squash Finals, featuring the world’s top 8 players in London, England.

         Neither would I have received a travel grant to visit a poor village in India to conduct coaching clinics for underprivileged children. I could go on.

         I am very grateful and honored for being involved with Khelshala, a non-governmental organization, that allows me to play a part in helping other students can gain education and career opportunities through sport. Thus the third, lesson I would like to share with you is that don’t underestimate the value of your extra-curricular activities.

         In short, my three lessons for you are: (i) live a purposeful life because you never know when it may end (ii) embrace all the diversity the world has to offer and remain inclusive and (iii) last, but not least, don’t forget to nurture your talents. It sounds simple to say, but, at times, it can be difficult to put into practice.

My name is Tariq Mohammed, which among other things, in Arabic means “he who knocks at the door.”

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