Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A life much too short won't be forgotten

Ex-classmates plant memorial

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Hamid Farooq is sorrow in human form. His wife, mother and three young daughters died in a house fire in January. Months later, he stands in bright sunshine, head bowed, hands in pockets, the shadow of a beard darkening his face.

Farooq visited his eldest daughter's elementary school Thursday morning. His bright-eyed nine-year-old charmed her teachers at Forest Park School, made close friends and left an indelible mark on their hearts. The students and staff are memorializing Fayza by building a garden in her name.

Farooq was there to thank them. A friend wrote his short speech.

"I am very grateful for your kindness and your remembering of my daughter and family in such a wonderful way," he read. "As the flowers will bloom, we will remember Fayza's beautiful smile and her friendly personality."

The children stood quietly and watched him with solemn eyes. They are too young to have lost a friend, too young to understand the grief of a man who lost everything he held dear.

Farooq's shoulders slumped, his eyes downcast. He left shortly after the digging began, walking slowly away in the company of two other men.

The idea for the garden came after Grade 3 students decided it would be a nice way to remember Fayza. They brainstormed with teachers, trying to figure out who could help them with the ambitious project. One rainy March day, they walked with teacher Jane Pogson to the nearby Home Depot and presented letters outlining their request for assistance.

They got good news from G. Rayes, captain of the philanthropic team the company calls Team Depot. He offered $5,000 in supplies and 20 volunteers to help with the grunt work. The volunteers were out in the sun early Thursday morning, cutting sod and laying brick edging. Flats of purple flowers and materials for individual planters waited for eager young hands.

"They're awesome kids," says Pogson. "I was just telling them how proud I was of them."

Students wander over for a hug and Pogson holds them tight, tears in her eyes. Purple was the little girl's favourite colour, she says. The garden will be awash in every shade.

Grade 4 teacher Laya Kneller says the garden will help the school heal.

"To be honest, there has not been a day she has not been in my heart," Kneller said. "We're doing something to remember her in perpetuity."

She describes Fayza as "charismatic."

"You're just drawn to her. She's just this bundle of energy."

Two benches now flank the garden, positioned outside the grades 3 and 4 classroom windows.

A memorial case inside the school holds Fayza's photo. The shelves are decorated with paper hearts and butterflies. A whiteboard bears the messages children wrote the day after she died.

"You were a good kid and it is sad for you to be gone," wrote Brayden.

To hear everyone tell it, Fayza was unforgettable. She'd chat up strangers, hang out in the halls and talk to teachers, spend time laughing with her friends. Ten-year-old Mikayla Tyler was her best friend.

"I knew Fayza wasn't here," the little girl says of the day after her friend died. "I thought she was just sick."

The students saw Laya Kneller crying in the hallway. Word spread Fayza was dead.

"I went down on my knees and started crying," the child says. She keeps a picture of Fayza hanging in her room. Other families have planted purple flowers in their home gardens as a tribute.

The memorial garden won't ease Hamid Farooq's profound suffering but it's a reminder his beautiful daughter hasn't been forgotten.

"I am healing, and I will build my life over again with your help and prayers," read Farooq's words. "I am back to work and taking one day at a time to move forward. Thank you and God bless all of you."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2012 A4

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.


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