When Hasan Syed first heard about the water crisis facing many First Nations communities, he was shocked that such conditions even existed in Canada.
“I was just so upset,” says the 28-year-old, who hails from Toronto and holds a Bachelor of Nursing degree from Lakehead University. “This is a state of emergency. This is a basic human need and it’s a basic human right. We cannot expect anyone do anything unless they have their basic needs met.”
That was two years ago, when Hasan was still a student and a highly engaged community volunteer in Thunder Bay. Now, with his nursing studies behind him, he’s focusing his passion and energy on helping to find a solution to the water crisis as the founder of Access 2 Clean Water, a non-profit organization whose goals are to raise awareness and funds to bring an end to the crisis (150 drinking water advisories in First Nations communities across the country. Among that number, 71 have been in place for more than a year, notes Ecojustice.)
“I wanted to put myself out there so that people are no longer in the dark about the struggles of First Nations communities,” says Hasan, who is in Calgary for a short stop on a cross-country run for Access 2 Clean Water’s fundraising and awareness campaign. Access 2 Clean Water’s goals are to raise $1 per Canadian (nearly $36 million in total); to partner with organizations that are working on this issue, as well as with affected First Nations communities; and to come up with a creative blueprint for a potential solution.
Born in Pakistan, Hasan came to Canada with his family when he was 10 years old. He decided to do a run, from Vancouver to Ottawa, because he was inspired by Terry Fox, whom he’s looked up to since he was a child. Hasan is covering about 30 kms a day – running 20 kms a day and walking 10 kms – this despite the fact that he’s a self-described non-runner and couldn’t even walk 20 kms before he started his run in April.
He has high hopes for Access 2 Clean Water’s campaign. “Canadians are nice, they are humble, they are peaceful,” he says. “This is about bringing water to all communities. I believe that when Canadians know about this issue, they would step up and do something.”
The Access 2 Clean Water run and campaign is especially significant this year, when Canadians are celebrating the country’s 150th anniversary. Hasan believes this is a time for “each of us to think about what we’re doing and what we can do better for our communities. It’s about how far we are able to advance, and where we can go.” With the First Nations water crisis, “this is a humanitarian issue,” he notes. “This is not a problem for a specific community. We are all brothers and sisters. If one individual is in pain, then we are all in pain.”
For Hasan, the importance of community engagement, standing up for injustice, and helping others was instilled in him at a young age by his family, as well as by his religious community.
“One of the basic teachings of Islam is community service,” he explains. “You are engaged and you are aware of what is happening, and you help as best you can.”
After Hasan finishes his run in Ottawa this fall and wraps up the Access 2 Clean Water campaign, he’ll be back to his regular life. He’ll be writing his nursing exam to become a registered nurse, and then he’ll be looking for work. He’s keen to work in emergency, because he enjoys the fast pace, “and the fact you get to do every type of nursing, which is really cool.”
Hasan is in Calgary until June 7. For more information about Access 2 Clean Water or to donate, visit a2cw.org