Seema Shafei is currently a volunteer book club facilitator at Na-Me-Res in Toronto. She was kind enough to answer some questions about her experience as a BCFI volunteer.
What are the highlights of volunteering with BCFI? What is the best part for you?
Books offer a good point of healing for many as it acknowledges the highs and the hardships of the everyday. It was the best whenever I could see someone in our group reflected in the stories we read together. That moment of self-recognition- that moment of 'yes! I know this feeling' within the written word always begins the best discussion. Often we have experiences and feel isolated and silenced by their heaviness, but the books we read often made people realize they weren't alone. The people I worked with often offered their own poetry and mentioned their own desires to write. I hope that many decide to keep working on their writing and keep reading.
How did you get involved with BCFI?
I was looking for ways to get involved with prison justice work online and interviewed for the position. I always read and am desperate for people to talk about books with so this combined those in a harmonious way.
What surprised you most about volunteering?
I was surprised at how we always found topics to talk about, even when people did not read the books. Slowly, I realized the books simply provided a jumping off point for us to discuss broader topics. We found ourselves delving into topics from the harms of toxic masculinity to the meaning of romantic love in relationships to Indigenous resistance. I could go on and on.
What is your favourite book you read with the group?
I loved reading The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. I often stray away from sci-fi books and young adult books even more so, but I was so pleasantly surprised by the book. The characters were compelling and the storyline was one that I definitely did not expect. It ingeniously tackled the ongoing effects of settler colonialism in Canada, what justice means in an environment that is set up against you, and just how vital community is to fighting against oppression.
What you would say to people thinking about volunteering?
I would say that it is easier than you think. The participants in the book club are really the ones doing the work. People will open up and you will hear their pasts and presents. I was just a witness and am forever grateful for people to trust me with little glimpses of their life stories.