Mediaplanet: What inspired you to become a humanitarian?

Daniel Igali: At a personal level, my desire to become a humanitarian arose from my background as a severely disadvantaged child in my growing up years. I experienced hunger, when I speak of hunger, it is the type where you don't know where and when the next meal comes. I experienced lack — making do with one dress for Christmas for two to three years in a row. I experienced not having school uniforms or school text books and having to suffer that humiliation by teachers and students alike. I did not see a car until I was twelve years old!

Having experienced these deprivations first hand, and having been privileged to come to Canada and be blessed with a university degree and a special wrestling talent, I decided it was the best way to use my notoriety as a well known Olympic champion and celebrity to shine a spotlight on kids that were educationally deprived in order to make a difference in their lives.

MP: Why do you think it’s so important for Canadians to make a contribution back into the community at home and abroad?

DI: In my view, as Canadians we are  extremely blessed.  Being a brothers' keeper is not about being religious, it's about being human. It's necessary to make a contribution back to society to fulfill our duties as privileged people who show compassion for the plight of less privileged people and to the people who need support and assistance at various times due to conditions beyond their control — such as disaster relief. 

“It is necessary to make a contribution back to society to fulfill our duties as privileged people who show compassion for the plight of less privileged people or people who need support/assistance at various times due to conditions beyond their control."

MP: How do you choose which charities to support?

DI: For me it depends on what touches me at the time. Obviously there are issues in the world that need to be addressed on a daily basis, but since we cannot be everything to everyone, in my case, I donate to causes that catch my attention and that I can connect with. Issues of widows undergoing some primitive inhuman experiences that are culture driven, issues of access to schooling and physical activity, issues of famine and hunger are issues I find resonance and that I try to support. 

MP: What are the best ways for Canadians to get involved with humanitarian work?

DI: Canadians can get involved with humanitarian work in diverse ways. They can volunteer their time for causes they believe in or support by donating items and financial resources to such causes. And they can get involved by being spokes people by spreading the word on social media and other forms of communication to involve other reputable Canadians to the plight of people in such unpleasant situations. 

MP: What led you to establish the Igali Foundation?

DI: I started the Daniel Igali foundation to highlight first and formost the degree of deprivation in social infrastructure and living standards that children and people in my immediate environs in my birth place of Eniwari and the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. 

September 21, 2012: Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame Induction for Daniel Igali. Photo: formation.tv

The river was the village sewage, refuse dump and the only source of drinking water. There was no form of electricity. Most importantly for me, there was a thatched hut and mud walls that served as the village school. The roof did not stop the rain and kids had to be evacuated when there was imminent rain. 

I therefore felt there was need to establish a foundation that would shed light on the primitive conditions of kids in my village in the 21st century. 

With the help of Serf Grewal, Kevin Matheny, Michael Bingham and later Ron Girard, we were able to  set up the Daniel Igali foundation to fundraise and address some of the teething challenges faced by kids who did not deserve the conditions under which they lived. 

Thankfully, CUSO, Simon Fraser University — my alma mater — and hundred of Canadians supported the initiative and we were able to raise funds totalling over $500,000 to build a befitting school with modern computer lab, library and playground for kids. With the help of Ryan's well and Ella Warrington and Paul Nemeth, we were also able to provide a clean source of drinking water for the people in the village of Eniwari and its environs in Bayelsa state of Nigeria. 

Though we still experience funding challenges to pay teachers salaries — as most of the kids are too poor to pay school fees — we have been able to give opportunities to hundreds of children who otherwise would have been deprived of basic education. 

Lastly, I must emphasize the role Canada played in changing my mindset to embark on this voyage of humanitarianism. Coming to Canada as a refugee and been given refuge and support to excel at Simon Fraser University in education and sports, helped to widen my horizon and instill this sense of greater responsibility to undertake this life of selfless living.