#OneEastToronto shares the faces of East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), a group of more than 100 community, primary care, home care, hospital and social services organizations in East Toronto working together with community members to better connect local care and services.
In this special edition of #OneEastToronto, we’re sharing the stories of the people who play an important role in ensuring community health ambassadors have the tools they need to connect local residents with health, social and community services.
Meet Abdul Rashid Athar, Community Health Ambassador Lead at Flemingdon Health Centre.
“I have lived in the Flemingdon Park community for more than two decades. It’s a great place to live, with a diverse community and access to local cultural foods and mosques. I’ve volunteered in Flemingdon Park for over six years and built great relationships with local organizations, such as Flemingdon Health Centre (FHC), TNO – The Neighbourhood Organization and Afghan Women’s Organization (AWO).
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, there was a need to help keep people safe while combating misinformation and confusion. As an active volunteer, I was able to help my neighbours in many ways. When people came together to sew masks, I worked with them to distribute them to seniors and families. I helped translate flyers into languages that are spoken in the neighbourhood, and assisted in the production of videos that featured faith leaders sharing important messages about how to stay safe. I also volunteered to call local seniors on a weekly basis to check in on them, provide emotional support and connect them to relevant services.
When COVID-19 vaccines became readily available, various community agencies, including FHC, started to recruit community health ambassadors to conduct vaccine engagement. Since I was already acquainted with FHC, I became one of their community health ambassadors and, eventually, a community health ambassador lead.
It was not easy to be an ambassador during the pandemic. In the early days, information evolved rapidly, which made outreach challenging. We scheduled regular touchpoints with our ambassador teams to develop strategies for safely and effectively working in the community. Despite the challenges, we successfully shared information with communities, supported hyperlocal vaccine clinics and built strong relationships with building management teams, schools and local businesses.
When I became a community health ambassador lead, I did not want to manage our FHC ambassador team remotely. I believe in leading by example. I was present and a part of the team whenever there was on-the-ground work. I was able to learn firsthand what the issues were and did not have to solely rely on what people were telling me. As part of my role, I implemented weekly team meetings to ensure we had two-way communication so ambassadors were aware of updates and had the opportunity to share feedback. I think organization skills, planning, communication and being a team player are essential skills for community health ambassador leads.
I remember receiving a call from a woman who recently lost her husband and child. She was heartbroken and had discontinued taking her medications. Through speaking with her, I was able to convince her to see her doctor again. I also provided her masks, and connected her to a community agency that distributed grocery gift cards and culturally appropriate mental health supports. She was not interested in getting her COVID-19 vaccine. However, after weeks of discussion and sharing reputable resources with her, she agreed to attend a virtual COVID-19 vaccine information session. When we arranged a pop-up vaccine clinic in her building, she came down from her apartment and got vaccinated! More recently, our teams have been involved in increasing awareness about COVID-19 recovery services including cancer screening, mental health counselling and resource navigation.
Community ambassadors give the community hope, especially for individuals who are vulnerable and experience challenges with accessing services. We supported local residents emotionally during tough times, shared reputable information with them and connected them to necessary resources. The community health ambassador model enabled different community agencies and stakeholders to collaborate with one another, and those relations continue today.”
Get to know Abdul more through a quick Q&A!
- Walking, driving or public transit? Walking – I walk almost every day. When I was younger, I walked every day with my dad. I accompanied him holding onto his finger and running behind him. Now it has become a habit and I like to start my day this way.
- As a child, what did you want to grow up to be? I wanted to be a teacher so I could share knowledge with my community and help raise the next generation through education. I feel teaching is a great service to humanity.
- What’s your most prized possession and why? My family – my parents, siblings, wife and children. These bonds are very important. There’s a well-known Urdu poet, Sahir Ludhianvi, who once said something along the lines of: whatever the world has given me as experiences, I am returning that now. Similarly, I feel that I’m indebted to pay forward the love I received from my elders to the younger generation.
- What’s one thing you’re grateful for? I am grateful for my health. I’m 70 years old now and if I can run on my treadmill and walk for 90 minutes every day without any pain in my knees, I’m happy. Staying healthy is one of the greatest blessings of life.