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Noor Jaffer: ‘I might leave the world a better place’

Jérôme Mireault/The Globe and Mail

What inspires people to give? And what do they get out of it? We asked readers to tell us about people who make a real difference in their community, then asked experts in the science of altruism how their generosity pays off for more than just those they set out to help.

Providing good dental care to Calgarians is his profession, but Noor Jaffer's true calling takes him far from the city on the Bow.

Dedicated to international assistance, he has cut his office hours in recent years (his son has picked up the slack), so he can devote more time and energy to his primary passion: the Institute for Rural Education and Development, which he founded four years ago with Aly Nanji, now IREAD's chief education officer.

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The non-profit organization is devoted to bringing schools that specialize in early childhood development to remote areas.

"We don't build in major townships," says the 60-year-old philanthropist. "The first five are built and operational up in the mountainous part of northwest Pakistan very close to the Afghanistan border in an area called Chitral." In 2011, IREAD received won a YMCA Peace Award for its work in the region.

"We are about to embark on more schools in that area as well as in Uganda," says Dr. Jaffer, who scouts out new sites, paying travel expenses out of his own pocket.

"I really believe that early childhood development is the way to help lift people out of poverty," he says. "There is a great deal of research that shows, when children are given an extra two or three years [of preschool education], they do so much better in life."

Dr. Jaffer's interest in international development began when he was still in university. He volunteered with the Rotary Club, raising money for projects in South India such as a hospice for the terminally ill and a fleet of more than 80 ambulances, as well as sanitation and clean water systems in Honduras and Guatemala.

Later, as Calgary convener for the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, he helped to organize the annual Partnership Walk to raise money and awareness of international development needs.

"I've always been involved with projects that help people less fortunate than us in other parts of the world," he says. "I get a great sense of satisfaction knowing I might leave the world a better place than I found it."

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Positive outcomes:

Dr. Jaffer's altruism is creating a cycle of hope, and research has shown that hope can help to build the strength required to surmount obstacles. His program is having an impact on some of the world's most vulnerable people, creating hope for them but also strengthening his own character and inspiring others.

– The Canadian Positive Psychology Association

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