A recipe for success

May 11, 2017 | Blog | Maryam Afshar

What happens when 300 people who love art, culture, music, dance, food and fun gather together? What if they were all Iranian?  TIRGAN happens.

Tirgan is a registered not-for-profit organization that exists to celebrate the history, art, music, dance, culture, and diversity of our Iranian heritage, during a 3-day biennial festival, held in the heart of Toronto, at the Harbourfront Centre.

One of the premiere arts and cultural events in Toronto, if not Canada, and the largest Iranian celebration of its kind in North America, Tirgan festival takes place every other year in the summertime.

Tirgan is entirely volunteer-driven , with about 300+ year-round volunteers that produce the festival in conjunction with a tiny team of full-time staff. During the festival, over 1500 volunteer shifts are required in order to efficiently run the event.

So what makes this work? After all, there is nothing in it for them, right?  Wrong!  Tirgan volunteers are a breed all onto themselves – 300 people from all walks of life, who give their expertise, their energy, their time and their passion wholeheartedly.  I have been involved with Tirgan since the very first event, and I see many of the same faces come back year after year,  each time giving a little more of their time and energy. Each volunteer feels part of the festival, and feels a sense of ownership.  You can sense in in their behaviour, see it in their manner and feel it in their approach.  Every time I work with these folks, I am amazed at the level of expertise and commitment in the room.  Every time voices were raised in meetings, it was because of the level of passion and enthusiasm for the ultimate success of the event….

I see people who have recently arrived in Canada, wanting to feel less homesick. I see kids who were born in Canada and love their Iranian heritage wanting to participate in an Iranian event. I see non-Iranians who have gotten to know the culture and the people through work or family or friendships.  I see parents and grandparents taking that weekend as their time away to do something cultural….. Every year I am blown away at the diversity of the volunteer team, and get overwhelmed with a sense of pride, when, at the end of the event, we all get up on the main stage and feel the satisfaction of an event well-executed and very well-received.

To me, being a volunteer is participating in a group event that feeds on the energy it generates.  Nobody feels tired after being on their feet for 17 hours, and every single volunteer looks forward to day 3.  And when the last guest goes home, and the packing begins, every single member of the Operations Committee is filled with a sense of accomplishment, tinged with a hint of sadness.

And on the Monday, there is a huge anti-climax because Tirgan is gone for another couple of years….

Within a couple of months though, you know there will be an email asking for volunteers for a Tirgan sponsored event….. and so we wait.