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Big dreams, big heart

A man sits in an empty row of an auditorium. He is wearing a blue, button up shirt and looks at the camera with a smirk.

For many, showing a film at TIFF's Lightbox Theatre is the goal you work toward. For documentary filmmaker and one of Canada's Top 25 Immigrants, Abdullah Kafashe, it was just the beginning.

"I was so inspired," says Abdullah of the reaction to his film, Salluit Run Club, which aired at TIFF during its Canadian Sports Film Festival in 2017. "I didn't expect a film that my wife and I made could have such an impact. It was huge. It made me think, wow, I have to take my knowledge to the next level. I need to go back to school."

Already a graduate of NSCC's Applied Media Communication & Arts, Abdullah says that even during his first days on campus in 2015 he knew he had found his calling. "I didn't know anything when I began. I was afraid. I'm still afraid. But when I picked up a camera, when I picked up paints, I knew this was something special. It pushed me to do more."

Through the medium of film, Abdullah came to realize his potential. "After I saw the huge impact it had, I thought 'maybe I belong here?'" With that, he enrolled in Screen Arts at Ivany Campus.

Giving a voice to those with none

Originally from Kigoma, Tanzania, Abdullah has a long history of altruism, something he learned from his parents.

"My mother's parents and sister were killed during the war between the Hutu and Tutsis," says Abdullah who was raised alongside his orphaned cousins. "We didn't have much – we ate once a day – but we grew up with respect and love. Family was everything."

When his older brother, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty, Abdullah stepped in to send all three of his brother's children to school. When his sister's fiancé died, Abdullah did the same for his niece.

"I worried. When my mother, my father and myself were no more, who would stand for them? I felt that if they were educated, they could stand for themselves."

His selflessness wasn’t limited to family.

Abdullah met his future wife, Maggie, a native of Antigonish and the World's Best Teacher, while volunteering for a Congolese and Bengali refugee camp near his hometown.

After immigrating to Canada, Abdullah and Maggie soon settled in Salluit, Quebec. For seven years, the duo worked to infuse fitness and healthy lifestyles into the lives of the community's 1,450 residents – particularly the youth.

"There is a high rate of addiction and risk of suicide in the area," says Abdullah.

Wanting to help local youth deal with stressors in their lives and build resilience in them, Abdullah and Maggie undertook a number of sport and fitness focused endeavours. One was to work alongside the community to establish a fitness centre in the empty space above the local arena. The fitness centre became the home of the Salluit Run Club.

Abdullah says, "Since I moved to Canada, my dream was to educate myself. This is time for me now." However, even his future film-making plans focus on giving a voice to others. "I want to help people, my community, my country. If I have knowledge, I can do that."