Munawwar says his three years at UCalgary were transformative on a personal level, granting him the versatility he uses today when he switches capes — from how white lab coat to after-hour superhero cloak, when he leaves his paid job at the hospital.
“I arrived in Calgary as an introvert, and left outspoken and confident,” he laughs, affably. “In Asian culture, we are very shy to speak our thoughts, especially if our opinion is different. Those skills I got in Calgary have helped me in my humanitarian work and in my core work within the medical facility where I am now.”
Using vacation time to co-ordinate IMARET’s medical missions, from Lebanon and Gaza to Indonesia and Bangladesh — or, most recently, to co-ordinate a nationwide COVID-19 relief initiative that distributed $1 million worth of medical items — Munawwar is a passionate advocate who likes to, he says, “look beyond clinic walls. There are so many people in critical need around the world who will never make it to one of our hospitals. Sometimes we need to just go . . . just go and find them.”
People like the shell-shocked little boy he met at one of the refugee community centres in Malaysia. “He seemed different than so many other displaced children, but his story was even more horrific than most,” recalls Munawwar. “This poor boy had seen his father murdered in front of him and was left alone to take care of his sister and mother — and then his mother was raped. Can you imagine?”
As to that deep well of compassion, Munawwar credits his parents who were heavily involved in charities when he was a child.
“The importance of volunteering, doing what you can with the skills you have, was sort of in the air when I was growing up,” he muses. “It still is . . . and, because my skills are in medicine, my team and I tend to look for projects where we can have the biggest impact.”