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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.