Rahim Sajan, BSc’01, BEd’03
Alumni Service Award
Rahim Sajan is a work-experience teacher at Discovering Choices High School; co-founder and curator of TEDxCalgary; UCalgary senator; adviser to the Dean’s Talk with the Cumming School of Medicine.
When it comes to critical moments of personal safety, you could say Rahim Sajan has an unusual knack for viewing the world through oddly tinted glasses — or, in this case, goggles.
How the co-founder of TEDxCalgary, who came to Canada from Tanzania as a 15-year-old, remembers it — “it” was the moment he realized he was “home.” Sajan had just graduated with his second degree in education from UCalgary when he decided he would ride a motorcycle to Quebec City where he’d enrolled in a one-month French-immersion course. With a sleeping bag, tent and clothes bungee-strapped to his bike, he wobbled off, leaving his worried parents in Calgary.
“That first night, somewhere near the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, I pulled off the road and took a deep breath,” Sajan recalls, taking another deep breath in his downtown Calgary office as though he was back on the prairies, inhaling wild sage and sunsets. “I realized I didn’t have a place to stay that night but, oddly, I felt perfectly safe. That was the moment I realized I was home and that home was no longer Tanzania, but Canada.
“For the next five nights, I’d just pull off the highway, pitch my tent, sleep like a baby and know that I would never get robbed,” says one of UCalgary’s current senators, who cites the Aga Khan as a personal hero. “That doesn’t happen in other places — and that, really, was the beginning of my journey when I realized I wanted to give back to my new home that had just given me an education that would have been impossible to obtain in Tanzania.”
That journey proved to be not only physical — Sajan rode his Honda GL 5 all the way to Newfoundland that summer — but an inner journey that has paved his teaching career with layers of community service that began with a two-year teaching post on the Little Red Cree Nation and has evolved to coaching university researchers and faculty members into becoming riveting storytellers as part of a program in the Cumming School of Medicine called the Dean’s Talk, as well as mentoring international students.
How most of us know Sajan, however, is for his dynamic role as co-founder of TEDxCalgary, which began in 2009 and has produced more than 100 TEDxTalks that he estimates has reached more than 100,000 people.
One of Sajan’s guiding principles that catalyzed the formation of the Dean’s Talk and TEDxCalgary is the need to serve the community around you.
“I want to help create a civil society where motivated citizens get things done,” he says, confessing that his favourite Ted Talk is “The Danger of a Single Story” by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “I started thinking about that, and wondering how we could convene a space that would allow people to collect and share stories, during those long days on the back of my motorcycle … when I knew I was home.”
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