Social worker Nagham Azzam shines a light for children and families in the Hamilton community. She works with children and their families at McMaster Children’s Hospital’s Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre (RJCHC), and helped to establish a non-profit agency more than five years ago.
Azzam is a social worker in the Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation program at RJCHC, supporting children with developmental disabilities and their families. Her role includes counselling families through challenges, applying to government funding, and engaging in different forms of advocacy such as education or immigration efforts.
Azzam found that her fluency in Arabic has come handy in her role at RJCHC. “When I crossed the road to RJCHC, there were so many Arabic-speaking families with complex needs,” says Azzam. This has allowed her to support newcomer and refugee families in a language they understand and set them up with the resources they need in Canada.
The social services agency that Nagham has created is called Mishka Social Services. “Mishka” is the Arabic word for a niche in the wall where lamps are placed to provide light to a surrounding area., and the agency seeks to empower people to light up the world around them.
Azzam launched Mishka Social Services to fill a gap in Hamilton social services to meet the need of the Muslim population. After learning of a hundred people driving from Hamilton to a food bank in Mississauga for food that met their religious dietary needs, Azzam started a food bank operation here in Hamilton under Mishka Social Services, called Barakah Box, among other initiatives the agency organizes.
“I’ve always wanted to service the Muslim community because of my own personal experiences but also because there was an immediate need.” says Azzam. The food bank operates out of the Muslim Association of Hamilton mosque on the Hamilton mountain.
A group of volunteers package and distribute food boxes to approximately 400 families each month. The box contains staples like rice, pasta, oil, flour, and vouchers for fresh meat and eggs. Families in need can register online and pick up their box on the first Saturday of the month.
The project is operated as a joint venture with Islamic Relief with partnerships and grants with the City of Hamilton, Hamilton Community Foundation, Muslim Association of Hamilton, Taj Mahal Supermarket, Hamilton Food Share, Canada Bread and Cobs Bread.
Due to COVID-19, the food box program currently functions as a drive-through. Before the pandemic, the monthly food bank was a place where people could gather and enjoy food together. The group also makes deliveries to those who need it.
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