The idea came to Afeef and Jonathan in the second spring of the pandemic, amidst a conversation about the isolation-induced troubles in their community. The simple dialogue naturally evolved into a problem-solving session, and, inspired by John Krasinski’s efforts to spread positivity through the “Good News” web series, the first seed of TheUpsideProject was planted: a way to uplift their community, to recharge after the past year’s tumult, and to bring students across British Columbia together. It was called the Long Term Care (LTC) Initiative, a means of bringing happiness to residents of assisted-living facilities through uplifting art; but it soon evolved into a widespread effort to impact the almost three million people in Lower Mainland, regardless of age.
Afeef directly attributes the motivation behind The LTC Initiative to a need to improve the morale of his peers and neighbors. “[The pandemic] was really destructive to our mental health because social distancing, quarantine, and all of these [safety regulations] were fairly new ideas and we were not at all prepared to encounter [them],” he says. “We recognized these issues and we thought we should do something about them. We wanted to spread positivity among communities and empower people of all ages to extend their appreciation and love for others.”
Afeef says he didn’t expect such an overwhelming response. “Initially, we hoped to get eleven, twelve volunteers… [But] at the end of the day, after two weeks, we got more than twenty,” he notes, a number which has since grown to forty-two–– and counting.
These volunteers make up the student team at the core of the LTC Initiative. Led by Afeef and Jonathan–– some with theatre, public speaking, and editing backgrounds; and others just hoping to make a difference–– they’ve been hard at work creating cards, poetry, and a recorded performance for LTC home residents. The performance, “Timeless,” is an ode to the biggest household names and events from the past generations, beginning in the 50s, and acts a bridge between the younger and older generations in Lower Mainland in addition to an uplifting show.
Though post-production is near its end for the spectacle, TheUpsideProject’s efforts are just beginning. They recently launched their second initiative, Project Unitatem, to highlight unique aspects of their team’s cultures in an educational children’s book.
“One of the main reasons we decided to start this initiative is because we recognized that there are 7.6 billion people in this world and they are all empowered by their unique cultural roots,” Afeef shares, noting that TheUpsideProject’s own team includes volunteers with backgrounds from countries such as Pakistan, Vietnam, and Russia. “Educating young children about the multitude of cultures around the world, as well as their significance in strengthening and uplifting our communities, [is so important], and that’s exactly what we plan to do in Project Unitatem.”
The book, set to publish this fall, interconnects twelve short stories and cultures through one universal theme: happiness. Using grant money, the team will distribute printed copies to libraries and elementary schools across B.C., and perhaps internationally.
Looking forward, the future of TheUpsideProject is bright. Afeef and Jonathan agree that they will continue the organization’s work even after graduation and the pandemic’s decline, and are actively working with their volunteers to find creative new means of uplifting their community. To them, the impact of their work, no matter its scale, is more important and rewarding than anything else.
“I’m really grateful that we have more than forty volunteers, and I just hope that whatever we do, we will be able to create at least some difference in our community,” says Afeef. To others inspired by TheUpsideProject’s work, he encourages, “We all have the ability to come up with creative ideas that will impact our community. I urge all the people with these amazing ideas to take action. There is always more room to keep on spreading positivity.”