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Monday, December 28, 2009

Islamic Relief USA partners with 2010 Census

Islamic Relief USA is partnering with the 2010 Census to raise awareness and encourage everybody to make sure they are counted.
Information gathered by the Census is used to determine the amount of funding that your state, your city, and your ethnic community receive from the federal government. The statistics also help set the number of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives, which affects your voice in Washington.
Organizations like Islamic Relief can use Census data to advocate for causes, promote communal wellbeing, help prevent disease, research markets, and much more. In fact, the information the Census collects helps determinte more than $400 billion worth of federal funding to be spent on services like:
  • Hospitals
  • Job training centers
  • Schools
  • Senior centers
  • Bridges, tunnels and other public-works projects
  • Emergency services

Census officials are also reminding you that your privacy is protected by law. The Census is not allowed to share share your information with any other government entity for 72 years.

It only takes ten minutes to fill out the Census, but those ten minutes can affect the future of your community for years to come. Learn more at

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Anwar Says Goodbye to Gaza

Senior U.S. staff member Anwar Khan wrapped up his visit to Gaza earlier this week. He was visiting Islamic Relief projects and met with many beneficiaries who shared their stories and feelings with him.

In his latest diary entry, he described his last day in Gaza and trip back to Islamic Relief Worldwide's headquarters in Birmingham, U.K.. Khan's parting moments with Gaza proved memorable. You will find some of his reflections below.

November 8 - My last day in the office was frantic as last minute preparations were being made. Normally a team of 3-4 members from the U.S. would conduct audits, evaluations, prepare media material, meet staff and beneficiaries. I had to do as much as I could with a limited staff because it is difficult to send humanitarian aid into Gaza.

I was told Ihad to get to the border by noon to make it smoothly across the border. I then had to wait nine hours at the border. It would be another five hours to Cairo by car. As I was waiting at the border, I was asked if I thought we would make it across. I had no doubt. The people of Gaza are the ones under siege. For most of them, being delayed is not the problem; it is entering, or leaving.

This year, the hajj pilgrims have been allowed to go on pilgrimage and that added to the rush.

November 9 - I arrived in Cairo at 2:30 a.m. only to leave for the airport three hours later. The journey from Gaza to the Islamic Relief Worldwide headquarters in Birmingham, U.K. would take nearly 30 hours and I still have meetings in the U.K. before I will return home to Dallas, TX.

This was an emotionally draining trip but it inspired me. It was difficult to hold back the tears when hearing of the human tragedy. But it was inspiring to see their resolve in face of adversity. Fathers buried their sons and then went straight back to helping others who were still alive; widows had to look after one son with multiple sclerosis, another with cancer and choose between medicine and food.

I remember a surreal moment when I was invited for a late lunch in a hotel restaurant by a local philanthropist. We were on the tenth floor overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at sunset.

This would have been a very romantic location, had it not been for the gunfire from the Israeli navy firing warning shots near Palestinian fishermen to keep them within 3 km of land.

As with the other occasions I heard gunfire on this trip. Nobody flinched. This is part of the Gaza routine.

Sign up for an Islamic Relief USA account to receive our latest updates and our monthly e-newsletter.

Read the rest of Anwar's Gaza entries here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anwar Meets Gaza Families

Senior U.S. staff member Anwar Khan is in Gaza visiting Islamic Relief projects and beneficiaries. This past weekend, he met orphans Islamic Relief donors are sponsoring, and visited schools and hospitals Islamic Relief is supporting. He recounted and reflected on the experience in his latest diary entries, from which you will find some excerpts below.

November 6 - Today, we visited some of the most devastated areas from the war earlier this year. These areas are mostly in the north and east of Gaza. We visited olive orchards that were uprooted and cement factories that were destroyed. One of the olive orchards has been re planted, but it will take many years for them to grow back. The cement factory cannot be renovated until construction materials are allowed into Gaza and even then it cannot operate without raw materials.

There were children going inside destroyed buildings to scavenge for anything useful. We visited destroyed schools and damaged playgrounds.

We prayed Jum'aa (Friday prayers) in one of the largest mosques in northern Gaza. It was paid for by a ruler from the Gulf. It looked beautiful from afar, but when I entered the mosques I saw broken windows and broken fixtures. The locals are finding it difficult to find the raw materials to maintain this building.

We visited more orphans today, Suzanne, Iman and Amina. Suzanne is a gifted girl who lives in a refugee camp, but got a scholarship to go to a private school. Her favorite subject is English and she wants to be a teacher when she gets older.

When I asked her what her dreams were she replied "For peace to Gaza. For the ability to travel locally and internationally without problems." This from an eleven-year-old orphan.

Iman and Amina are seven-year-old twins. Their father died one year and three days after their birth. A few months later their younger brother was born. Their mother is remarried and they have to live with their maternal grandparents in a refugee camp. What shocked me the most was young Iman's favorite subject: human rights.

November 7 - We revisited Al Shifa and Nasser pediatric hospital. Al Shifa is overcrowded and desperately needs a new building. The new building is half done, the construction ceased three years ago when the sanctions were tightened.

We visited three-year-old Fayek who is in the Intensive Care Unit after he fell nearly forty feet. We were told he is stable, but not out of harms way. His spleen, lungs, liver and brain are partially damaged.

Nasser pediatric hospital is another old building, but the emergency unit has been renovated by Islamic Relief Palestine.

We also did some more food distribution today. One beneficiary, an elderly disabled man, was too weak to take the food package home. I helped him place the package on the back of his bicycle and he used the bicycle as a trolley to take the parcel home.

After nightfall, I visited the main shopping area which is on Omar Mukhtar Street. Most of the items were from China. The fake shirts were cheap quality, but the same price as the originals in the US. Before the siege there were very limited items to buy, now the shops are full with cheap quality items that were smuggled through the underground tunnels.
To read the rest of Anwar's Gaza entries please visit the Islamic Relief USA blog.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gaza Convoy Presses On

Islamic Relief USA staff member Anwar Khan is in Gaza with an international delegation visiting some of our projects and beneficiaries. He shared tearful reflections with USA staff via teleconference, and is sharing his stories with supporters below.

November 3- Yesterday was physically and emotionally trying, but the human spirit in adversity was inspiring. We visited Al Shifa clinic in the South. The medical director was thanking us for coming to Gaza and he felt they were not alone. He thanked all the Arab, Muslim and friends of other faiths who had come during and after the crisis for their help.

He explained how the hospital was overflowing with patients in the first half hour of the bombing. Patients were placed on the floor, bleeding and waiting for help. Staff risked their lives to come to work. Some lost their families and took of the funeral and came straight to work. At this point he was interrupted by a local who mentioned that the doctors own 21-year-old son was killed in the bombardment. The doctor buried his son and continued treating patients in the hospital the same day. At this point, the doctor had a tear in his eye, but then showed us a photo of his son on his mobile phone. He smiled and then continued with the needs of the children in Gaza.

We then visited the blood donor ward, the fluoroscopy lab and the Intensive Coronary Care Unit. We visited many sick children and were told that because of the closed border this hospital was for many children their only hope.

The next visit was to a water pump. Islamic Relief Palestine had to drill with the local partner 90 meters to get water and treat the water with chlorine, before it was safe to drink. 90% of Gazans do not have access to drinking water from their faucets and 30% do not even have access to regular water, even if it is not drinking water.

Next was a children's center where Islamic Relief is providing fortified milk shakes and cookies, which are an essential source of calcium and vitamins to the children.

Our final visit was to a University where we provided science equipment. The campus had been damaged in the bombardment, this equipment was away being repaired at the time of the bombardment, so was not destroyed. Now it is relocated in a different building.

Our delegation was amazed at the can-do attitude and lack of complaining in the face of insurmountable odds. We don't need to pity them, but respect them for trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

November 4- The international delegation left today after we visited the Islamic Relief warehouses. We inspected the emergency items we have ready for the next emergency. We know it is a matter of when, not if the emergency will come. On this trip, we have seen some neighborhoods in the north that have been destroyed. It was as if a tsunami had washed everything away. In other neighborhoods, some buildings were destroyed and some neighborhoods were relatively unscathed.

The international delegation was delayed at the border on their return. That is not a good sign for me, but they made it back safely.

I had a meeting with some of our staff today and was told stories of how some had to bury their loved ones and then went immediately to work. I wish they could come to the U.S. to tell their stories of delivering humanitarian aid during the conflict, but they, like most of the Gaza population, are not able to leave.

November 5- Today, we visited some of the poorest families we are sponsoring in Gaza. We give them food rations for three months, but they consume them in two months. The food rations are for 7 in a family. There were between 11 and 15 family members in the families we visited today.
In one family, there were three generations living in one house. One of the daughters, 27, became a widow at the age of 19and now has moved back home with her seven-year-old twins. Her eleven-year-old brother has a hole in his heart and none of the adults are able to get jobs.

Ahmed and Younis are both orphan brothers that Islamic Relief is sponsoring. They are disabled and their mother has to look after them and their older brother who is suffering from cancer. Their sponsorship payment goes mostly to pay for their medical visits and medicine. Their building was damaged earlier this year during the bombardment. They are just surviving and cannot repair the one room they all live in.

You can help. Donate today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

IR Convoy in Gaza

Islamic Relief USA staff member, Anwar Khan, is part of an international delegation visiting Gaza and some of Islamic Relief's projects there. He arrived on November 1, and will be sending his reflections from the field. Below you will find an excerpt from his writings so far.

November 1- We left Cairo at 4 a.m. to escape the desert heat and arrived at the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian/Palestinian border just before 10 a.m.. We were expecting to pass the border in an hour. It took seven hours. We were very lucky - for some it takes days, if they cross at all. As I put my foot on the Palestinian side I felt I was in a special place. After eleven years I had stepped back into the holy land. Christian, Muslims and Jews all believe this land is special.

The sixteen hour journey had come after years of trying. Since the crisis happened earlier this year I have been longing to come and see the situation for myself and I wanted to see the people of Gaza, whom we saw suffering on television news every night in January. I had so many questions, including; how they were and what kind of people were they who stayed during and after the bombardment?

As we traveled from the border to our residence we saw some destruction, but not on the scale I had seen in the media. That was to come tomorrow.

November 2- Today, we visited one of the psychosocial centers Islamic Relief is running in Gaza, to help children affected by trauma. One of the children there, Mahmood, lost his mother and is still suffering from severe trauma. Through play, animation, role playing and other forms of therapy, therapists are slowly seeing improvement in his condition. After his session, we had to drop him off at a camp he is staying in since his home was destroyed earlier this year.

We then visited a clinic which had been converted to a hospital due to the conflict earlier this year. It is in northern Gaza, which took the brunt of the destruction. The hospital was waiting for funds for radiology equipment. They are not able to function properly without working equipment.

Next stop was a visit to the agricultural wells that help the local farmers. Islamic Relief Palestine had rebuilt five wells this year.

At the only artificial limbs center in Gaza, which Islamic Relief operates, we saw a patient who had lost his leg in the conflict and was now learning to walk on a prosthetic limb. Because it is the only center of its kind in Gaza, it was flooded with requests this year. In the past, some of the patients may have gone overseas for treatment, now they have no choice. They are not able to leave. The staff is working tirelessly with smiles on their faces and can see the positive side to any tragedy.

Islamic Relief's center for the hearing impaired was next and we visited kindergarten children who were learning through play. I and my colleague do not know Arabic and these children cannot speak English, but as my colleague was rolling on the floor with the children I saw them speaking through the language of laughter and smiles. I realized then that I was not watching Palestinian, or Gazan children, I was watching beautiful children playing and laughing. No labels. I thought of my own daughter in kindergarten in Dallas, Texas. Maybe one day these children will be able to go home and drink clean water from the faucet, maybe one day their parents can afford to feed them regularly, at least now we can help them with hearing aids. One act of compassion is not enough, but every act of compassion makes a difference. To these children it may make a world of a difference.

There was then a visit to another hospital where Islamic Relief had provided medical equipment. Before the improvements, the paint was peeling and you could smell the mold. The emergency department looked new and the equipment was new and was saving lives.

We then went upstairs to the neonatal unit to see tiny babies in incubators that were not working properly. The hospital was not able to get all the spare parts and was making do with what they could. The neonatal ward had mold and the paint was peeling. The building was forty years old and it is extremely difficult to pay salaries and get equipment, let alone maintain the whole building. No matter what we do, there are always more needs. As I looked at the sick patients, I felt some relief in that at least we've made a difference with these children. We need to help one child at a time.

We then visited another pediatric hospital and a school that had been devastated. This day had broken my heart several times after witnessing so much pain and destruction. In the evening I met a local man who explained how he was recycling some of the olive trees that were destroyed earlier this year. Instead of burning them he was constructing jewelry cases and tissue boxes. Broken glass was being recycled into plates. Nothing was to be wasted and the item would come back in a different form. This is also true for Gaza. It is so different from eleven years ago and the courage of the people in adversity is amazing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

From the Field: IR USA Staff in China

A team of Islamic Relief USA staff members are in China visiting Islamic Relief's field office. They are also visiting new and old projects in China to conduct assessments and audits. One of the team members reflects on the team's experience in Wang Bao Shan Village (Sichuan Province) below.

My team and I are on the road again in the same old fashion style: bright and early. I have not seen 7 a.m. so often since high school. Believe me, I have not missed it! We crossed four provinces yesterday, and the scenery is mixed- some polluted skies, some romantic sunsets, amazing mountain ranges rising right up out of open plains, foliage, cows, cars, the Yellow River, dry endless dunes and mountains, the starving, the weak and the Audi parked out front.

Today we traveled nine long hours to continue our journey for passion, truth and the fight against poverty. In the heart of China, Islamic Relief plans to demolish and reconstruct a school.

Atop a mountain, at heights so crushing they remind us of our own mortality, we find, tucked away, a school for about 70 students. The children greet us with a song and dance, and the parents (or grandparents) full of smiles and excitement, welcome us like a teary-eyed mother welcoming home her son who has been away for years.

The school is intact, but old and in need of replacement. Simply getting materials and labor to the schools location will be a feat. The large courtyard is surrounded on three sides by old buildings. There is a ping-pong table made of solid concrete.

The three teachers tell us stories and share exciting dreams of the building to come. It was rewarding to see the people we will be helping.

As we start the 45-minute drive down the mountain side, the host mentions one last stop. Natural gas burners have been installed to benefit the local mountainfolk. Now, residents no longer need to spend hours cutting wood. Some are too old to even perform the task.

We, an entourage of twenty people, practically ambush a 67-year-old tenant, in an attempt to gather some more field evidence. At first she is all smiles and warmth, a pillar of strength in a struggling world. She is adorable and immediately I think of my own grandmother. Moments pass, and laughter ensues. A few kind words and her smiles of gratitude turn to tears of joy.

Her emotional response is too much even for me to snap another photograph. I put the camera down, in a moment of shame, and hold back tears as she cries tears of gratitude, to a handful of messengers.

This is why we Islamic Relief exists. Those tears make everyday worth it. These beneficiaries confirmed the deliverance of the amana (trust) entrusted to us by the donors, they justify the overtime and weekends away from the family and they soften our hearts in a way we often refuse to allow.

She thanks us, and we thank her.

We have given her little, but in her eyes, we gave her the world. And she in return has given us more than she will ever know: those tears are the reminder of our responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves, they are the vehicle by which our hardened hearts are softened, they are the evidence of progress and they are the culmination of countless hours of the men and women, of all races and creeds, working side-by-side to fight for those who are forgotten.

Drip, drip…drip. Those tears are the fuel which inspire men to action.

To support Islamic Relief's work in China, click here to donate now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Earthquake Victims Still Homeless

Heavy rains have raised concerns for homeless families in Indonesia that have not yet received emergency shelter.

Villages are also facing a growing risk of landslides, which is making it harder for families to go home.

Thousands of people are still in desperate need for aid and healthcare. Emergency relief efforts are underway, but some sectors are critically underfunded.

Shelter remains the biggest unmet need.

Help give a homeless earthquake victim food and a place to sleep- donate to Islamic Relief's "Pacific Earthquake Emergency" Fund today.

To read more about Islamic Relief's efforts since the launch of the emergency campaign in the Pacific Rim region, click here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fighting Poverty With Faith: A Collaborative Movement

This week Islamic Relief USA is partnering with 33 national faith-based groups in the 2009 Fighting Poverty with Faith: Good Jobs, Green Jobs initiative. We are working to amplify our collective voice to let Congress know that the term “working poor” is no longer acceptable, and that as we shape our new clean economy, policies must be in place to ensure that anyone who works full-time has the means to sustain his/her family.

On October 21, as part of the Fighting Poverty with Faith: Good Jobs, Green Jobs initiative we are asking you- our supporters across the country- to participate in a national call-in day to Capitol Hill.

Call your Senators and Representative and ask them to help low-income Americans during the “Great Recession” by advancing programs that invest in Good Jobs and Green Jobs.

Congressional offices can be reached through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Thank your Senator for including the Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project and funding for the Green Jobs Act in the draft version of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act and ask them to allocate allowance values for the Green Jobs Act for well beyond 2013.

Ask your Member of Congress to invest in workforce training to ensure that all workers benefit as the economy recovers.

Ask your Member of Congress to support legislation to improve access to education and training opportunities through community colleges and technical schools.

Ask your Member of Congress to cosponsor the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269), and ask President Obama to sign an executive order enacting the structure for Gulf Coast Civic Works (he will be in New Orleans during our week of action).

Islamic Relief USA is dedicating to alleviating poverty, and in that in spirit we encourage you to please take part in this campaign.

To read a press release sent to the media the day of the initiative, click here.

To learn more about Islamic Relief USA, visit

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Recurring Nightmare: The Africa Food Crisis

Saleh Saeed, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, returned from Kenya where he was visiting our humanitarian projects in the drought-stricken region of Mandera. Persistent drought and the rising cost of food have left the people of Mandera struggling to feed themselves, causing rates of malnutrition to soar to around 35 percent. In this diary entry written in the field, Saleh reflects on the resilience of local communities in the face of food shortages and other calamities caused by climate change.

I have just returned to Islamic Relief’s office in Mandera and sitting here reflecting on the last few days, my emotions keep swinging between hope and despair.

Lying at the northern edge of Kenya, bordered by Ethiopia and Somalia, Mandera is a dry region of red sand and scrubby trees. It is also at the very heart of the drought that has left a staggering 20 million people across East Africa in need of food and makes visible the very real effects of climate change.

Spiral of Despair
According to the Kenyan government, eight million people across the country need emergency food aid, most of them in arid regions like Mandera which has been hit hard by poor rainfall and rising food prices. You may think that you have heard this story before and you would be right. Last year, Mandera also suffered from shortages of water and food, but when the rains failed yet again it plunged the local
community further into a spiral of food shortages and rising malnutrition. That cycle is becoming increasingly difficult for them to escape.

As I drove through Mandera, I saw people moving with their emaciated goats in search of fodder, while the landscape around them was scattered with carcasses.

Worst drought for years
Mohammed Ali, Mandera’s water engineer, told me that this was the worst drought he had ever experienced in 20 years of working for the Mandera Water Office.

He said, “The lack of rain means the water pans are dry and that there is no pasture for people’s precious livestock. “In this region animals are people’s means of survival providing them with food and income, so when the livestock die so do people,” Mohammed said.

People are now sharing their own small amounts of food with their goats in a desperate attempt to keep them alive.”

Oasis of hope
Despite all odds, out of the harsh and dry landscape I did come across an oasis of life and hope. En route from Mandera to Rhamu I saw lush farmland where people were growing tomatoes, maize, onions and even pasture for their livestock. This once parched land had been made green and fertile by a co-operative of agro-pastoralists with the help of Islamic Relief, and was now providing them with food and income.

Mohammed Diriye, a farmer from Yabicho village is one of the first 700 people to benefit from seeds, tools and training provided by Islamic Relief as part of its irrigation projects. Pointing at the bright green pump supplied by Islamic Relief he said, “This is the reason that my quality of life has improved so much.”

He told me, “We had lost our animals to the drought and did not have any money to buy food. We were relying on distributions of food but this was not reliable and many children had become severely malnourished.”

“But now I am able to grow enough maize to feed my family and my animals and am no longer dependent on aid. I am growing enough fodder to keep my animals alive and well, and also have enough left over to sell at market, along with the various vegetables that I am now able to grow,” Mohammed explained.

Turning the tide
I came away from this community full of optimism in their strength and resolve to turn the tide of despair into hope. By helping pastoralists with irrigation projects they are now able to grow their own food, to save the lives of their livestock and make money from their crops while supplying the markets with wonderful fresh produce.

Farmers like Mohammed were also determined that the good work would not stop here. He explained that after seeing what could be achieved with a little help, he now wanted to assist other families by extending the irrigation system further into the desert. “All we need is a little help to extend these irrigation canals,” he said.

Brink of survival
I found Mohammed’s enthusiasm and desire to help others the way he had been helped heartening. But I also knew that the task before local communities like Mohammed’s and before NGOs like Islamic Relief is vast. Climate change in areas like Mandera is a reality and has been for some time. The people here will tell you that drought used to visit them every decade or so, now it comes almost every year.

The situation in Mandera is now so desperate that pastoralists are moving across the border into Ethiopia, and most surprisingly into war-torn Somalia in a last ditch attempt to save their animals. But ultimately this is not a problem they can escape from. Across the whole of East Africa drought, food shortages and conflict have conspired to push people to the brink of survival.

This is my first visit to Islamic Relief projects since I became CEO and has driven home the fact that as an organisation we have huge responsibilities and face huge hallenges. It is our role not only to support individuals like Mohammed but to tackle the root causes of their poverty before it really is too late.

Support our efforts to provide food for those who don't have it and donate to the Africa Food Crisis fund today.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Indonesia Quake Survivors Still in Need

With over 186 NGOs and 10 UN agencies operating in Padang, Islamic Relief’s emergency response teams have found that many families are still not receiving the vital aid they need.

The earthquakes that struck Padang nearly two weeks ago have left 807 people dead, over 2,200 injured and another 241 missing, according the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

After conducting needs assessments in Padang Pariaman, Islamic Relief workers claim survivors are still in need of vital aid such as staple food items, proper temporary shelter, rehabilitation of water supplies, and temporary schools and school supplies for children.

Click here to read about the services Islamic Relief teams are providing.

IR USA providing supplies to students at underserved school

Tomorrow, Islamic Relief USA staff members will be visiting an underserved elementary school in New Jersey, distributing much-needed school supplies to the students.

The event is called 'Be Cool for School' and Kyra Aycart, the school's principal, called the gesture "a wonderful surprise."

"I was very surprised to be able to get a gift like that, and very grateful," Aycart said. She added that supplies often "run out" because of high demand and not enough funding. The school has more than 1,300 students.

"We're going to be needing it very very much," she said.

Yousef Abdallah, Islamic Relief USA's operations manager in the northeast region, said he supported the effort because it "gives back to the community."

"The back to school season can be a very stressful time for parents," Abdallah said. "Many families can't afford to buy new supplies for their children, and this prevents them from receiving a proper education. The 'Be Cool for School' effort will hopefully give them a chance to learn."

Each student will be eligible to receive a notebook, a folder and a pencil. Islamic Relief USA staff members will be available to answer students' questions and present Islamic Relief's work.

Dr. Alex D. Blanco, Passaic's mayor, said he was very grateful and will also be in attendance.
"The students can use all the support they can get," Blanco said. "It is vital as we raise and develop the leaders of the city of Passaic."

'Be Cool for School' is a volunteer driven effort that hopes to help families by donating school supplies to needy students. Islamic Relief USA's New Jersey office in Totowa is currently collecting supplies to be distributed to more students.

This is not the first time Islamic Relief USA reaches out to underserved communities in New Jersey.

Every year, Islamic Relief USA provides aid and vital services to homeless and needy people across the nation in the 'Day of Dignity' effort.

A 'Day of Dignity' event was held in three New Jersey cities last month: Newark, Elizabeth and Irvington.

To read more about the 'Day of Dignity,' visit

Monday, October 12, 2009

From the Disaster Zone

Razaul Karim is an aid worker with Islamic Relief who travelled to Sumatra to assist with relief efforts. In this diary entry, he writes about his first impressions of the disaster zone and the massive challenges faced by both the local community and aid workers in the region.

Even before we joined the Islamic Relief emergency response team in Padang, the affects of the earthquake could be felt all around us. As we stepped off the plane in Jakarta on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, I could sense that all around me local people were sharing in the grief of those who had lost loved ones in the disaster.

On the way to Padang the news came through that the search and rescue mission was coming to an end. The focus now for the humanitarian community would be on providing aid and recovering the bodies from underneath the rubble. This news had an impact on everyone, whether they were from Padang or not and made me recall one of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, that the Muslim community is like a body, and if one part of it is injured then the whole body suffers.

Driving into Padang the scale of devastation was overwhelming. Schools had been destroyed, roofs had fallen in and office blocks had collapsed like a pack of cards. There were mounds of rubble and sheets of metal where peoples’ homes once stood, with just tarpaulin sheets or tents in their place.

At the side of the roads, children stood holding out cardboard boxes asking for food and money, while elsewhere people stood around, still unable to take in the enormity of what had happened.

In some areas the devastation has been sporadic. While five houses may have remained standing, their neighbor’s may have come crashing down. However, in the more remote villages the scenes are apocalyptic, with many villages completely wiped out.

In one of the villages we visited, I met a woman who was pregnant and whose house had been completely destroyed. She was desperately searching for bits of cardboard and plastic sheeting with which to make shelter for her and her five young children. Thankfully, we were able to give her a tent that will offer her and her family some protection from the relentless rain.

All the people I spoke to told me how terrified they were and how they desperately needed help. As always it is the children who are the most vulnerable in these situations as their whole world is torn from beneath their feet. Young children spoke of being brave but how they were scared of living in a tent. They are clinging to what is normal and familiar and want to go back to school and play with their friends.

Donate today to help victims of the earthquake!

Islamic Relief's response
To help children overcome the trauma of the disaster and its aftermath, Islamic Relief has decided to set up a trauma center, where children will be cared for and be able to play and learn in a safe environment.

Islamic Relief has worked in the affected region before, having previously installed water sources in villages in Padang Pariaman District. Although the damage to these water systems has been minimal there is currently no electricity to run them. In the next day or so Islamic Relief aid workers will set up generators to ensure that people continue to have access to clean water, which is essential if the spread of disease is to be controlled.

In the last village we visited to today, I came to learn about an elderly man who had been surviving on nothing more than water for the past four days. He had been trapped but no aid had been able to reach that far. Many villages have been cut off by landslides and in these areas the scale of destruction is presenting a massive challenge for aid workers. While we ensured that he was provided with emergency food, I wondered how many other people like him were still stranded, waiting desperately for someone to come and help them.

Click here to read more about Islamic Relief's efforts for victims of the recent earthquakes and disasters in the Pacific Rim region.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Aid Shipment Deployed to Samoa

Islamic Relief USA launched an appeal to aid victims, after multiple earthquakes rocked the Pacific Rim.

Tens of thousands of people have been left in desperate need in areas of Samoa and Indonesia. Islamic Relief has already deployed an aid shipment in collaboration with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is conducting needs assessments in the field.

The shipment includes about $600,000 worth of emergency-aid items such as hygiene kits, food supplies, wheel chairs and other essentials to aid victims of the disaster.

Donate to Islamic Relief’s Natural Disasters Fund today!

Visit the Pacific Earthquake Emergency page for more info.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Pacific Earthquake Emergency" launched for victims in Samoa, Indonesia

Islamic Relief teams have already been deployed and will be assessing the needs of victims after multiple earthquakes rocked the Pacific Rim region over the past few days.

On September 29, an 8.3 magnitude quake struck Samoa, generating waves as high as 15ft in some areas and leaving at least 149 people dead and tens of thousands in need.

The Samoan Prime Minister told the BBC “the devastation caused was complete.”

The very next day, at least another 2,000 people were badly injured and another 528 killed after a pair of earthquakes, the first a 7.6 magnitude and the second a 6.2 magnitude, struck off the coast of Padang in Indonesia, according to Indonesian national news figures.

Some news stations are reporting casualties as high as 1,000 people.

There are reports of widespread destruction to buildings, roads and bridges; several subsequent landslides; and fires have been reported around Padang city, including one which caused severe damage to the local market.

Many victims are in desperate need of medical attention and humanitarian aid.

You can make a difference! Donate today to support Islamic Relief's efforts.

Islamic Relief's Response
Islamic Relief USA has launched an emergency fundraising appeal in response and is teaming with local organizations to maximize the reach of concerned American communities.

Dubbing the appeal the "Pacific Earthquake Emergency," Islamic Relief USA will be aiding victims in both Samoa and Indonesia.

Concerned Americans are urged to donate to Islamic Relief USA's "Natural Disasters Fund," by visiting Islamic Relief USA's website ( or calling (888) 479 - 4968.

In Samoa, Islamic Relief is teaming with partner organizations in the field to distribute aid in an efficient and effective manner.

With many development projects and more than 80 staff members already in Indonesia, Islamic Relief plans to support 2,000 households in the next few days and has already deployed an emergency team by road that is scheduled to arrive in one of the most affected regions, Padang, tomorrow.

Islamic Relief is also in constant contact with United Nations agencies, and members of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene cluster. Islamic Relief is currently preparing to provide the following aid from the stocks available:

-150 tents
-One water purifier machine to produce 5,000 liters per hour
-Two generators
-7 vehicles; 30 motorcycles

You can help support a dispalced familywith food or shelter. Please donate today.

Islamic Relief in the Pacific Rim
This is not the first time Islamic Relief responds to an emergency in Indonesia.

In 2006, Islamic Relief responded again to the Java earthquake, distributing necessary food items to 17 sub-districts in just four hours after the quake hit.

Islamic Relief began working in Indonesia in 2000 and registered its field office there in 2003 to implement development projects. In 2004, Islamic Relief spearheaded a large-scale emergency response to the devastating tsunami, distributing food, tents and hygiene supplies to hundreds of survivors.

In 2008 and 2009, Islamic Relief Indonesia implemented a water and sanitation project in Padang District drilling 22 wells and training local community members in water supply systems.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Diverse crowd of leaders and activists attend 2nd annual IR USA iftar in Washington, D.C

Islamic Relief USA recently organized its second annual community iftar in the greater Washington, D.C. area on August 26, attracting a wide array of attendees. In addition to the many distinguished guests who attended the event, Islamic Relief USA also sent representatives to many other iftars such as those hosted on Capitol Hill, at the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of State, the British Embassy, among others.

Islamic Relief USA's principal office, which is located in Alexandria, VA, held its 2nd Annual iftar at The Afghan Restaurant in Virginia. The evening began with introductions and networking with Islamic Relief USA's staff , partner organizations, local imams and leaders of Islamic organizations.

Among the guests in attendance were Max Finberg , Director of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives of USDA; Dalia Mogahed, Advisor to President Obama's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Council; Jannah Scott from the Department of Homeland Security; Sam Worthington, President of InterAction; Manal Omar from the US Institute for Peace; Muhammad Mudassir Tipu, Counselor of The Embassy of Pakistan; Henry Cole, Co-Founder of MedPharm; Imam Magid (Mohamed Hagmagid Ali), Vice President of ISNA; and a few members of the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association (CMSA). Organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, Muslim American Society, and the Muslim Public Affairs Councils were also represented.

Ambassador Tony Hall, Director of the Alliance to End Hunger and Former U.S. Senator (Ret.), was the keynote speaker and he addressed the theme of the evening, 'A Caring World', in his heartfelt tribute. He spoke of his experience working with Muslims for the humanitarian cause and recalled his 22-day fast to call attention to those suffering from hunger domestically and internationally. Ambassador Hall emphasized the fact that poverty and hunger are detrimental to children and are leading to thousands of deaths around the world. He encouraged the attendees to work together to campaign for hungry and malnourished people.

Many of those who attended displayed an outpour of support for Islamic Relief USA since the event, and have had great praise for the advocacy work that the organization has been spearheading.

The Public Affairs function of Islamic Relief USA was established in January 2007 to create a circle of allies – with like-minded NGOs, diverse faith-based organizations, embassies, and most importantly with the US government. The opportunities that have been the fruit of these efforts have given IR USA increased visibility in the public sphere.

The Ramadan Action Guide: Advocacy Resource on Hunger and Poverty, co-published by Islamic Relief USA, The Alliance to End Hunger, and ONE was featured at the iftar. If you would like to receive a copy in the mail, please email

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ramadan in Chechnya (Russian Fed.)

Selima Salamova is an aid worker with Islamic Relief in Chechnya (Russian Federation). In a recent diary entry, she reflected on the huge impact that Ramadan food parcels – or “boxes from the sky” - can have on those who have so little.

The names Ramzan and Marha are very popular in Chechnya, the first for a boy, the second for a girl. Both mean ‘Ramadan.’ People say that if a child is born during the month of Ramadan then these are the best names to give them. Both my children were born during this holy month and half of the newborns in the hospital were given these names.

Ramzan Mutalipova was one of the volunteers helping out with our Ramadan food distribution in Grozny. He had volunteered to drive the mini-van to pick up the food boxes from the warehouse and take them to the distribution point. But he was also here to pick up a Ramadan food box for his fifteen-year-old sister, Marha.

Marha was just two-years-old when the family’s house in Vedeno village was destroyed in a rocket attack. Her mother was killed instantly and Marha was later found clinging to her lifeless body.

The young girl lost both her legs in this tragic incident. She was one of the young people who have been given a food parcel this year. Many of those who received Islamic Relief’s support are disabled. Like Marha, they have lost limbs during the war or as a result of landmines. The food parcel was a small gift but it was wonderful to see Marha’s face light up as she received it.

At the same distribution in Grozny, I saw a grey-haired lady with a black scarf standing away from the line of other parents waiting to collect a food parcel for their disabled child. The lady was twisting a bunch of papers in her hands but apparently she was not on our distribution list. As I passed her she asked, “Can I still get a box if I’m not on the list?” I asked if she has a disabled child and she showed me a document stating that her son was blind.

One of the most difficult challenges that aid workers must overcome in their work is not to become immune to the great and overwhelming sorrow that they encounter. One needs to be able to hear the pain and hardship of each person as if it is the only story he or she has heard – to place oneself on the other side of the line or distribution point, waiting for that parcel of food. Only then is it possible to begin to understand the lives of those who are less fortunate.

The lady who wants a food parcel for her son is Tamara. She tells me that he was injured in a bomb blast that killed his two elder brothers as they made their way to
school. Her remaining family, her husband and two sons, have only just moved from one of the temporary accommodation centers in Grozny to a new plot of land provided by the government. She has not managed to register at her new place yet
which is why she was not on our distribution list.

I looked at the small lady before me and wondered how she survived the tragedy of losing her sons and living in such difficult conditions. Fortunately we always bring extra food boxes to accommodate people like Tamara so I was able to put her name on the list and ensure she and her family have enough food for Ramadan.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ramadan in India

Danish Aziz is Islamic Relief’s Program Manager in India. For him, Ramadan shines light upon the disparity between the rich and poor, between those who enjoy the festivities of the month and those who barely have enough food to survive.

Ramadan is of course a month of fasting, piety and religious devotion for Muslims around the world. But for me, Ramadan also invokes images of delicious food and the chance to sample tasty delicacies and mouth-watering dishes from different cultures.

I love walking around Delhi’s Old City late at night visiting the different shops and stalls, accompanied by the aroma of the special dishes that are prepared during this month. If you walk through the streets near to the Jama Masjid then you can enjoy a host of delicious foods, from vegetarian delights to amazing sweets.

I have seen how people observe Ramadan across India, from rural Bihar, to Gujarat, to the mosques of Kerala. In every place, no matter how hard their circumstances the season instills people with a glow and a festive spirit.

But as an aid worker, I know that not everyone in India is able to enjoy Ramadan in this way. Many cannot afford basic food items let alone the luxury treats that are on offer. I have met people who have no food but dry hard lumps of powdered cereal, which is all they eat just to keep them going throughout the day. For many giving up a meal in the middle of the day is not just a requirement of Ramadan, but a necessity throughout the whole year.

In Bangalore, which is my second home, it is a common sight to see children in the slums running with small containers at sundown. They are collecting their ration of ganjee, a porridge made from rice, curd and mint leaves. It is usually made as part of a collective community effort, the ‘haves’ helping the ‘have nots.’ I believe that there are enough resources for all of us to survive, but that it is the blessed few who share what they have with others.

Every year, Islamic Relief distributes food parcels to those who are most in need. We start our preparations long before Ramadan begins, planning our distributions based on where people are most in need of our help. Sometimes people come up to us to ask for our help, but we also have to find those who are too ashamed to ask for assistance.

Often we distribute food parcels in areas that have been recently affected by disaster such as floods, as in Bihar. When I was there, I had to wade through deep water to reach tiny settlements and villages to give them packages of food.

India is a country of great diversity where people’s diets change every 100 kilometers or so. We respect this and over the years we have tried to ensure that the food parcels we give match the various cultural and dietary differences, and try to include local foods wherever possible so that people get the food of their choice and liking. So a villager in West Bengal will get their choice of parboiled rice, while someone in Andhra Pradesh will be able to eat the finest Sona Masuri rice.

There are times when aid work can be routine like any other job, but it is said that you are rewarded 70 times for your good deeds during Ramadan and this realization helps to light up our lives. Older women often hold my hands and thank us for delivering these packs to them. They sometimes go as far as to say that it is Allah and then people like us who help them in their times of need. But I tell that we are just the delivery people for the thousands of donors around the world who care about them and want to feed the hungry during Ramadan.

Projects like Ramadan food distributions are essential to help people in their time of need but over the last 25 years Islamic Relief has also moved towards promoting sustainable development in India. This means reducing people’s dependency on aid and focusing on education, livelihood support and micro-finance assistance.

We are now working in some of the industrial slums of Western Uttar Pradesh in northern India, providing 7,000 girls with education and vocational training. We also support more than 1,000 orphans by providing them with healthcare and education, as well as providing their families with interest-free loans and the support to make a living.

In Ramadan, perhaps more than any other time, I feel honored to be a part of this work and to see the change that it brings to people’s lives. There is a lot to do, but all in good time.

To read more about Islamic Relief's work in India, click here.

To support Islamic Relief's work in India, donate today, or e-mail this post to a friend.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ramadan in Egypt

Fatma Tharwat is an Islamic Relief aid worker in Egypt. In a recent diary entry, she tells of the difficulties faced by one elderly couple but the joy they still feel during the month of Ramadan.

Driving from Ayyat town towards the village of Al-Arab the road finally ended and we were surrounded by nothing more than green fields and grazing sheep and cattle. With no other option, we took the food parcels we had in our arms and walked for miles and miles to the first hut on the edge of the village.

The villages surrounding Ayyat are very poor and people here live far below the poverty line. There are no medical or educational services as people are preoccupied with finding enough food for supper and ensuring they have somewhere to sleep at night.

The first hut that we came to was very simple; it was made from mud with a roof of palm leaves. There was just one room and no kitchen, bathroom, running water or electricity. The house was even devoid of basic furniture such as beds or a table.

This was the home of 70-year-old Mouha and her husband of 40 years, 75-year-old Soliman. Mouha lost her eyesight last year because she could not afford the treatment she needed and Soliman has problems with his spine which makes moving around very difficult and painful.

The elderly couple survive on a small monthly pension which they use to purchase food, clothes and medication. They are at an age when they should be enjoying peace of mind but instead are struggling to have enough food. The only possession they own in their hut is a small mat and a couple of pieces of clothing that hang from the wall.

Last year when Mouha’s eyes began to hurt the couple had to visit the hospital for treatment. Soliman desperately searched for money to pay for the medication his wife needed but could only afford to buy one month’s supply. She had an operation that did not work and is now on medication that consumes more than half their meager income.

When I gave Mouha her Ramadan food parcel she held my hand and said, “I had a dream about you last night. Yesterday I dreamt that a young woman visited us and she had a bag with her that was full of our favorite foods, including macaroni that I have wanted to eat for so long.

Soliman explained that his wife had been longing to eat macaroni for a week but they did not have any money and that they had not eaten a nourishing meal for over a month. I was speechless and wished I had visited them a month ago to ease their suffering.

Soliman said, “Normally we live on bread and cheese. We don’t eat every day and often go to sleep without supper. We never eat meat or even vegetables.”

Even if the couple do receive a little food from their neighbors, they do not have a fridge keep it fresh. But as Mouha told me, they are so desperate for food that they
will eat it even if it has gone bad.

"Ramadan is a month of generosity and charity,” said Mouha. “I didn’t sleep the night before they announce the first day of Ramadan because I am excited like a small child. I love to fast even if we have nothing to break it with but bread and water. Even though fasting is hard at my age, I still find so much joy in it.”

After we have broken our fast, we sit outside in front of the fields. I can’t see them anymore but I can feel the cool air and enjoy drinking tea and listening to the Qur’an on the radio.

Mouha told me that in the winter they don’t have anything to keep them warm except a single blanket. Every night they sleep on the cold bare floor and huddle together to try to keep each other warm. I could feel their helplessness and their agony, but also their hope and faith.

"God never forgets us,” Soliman says. “Sometimes our neighbors help us cook food, clean our house and wash our clothes. And here you are with this food parcel. This parcel means so much to us; before you came to our house we didn’t have a morsel to eat and were starving. This will be our only source of food this Ramadan but it will mean that I will be able to fast with a strong heart now.”

As Soliman went through the food items with overwhelming joy and handed them to Mouha, I thought of the donors around the world and how far their generosity had come – all the way to an elderly couple in a small village in Egypt. Their dedication and devotion helped us reach the poorest of the poor, and that makes all the difference. I then watched as Mouha took the packet of macaroni in her hands, hugged it to her and said with eyes full of tears, “Thank you –thank you.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

WaPo Mentions 'Day of Dignity'

The Washington Post's website recently mentioned the 'Day of Dignity' and the Obama administration's efforts to focus on interfaith volunteerism.

The article describes the United We Serve campaign, which encourages Americans to help out in their communities in different ways. The 'Day of Dignity' was mentioned as an example.

An excerpt from the article is below:

Muslim-American community organizations are working to help communities, from Atlanta to Baltimore and from Phoenix to Philadelphia, through Muslim Americans Answer the Call. These community groups are offering programs focused on health care, the environment, education, and community renewal in communities across the country.

Volunteer projects such as the Day of Dignity on Aug. 29, sponsored by Islamic Relief USA in Baltimore and 19 other cities, during which Muslim-American volunteers invite volunteers from diverse faith traditions to provide compassionate care to all those in need regardless of color, race or creed.

You can read the entire article here.

The 'Day of Dignity' has already helped hundreds of people in Fort Thompson, Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

There are still 15 more locations that the 'Day of Dignity' will be visiting.

Find out more at

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ramadan in Iraq

Hadeel Al-Tak is the head of Islamic Relief’s Gender and Family department in Iraq. In this diary entry, she explains what the holy month of Ramadan is like in her native Baghdad.

With the dawn of the first day of Ramadan, you feel that something has changed inside you. Something has captured your heart and filled it with complete serenity. You collect your soul and prepare to fast during the days and pray during the nights, in the hope of atoning for your sins. Before Ramadan comes people spend so much time getting ready; markets are busy and the cost of food increases as everyone wants to indulge their family during this noble month.

Baghdad, where I live, is trying to recover from a tragedy and mend its wounds. The people who live here hope that they will wake each morning during Ramadan to the sound of birds and the smell of flowers and not to the explosions that have racked this city for so many years.

Baghdad’s mosques wait in anticipation of the faithful and their prayers, and the breakfast tables are spread full of food for the poor and hungry. It is common for people to knock on our door in the morning to ask for food or drink, and we give whatever we can.

When I break my fast in the evening and put the first morsel of food in my mouth, I always remember those who have been hungry for so many days and nights, those who have no water to quench their thirst, while I am safe and well.

I work with the most vulnerable people in society; widows, orphans, the sick, the elderly and those who have no one to turn to but God. These are the people we provide Ramadan food parcels for. The children are so excited to see what is inside their parcel when it arrives. This year it contains meat, sugar, lentils and oil.

But I know that people do not need or want to rely on this aid forever. I run a project that aims to empower widows by helping them to start their own small businesses. These women work so hard to meet the needs of their children and to ensure that they can provide them with the joys of Ramadan. I have noticed how they gradually become more confident and happy as their wages have increased, enabling them to prepare early for Ramadan this year.

During this month I remember God’s blessings for us as He enables me and my colleagues to carry on assisting those in need, and the strength He gives me that allows me to carry on when I remember the tragic scenes I have witnessed in Baghdad, Fallujah and Erbil.

During the year, the fortunate wait for Ramadan to pay their zakat, while the less fortunate wait to receive this charity. At Islamic Relief, we use this month to build a bridge between the two, and to ease the suffering of those in need, whoever and wherever they may be.

Ramadan in Gaza

Hatem Shurrab is an aid worker with Islamic Relief in Gaza. In a recent diary entry he reflected on the mixed emotions felt by Gaza's population during the holy month of Ramadan, just eight months after the last conflict.

Ramadan in Gaza is different this year. Every year the poverty gets worse but this Ramadan many hundreds of families are also trying to cope with the agony of having lost so many loved ones in the last conflict. As they sit at the table to break their fasts their thoughts are with those who are not joining them this year. Mothers who have lost their sons and daughters, children who have lost their fathers.

Each day after work, I come home and help my family prepare the food for our evening meal. For me, Ramadan is the only time when I am able to have meals with my family. At night we spend time visiting and greeting our relatives and friends. My neighbors are Christians and they often come over to break the fast with us. Ramadan unites us all.

In the evening, the children gather on the streets holding little fawanees – symbolic lights – and some spark small fireworks. They are so happy and enjoy looking at the shops in the bustling markets, even though few of their parents can afford to buy them anything.

But pain, as well as joy, is heightened during this month. Asma is a 14-year-old girl I met a couple of months after the war. She lost her father in the conflict and her feelings this Ramadan are a mixture of longing and pain as he is not alive to share the month with her. When I spoke to her two days ago she told me that she still cries whenever she thinks of him and when she remembers how they would all sit down together to share the iftar meal last Ramadan.

The start of Ramadan also coincides with the start of the new school year but thousands of students in Gaza are unable to access quality education. The conflict damaged and destroyed many schools so the number of students in each classroom has more than doubled, despite being already overcrowded.

Months after the last Gaza conflict, there are still many thousands of people who are suffering as a result – people who were injured, paralyzed and who lost their limbs. The hospitals I visit are struggling to cope with lack of medicine and equipment, and their wards are in urgent need of repair so they can adequately treat their patients.

Islamic Relief is trying to meet some of these challenges and more. Islamic Relief-Palestine has already repaired many schools, allowing hundreds of students to resume their studies. IR-Palestine is also running and expanding the only artificial limbs center in Gaza. Many hospitals and health centers have been repaired and IR-Palestine is continuing to supply equipment, machines and medicine.

This Ramadan, I am helping Islamic Relief [Palestine] distribute food parcels to around 10,000 of the poorest families in Gaza. Each family receives enough food to last them for the whole of the month including staple foods such as rice, sugar, beans, pasta and oil. By the end of the first week of Ramadan the first round of distributions will be done. I hope that the parcels make some difference to the hardships faced by so many Palestinian families.

In Gaza, the demand is high and the need is huge but I feel happy that we are moving forward and helping create a better situation for the people here. The support of kind-hearted people from around the world means that we can help ease the pain of the people of Gaza this Ramadan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doing What It Takes

Islamic Relief USA staff member, Anwar Khan, recently visited Pakistan, where he met many people that Islamic Relief is assisting. In a diary entry, he reflected on his experience.

Today we visited Rawalpindi which is a twin city of the capital Islamabad. I met Uzma Bibi who is 14 years old and lives with her widowed mother Zakiya, 12-year-old brother Ajab and seven-year-old Hashim in one room.

They have a small courtyard 10 feet by six feet which is their dining room, kitchen and wash room. Outside their house, the sewage flows openly and the water in the area is contaminated.

Uzma's father died in the floods of Rawalpindi in 2001. Seven months later, her youngest brother was born. Her mother was young, pregnant and widowed. To
survive, she had to ask neighbors for leftovers to feed her children, pretending they were for the chickens. Sometimes they would soak hard, old bread in water so they could eat and sometimes they would go to sleep hungry.

Uzma couldn't afford to go to school and the neighborhood kids didn't want to play with her because her clothes stank. Eating was a problem, so soap was a privilege.

Her mother tried to make ends meet as a maid. However, her vomiting and sickness increased as she was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and then Tuberculosis. She still worked cleaning floors on her knees and washing clothes, but less hours.

Just when I thought things could not get worse, Zakiya told us that Uzma had to have surgery to remove her tonsils and appendix. She had to take a $100 loan to pay
for her costs at the Government clinic.

Her 12-year-old works at a cooking oil factory six days a week for $4 a week. She now sows embroidery 4 hours a day for $2.50 a week.

Zakiya does whatever it takes to look after her children. She thanks Allah (swt) that this Ramadan they will have food every day for iftar.

Uzma Bibi is now being sponsored by a donor from the US and Islamic Relief is taking care of the cost of the operation. There are hundreds of orphan families like Uzma’s who are on our waiting list in Pakistan and around the world. It only costs $49/month to sponsor an orphan family in Pakistan. Please call (888) 479 - 4968 or click here if you are interested in sponsoring orphans like Uzma in Pakistan or in other countries where Islamic Relief operates.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Scarred by Conflict

Although many people displaced by the conflict in Pakistan have began returning to their homes and started rebuilding their lives, for nine-year-old Ihtesham life will never be the same again.

Ihtesham lives with his family in the village of Nawagai in Buner District. His father and uncle run a poultry business and were reluctant to leave their home and abandon everything they had worked so hard to create.

A Serious Injury
One day Ihtesham was playing outside his house with friends when his village came under attack. Ihtesham’s father was shot and Ihtesham was struck by a piece of shrapnel. His father experienced only minor injuries, but Ihtesham suffered from serious head injuries. He was taken to the local clinic but his condition was so bad that the doctor there could do very little for him.

Ihtesham was taken by his father to Swabi for emergency medical care but was then referred to Peshawar for further treatment. Ihtesham’s injuries required major surgery and he had to stay in hospital for two weeks. Although he is now recovering, he has permanently lost the sight in his left eye.

Psychological trauma
In addition to the physical effects of the conflict, Ihtesham is still also deeply psychologically traumatized by what he has experienced. Whenever he hears a loud noise or the sound of a plane he becomes scared and stops talking. Unfortunately he is not the only child to be behaving in this way. Many of his friends who also witnessed bombings and the shelling of their homes, have also been left deeply traumatized and in need of psychological support.

No income
Ihtesham needs further treatment and support if he is to overcome the psychological and physical injuries he has experienced. But providing this care will be difficult for his family who have suffered such huge losses. Like many other people in this region they are dependent on agriculture, running a poultry farm in order to make a living. But like other farms in the region, this was severely damaged by the fighting and they now have no source of income.

Islamic Relief has been working with displaced people in Mardan, providing them with healthcare, psychosocial support, clean water and sanitation facilities. We are now planning to move this support to Buner to assist those who are returning home and struggling to rebuild their lives.

Your support can help us provide children like Ihtesham with psychosocial support, healthcare, clean water and an education. Please donate today.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Islamic Relief USA Envoy Presses On

Upon completing his visit to the northwest Pakistan conflict zone where Islamic Relief is helping thousands of conflict-affected people, US staff member Anwar Khan continued his trip. Pakistan-administered Kashmir was next on his list, where Islamic Relief has had a lasting impact on the people's lives. Khan wrote a letter from the field sharing his experience.

August 8

We traveled to Bagh in Pakistan controlled Kashmir today. This was one of the most devastated areas after the 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people. I first visited this area in 1998 for a water project and have returned many times since the earthquake. In my 2005 visit, which was five weeks after the earthquake, we could still smell the corpses under the rubble. Parents were sitting on the side of the road holding photos of their missing children asking any passers by if they have seen their missing children. Homes, schools, bridges, communities were decimated by the earthquake.

Four years on, many of the homes are reconstructed, some schools and hospitals have been rebuilt, but there is still much work to be done. We visited Jandi Bhatti Kot village in the mountains. There is no road, but a river and a rocky trail to the village. We arrived for the inauguration of the water system. Kashmir is lush green, but may of the women in the mountains spend half of their lives fetching water.

I met a young girl and smiled when I realized by building this water system in her village we have saved her 30 years of fetching water. Now she can spend more time on going to school and studying.

There is still much work to be done in the area. Often, there are no doctors in these rural areas. Pregnant women may travel for hours on mountains to get to the nearest health facility. In Jandi Bhatti Kot they thanked Islamic Relief for food, tents, blankets, shelter and water systems after the earthquake, but asked for a school so there daughters could go to school. The nearest school is too difficult for them to go to in the rain and snow. Above all they want to be in a situation where they will not need assistance from anyone.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Latest Entry from USA Staff in Pakistan

Islamic Relief USA team member Anwar Khan is in the Pakistan conflict zone visiting IDPs and affected communities. He met children that Islamic Relief is helping at the Mardan Mercy Center, and he was very impressed but feels there is more work to be done. He sent his reflections for you to read.

August 6.

We were up at 5 am to start the journey at 6 am. Using the toll way it took one-and-a-half hours to travel 100 M to Mardan, but then it took 1 hour to travel 24 M to the village of Qaderabad using rural roads in a 4 wheel drive.

It was amazing to see 350 children at the Islamic Relief Mercy Center in Qaderabad. The majority were girls which is a good sign in this area. They were engaged in structured creative play which helps them deal with the problems that many of them are suffering from. They spend the morning and late afternoon there, leaving in the early afternoon when temperatures reach 110 degrees F with no electricity to power a fan.

We saw some of the boys engaged in 'manipulative play therapy' in which they play with building blocks and puzzles to fix problems. This helps in their problem solving skills and gives us an insight into their state of mind. I was impressed by the complexity of Gharan and Haroon's blocksuntil I was told what they had built. Eleven-year-old Ghafran had built a helicopter gunship and 7-year-old Haroon a rocket launcher. This shows that the conflict is still fresh on their minds and their psychologists still have significant work to do with them. They are suffering from acute trauma now and if untreated could suffer from severe trauma in six months. In a few years, if we do not look after these boys they may be operating rocket launchers.

I spoke to some of the gils who were engaged in role-play therapy with dolls. When I asked 9-year-old Zaiby why she liked playing with these new dolls she replied, “because they are so pretty." When I asked what her dolls at home looked like she replied she had none. They don't have toys, but have fear of violence. This is not a situation we would want for our sons and daughters.

The trip to the Mercy Center was exhilarating knowing that the children had a sanctuary to go to. But it was depressing knowing the misery and poverty of their daily lives.

We then proceeded to the rural health clinic in Rustam. It is the only health facility in the area. Islamic Relief is supporting the clinic and has a Mercy center attached to service the IDps and host communities. Since the crisis began in May, the local population had to host double their capacity. Every morning, every house would bring food to the mosque, which would then be distributed to each house in need.

The power was on for 2 hours, then off for 2 hours in Rustam. We were there during midday when the temperature reached 108 degrees F. I have never perspired so much in my life. One of the locals told me the heat is a reminder of the heat of hell. The locals do not have AC, and only a few have fans, but even power is hard to come by. Imagine how the elderly and the very young (who are most at risk) are coping. The generator in the hospital was not working because they needed $125 for the battery. It didn't make a difference to have the medical equipment, because the rural hospital serving nearly 30,000 people has no electrical medical equipment.

We were told one of the biggest problems are the lack of female doctors. Many women will not get treatment unless they see a female doctor. This may result in death if there disease is not treated in time. The problem is finding female doctors to work in rural areas, even if they are paid more. This is a long term problem. It's a reminder that we can not always write a check to fix every problem.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Diary Entry from USA Staff in Pakistan

USA staff member, Anwar Ahmed Khan, has arrived in Pakistan to assess the IDP situation left from the recent conflict in NWFP.

Wednesday, August 5

I traveled today from Lahore to Islamabad. It is hot and humid. There are electricity blackouts every other hour in Lahore and every few hours in Islamabad, the capital. It becomes difficult in temperatures over 100 F; remember, these are the better off areas.

I received the security clearance today to travel to Mardan. It is 1.5 hours away, but many cars have been attacked in the last few months. IRUSA sent a delegation a few weeks ago that was unable to visit our Mercy Centers.

The purpose of my trip is to assess our work in NWFP and what we in the U.S. can do to assist those in need. As the fighting subsides, some of the displaced people are returning home and on this trip we are hoping to assess what is the best way to help them.

We have been told to wear local tunics, shalwar kameez and not wear any IR logos until we arrive in our centers. Some of our staff have received death threats.

I met the head of programs last night. He has not slept for 2 days, writing grant requests for the UN and others. He is very passionate about the week and wishes we could do more. They need more cash and experienced local staff.

Monday, August 3, 2009

USA Staff Visit Pakistan Projects

Islamic Relief USA staff member Shaista Khan recently returned from a trip to Pakistan where she and some colleagues visited different projects that Islamic Relief is spearheading. She was very impressed and brought back vivid stories and great news for Islamic Relief supporters. She reflected on her trip in a letter, excerpts from which are below:

Dhulli may be an insignificant point on most maps, yet this tiny place is one of the many that Islamic Relief has managed to reach out and give life and hope to.

Dhulli is home to a Basic health Unit (BHU), which was recently built by Islamic Relief in Bagh district on Dhulli Road. The BHU serves 9,000 people of neighboring villages. Some may have to walk a few kilometers to reach it, but they are extremely grateful for its presence.

This is one of the many projects that I visited during my travels in Pakistan. By projects, I mean the vast developmental, self-sustainable projects in those rural areas of Pakistan that no one else dares to venture, where Islamic Relief is bringing a beacon of light to the needy, maintaining their dignity and empowering the people.

Whether it’s the water pump in a rural village, or the income generation projects that help women run their own businesses by providing Islamic microfinance loans, Islamic Relief has done wonders.

The orphans support program is in itself admirable, whereby the orphan is not
separated from his/her other members of the family.

Those who sponsor orphans through Islamic Relief should feel proud that their donations are going a long way in building a young life in a world full of challenges.

With so much to say and share, I simply had to put my intro letter together so that I can reach out to you and request that you invite me and my great Islamic Relief team to your home/masjid /meeting place, so that we may further share our experiences.

The experience moved me; I can’t imagine what it will do to you.

I look forward to hearing from you,

From the heart,
Shaista Khan

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Families returning to Swat to face hunger this Ramadan

Islamic Relief aid workers are warning that people returning home to Swat in northwest Pakistan are facing serious shortages of food.

After three months of living with host families or in camps, some of the three million displaced people have started to return to their homes. Many have found that their houses and livelihoods have been destroyed and the infrastructure of the region devastated. The damage to the agricultural sector and the continuing curfew in the region means they will struggle to feed their families this Ramadan.

Around 60 percent of those who were forced to flee their homes make a living from farming. During the conflict they were unable to go home to harvest their crops and fruit, or to plant rice for the forthcoming season. This has created shortages of food and has also left farmers with no source of income.

The ongoing curfew means all the shops and markets are still closed, while others in larger towns such as Mingora have been destroyed or damaged. People are unable to buy even basic food items.
"I have just visited Swat and I believe that progress there has gone back ten years. Swat was once a progressive and bustling economic centre. Many people would make their living from the abundant orchards in the region, but the last harvest has all been lost and people are unsure how they will support their families over the coming months," Islamic Relief aid worker Sultan Mahmood said.
According to Islamic Relief Pakistan, around 90 percent of the population of Swat left their homes due to the fighting and the majority travelled to Mardan District where they found refuge with local families or in schools and hospitals. Around 50 percent of the displaced people in Lower Swat have now returned to their homes and many more will return in the coming weeks as the start of the holy month of Ramadan draws near.
"People in Swat are still very scared that the fighting might start again but came back because they desperately missed their homes and their relatives," added Mahmood. "They have returned to find the curfew still in place and the agriculture sector devastated. This means they are approaching Ramadan with the very real threat of food shortages hanging over them."