TEACHER AND NURTURER
“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”
Compassion, courage and kindness. Three significant words that don’t even begin to describe the magnanimous force that is Sharifa Ahmed. The soulful 60-year old’s unlimited energy and enthusiasm for helping others is outstanding.
Sharifa’s early years were charred with grief when she lost her beloved mother at just 7 years old. The youngest of four children, Sharifa grew up facing many challenges; having to adapt to governesses and a new step-mum. These encounters chiseled her outlook on life and helped her develop a deep sense of compassion for others. “I think our experiences shape us to be better people,” she explains.
She completed her matric at Laudium Secondary School in Pretoria, and at age 18, marriage titled the next chapter of her life. Sharifa then accompanied and supported her now late husband to Karachi, Pakistan, where he studied Medicine. Living in a foreign country didn’t deter Sharifa. In fact, she used the communication barrier as a catalyst to launch a teaching career. Sharifa taught ‘English as a foreign language’ to the many different linguistic groups living in the city including Pakistanis, Iranians, Vietnamese and Burmese. Sharifa then accepted a post as a Foundation Phase teacher at a Grammar School branch of Cambridge College. After two years of hard work and dedication, she was promoted to Headmistress of the school, an impressive feat for someone without any formal tertiary education. Sharifa then welcomed her new position as a lecturer at the Aga Khan School of Nursing, where she remained until 1989.
Upon returning to South Africa from the world’s fifth most populous country, Sharifa worked at a school for children with special needs. With many years of experience under her expansive wings of knowledge, she now tutors students from Grades 0-8 at her home.
Sharifa feels truly blessed to be a Muslim, and explains that she sought refuge in the Quraan and Hadith when she became a widow. The incredible story and strength of Bibi Hajar (wife of Prophet Ibrahim AS and mother of Prophet Ismail AS) inspired her most. Hajar (RA) and her infant son were abandoned in the desert but through her courage, faith and perseverance, they both survived.
She joined an NPO called The Gardens five years ago, which specialise in social work for local hospitals. They arrange transport services for the underprivileged from Laudium to Kalafong and Steve Biko Hospitals. They feed and distribute fruit, tea and coffee daily to the outpatients who wait for hours on end to be seen by a medic, often without food. They also conduct hospital visits and provide toiletries for patients in need. Sharifa offers her services and time to co-ordinate visits, and also transports volunteers to the hospitals. She also previously worked with an organisation called Angels of Hope.
Charity work became a prominence in her life after her husband passed away. Sharifa prayed to Allah for guidance, hoping that even if she could make one person smile, that it would make a positive difference.
When the hospital welfare project first started, Sharifa realised that not many women in the community were aware of it. She conquered this marketing setback by using BBM (Blackberry Messenger Service) which was a masterful communication tool at the time. There are now 105 women involved.
Among her proudest moments are when children join her for hospital volunteer work during the holidays, as well as the role she played in helping three women revert to Islam within the last four years. Exemplifying all that it means to be modest, Sharifa says she feels so blessed to help the outpatients each week, and that The Gardens gives her much needed joy and a sense of purpose. She is constantly amazed by the humility of the patients when they’re given meals.
Sharifa wholly connects with Proudly Muslims of South Africa stating that it creates awareness that each one of us has a talent and skill to offer and share, solely for the divine pleasure of Allah SWT.
Her advice for others wanting to do charity work: “Whatever you do, reflect upon it. Do it with your heart and you will see magic.”
Her philanthropic goals include more volunteer work and assisting children through her tutoring, which she fervently prays to Allah to help her do.
Her life motto: “And whoever saves a life, it is as though he has saved the lives of all mankind.” (Quran 5:32)
Sharifa wishes to be remembered as someone who tried her best to make a positive difference to anyone she may have come into contact with.
Always wearing her heart on her sleeve, Sharifa Ahmed has taught us that the true spirit of giving is not just through bank deposits, but rather in giving of one’s time, personal effort and abilities. These are the actions which people will recall; the handing over of food and pouring of a cup of tea, a kind smile on a difficult day, and on those days, Sharifa offers the kindest smile of all.