If you were to try to describe Farhana Jogiat, a characterization like “somebody who gets stuff done” might do her justice.
Farhana is a settlement worker in Catholic Crosscultural Services’ (CCS) Settlement Education Partnerships of Toronto program by day and an entrepreneur by night (and weekends too). In just a year-and-a-half, she has leveraged her passion for brush calligraphy and nurtured a niche in the GTA with a workshop she developed on the artform and then used the proceeds from staging several of them to help community-building causes both locally and internationally, managing to even make a donation back to CCS.
Brush calligraphy is an offshoot of modern calligraphy, a decorative style of hand lettering. The artform is attractive, artistic and unique. Generally, the tip of the brush is flexible, and is held at a 45-degree angle with heavy pressure applied to the paper on the downward stroke and light pressure applied on every upward stroke to create the desired effect. The practice is popular with businesses in creating menus, window decorations, and in the wedding industry, in particular, for more personalized and creative signage.
“It requires patience, and practice. Hand motion needs to be just right as muscle memory comes into play”, Farhana said.
In 2017, Farhana attended a brush calligraphy workshop by Sylvia Wong from ViaCalligraphy and “fell in love with lettering,” as she put it. “Being a hyperactive person, lettering helps me slow down and be mindful of my present – I find it therapeutic”.
A year later, she decided to stage her own workshops to raise money for causes close to her heart and also as a means of fulfilling her sense of duty around personal responsibility and serving the greater good. And just like that, the Lettering for Charity initiative was born.
“At that time, I had been wondering how could I be of purpose,” she said.
And like any good entrepreneur, she quickly went to work at executing her vision and monetizing her newfound passion, using consumer-friendly marketing strategies that would have made any corporate brand strategist proud. She collaborated with another calligrapher, Jovie Galit, and owner of Pinya Letters, a Toronto- based modern calligraphy business, who also works as a settlement worker. They had met at lunch at a conference where they caught each other doing lettering and quickly formed a friendship. They discussed the possibilities of running workshops and were soon renting out spaces, first in a small Italian café in the Summerhill area in midtown Toronto, and then downtown at REMOTE Art Gallery and Make Lemonade. In each case, the locations were chosen thoughtfully to accommodate a small group of people (a dozen, or so) in experiencing a curated, therapeutic experience.
“People come out to genuinely learn, and to simply enjoy themselves learning something new and artistic.”
Farhana also has a keen eye for aesthetics. At each workshop, she provided refreshments, set up flower arrangements, played calming music to create just the right ambience, and provided attendees resources and worksheets to start their journey into lettering.
And it worked. The events sold out with the rooms at capacity. After expenses were deducted, she had made a profit. In fact, she had made enough money to build two water wells in two rural villages close to Zomba city, in Malawi, which is in central Africa. The region had had been experiencing a drought and there was a need for clean water.
“That was a huge achievement, it took a lot of effort, but I wanted to give back to where I had lived a lot of my life,” she said. Not only did she apply the proceeds from the workshops to the project, but she and her husband made personal donations too, matching the amount of money raised through the workshops.
Next, she focused on driving change locally, hosting four workshops at the Eid Market at Scarborough Town Centre in May 2019, as part of Eid celebrations in support of Project Ramadan, a project she is also involved in. The Muslim Welfare Centre initiative aims to help families in need by providing enough food staples to create healthy meals for at least one month. Volunteers come together to build the food baskets and then distribute them to families across southern Ontario during the Muslim holy month of fasting, including those registered with Muslim Welfare Canada’s food banks located in Scarborough and Mississauga.
The four workshops attracted thirty-five people with the $300 in proceeds used to buy staples to fill over six food baskets. “It was nice to see my manager Zohra (Gillani) and my co-worker, Aqeela Talat, join the workshop to support the cause”.
Later in 2019, the Scarborough Muslim Association invited her to stage her workshop at their annual Pearls to Paradise conference in November in a bid to help attract younger Muslim women to the organization.
This time, she raised $400 through the workshop with proceeds forwarded to the conference’s designated charity, Nisa Homes — a group of transitional homes for immigrant, refugee and muslim women who are homeless (or at risk of becoming homeless), or who have experienced domestic violence or poverty.
This year, Farhana’s vision board is to continue supporting various community causes close to home. She partnered with her friend, Sukaina Walji, a Toronto-based digital artist and painter in delivering a workshop this past February, where Farhana’s profits were donated to CCS, making her not just an employee of the organization, but a donor as well.
“I wanted to give back to something that was close to my heart, a cause that means something to me. I’ve been at CCS for over six years. We help newcomers overcome their barriers and challenges in understanding the Canadian system and I’m honoured and privileged to work for an organization that works with a community that I was once part of many years ago,” she said.
Sometime heroes wear capes, other times, they carry lettering brushes.
Farhana is always on the lookout for new audiences to deliver her workshop to. If you or your organization is interested in having her run one, please reach out to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find her on Instagram @letteringforcharity.
Makanjira Village, Zomba, Malawi