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Bradford woman’s volunteerism driven by faith

Bradford resident, volunteer Noora Akhavan takes the time to give back to her community through various organizations and groups

Bradford resident Noora Akhavan says she is ‘driven to volunteer’ by her faith.

Akhavan has resided in Bradford with her husband Mehran and their son for over 25 years. The couple moved to Bradford a few years after getting married and have been living in the same house for the last 22 years. Their son Shoghi graduated from high school this year and will be studying Bio-Medical Engineering at McMaster University this fall.

Akhavan was born in Iran. She left the country at the age of nine to study at an International Baha’i’ boarding school in India until she turned 14. She then went on to complete her high school education in England.

While studying in England as a foreign student, the Iranian Revolution happened, forcing Akhavan and many of her family members back to Iran to flee from persecution.

“All our lives were in danger,” remembers Akhavan, noting Baha’i’s were not granted passports to leave Iran at that time. “My dad… escaped via mountains and smuggler routes to Turkey… he had to leave everything behind. His pension was taken away from him as he was a member of the Baha’i’ faith.”

At age 20, Akhavan immigrated to Canada, arriving within six months of her father, while the rest of her family were forced to disperse to other regions. Currently, she has a brother in the United States and a sister in the United Kingdom, while her mother and step-brother are both in Alberta.

“My mom and step-brother and sister also left Iran with great difficulty,” she shares.

Akhavan enrolled herself at the University of Toronto where she studied history and German before transferring to the University of Western Ontario to study law. As a lawyer, Akhavan used to have a general practice until she had her son. She now practices criminal and family law, working for the province of Ontario.

“I used to do very simple jobs in my summers,” she recalls.  One year she worked as a door person for the then-popular department store, Simpson's. With her earnings she spent one month taking part in social and economic projects, spearheaded by the Baha’i’ community in developing countries.

Akhavan taught children in villages such as Belize, Trinidad, Jamaica, Venezuela, and Guyana and says she ‘loved every minute of it’. It was only natural that she continued to work with children and youth as part of her volunteering over the past 16 years.

She taught children's classes every Sunday for 13 years.  “Teaching them virtues and all world religions, emphasizing that we are all one human family and have one common faith that is from God, no matter the name of the religion," she said.

She also helped facilitating the World Citizens Youth Group for five years, helping youth from all different traditions learn about connecting to God, and servicing the community. 

The World Citizens Youth Group were awarded the ‘Organization of the Year’ by the Town of Bradford in 2020 for their service to the community. It was during this time, Akhavan was able to take a step back as the older youth became supervisors/facilitators.  

Akhavan is also on the Executive board of the Bradford West Gwillimbury (BWG) Diversity Action Group (DAG) and has been a member for the past five years. She strives to bring awareness about diversity and how it can be our ‘strength rather than a point of conflict’.

She has also been serving on the board of the BWG Library for the past two and a half years.

Throughout the pandemic, she started two groups: ‘Women for Hope’ and the ‘BWG Baha’i’ Women’s Group’.

“Women for Hope is a group of women that hope to bring change by being of service,” she explains. “I started by inviting some of my friends from different areas of my life (work, committees, Baha’i community) to get together to help the community." 

The group has done several drives for women's shelters, Youth Haven in Barrie, EFRY shelter in Barrie (Elizabeth FRY Society), and served meals at Inn from the Cold in Newmarket.

"I am hoping to open that group up to act as a general hub for women who want to be of service to take part in any or all projects," she said.

Every Sunday evening, Akhavan hosts a virtual prayer meet with members of the BWG Baha’i Women’s Group where women encourage one another and discuss community matters such as ‘Equality’ and ‘Oneness of Humanity’.

“We also do service projects and have collaborated with the Bradford Women's Group for ‘Fill a Purse’ [campaign], and ‘Women for Hope’ for International Day of Women, [as well] drives for the food bank,” she says. “This group is open to all even though we call it the Bradford Baha'i Women's Group, as that is how it started.”

Every other Friday, she also helps organize and deliver the food for the Bradford Helping Hand Food Bank.

In her spare time, Akhavan enjoys reading, travelling, cooking, baking, gardening, and hosting potlucks and prayer gatherings where “people from all backgrounds can get together and pray for unity and healing and peace in this world.”

“I am driven to volunteer by my faith. I am a Baha'i and I believe that 'deeds not words should be (our) adorning' and that prayer and service need to go hand in hand if we want to truly worship God.”