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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Diary from Mali: IR USA Staff, Zeyad Maasarani

Yousef, 16 year old orphan

Zeyad Maasarani
Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's our last day in Mali and I can't help but bid the people farewell with a heavy heart. But it helps to know how much Islamic Relief is helping them.

Not only did IR help turn the desert green in Gourma Rharous with an irrigation system, but we're also helping children go to school, have access to clean water and to lead normal lives when they previously couldn't.

Yesterday, we visited a malaria clinic in Bamako where we saw a crowd no smaller than 300 mothers and their young children seeking treatment for malaria: an easily preventable disease.

Seeing the children with our own eyes and knowing that 3 out of every 4 of them would have died without treatment touched all of our hearts.

I felt so guilty knowing children were dying everyday and that I could have helped. None of us said a word as we journeyed back to the office. Many of us were crying and putting ourselves in their shoes.

The mothers thanked us like we were responsible for helping save their children’s lives. But we all knew that it’s the support of donor’s back home that’s saving so many lives.

It costs $20 for medicine to cure a malaria-afflicted child in Mali, and it only costs $10 for a bed net that will help them sleep safely without the threat of death or disease.

I told the director of Islamic Relief’s Mali office that life in Mali is very difficult.

"You haven't seen anything," he told me. "For some people this is heaven." I stared back at him in awe as he explained.

"Some children walk 12 hours in the desert to fetch their day's water. At least here they have shade to sit in."

I wiped the sweat from my brow, embarrassed to have complained.

I am very thankful Islamic Relief works in areas like this, when so many others are afraid or unable.

Diary from Mali: IR USA Staff, Anwar Khan

Anwar Khan
Thursday, February 11, 2010

We were up at the crack of dawn and we could see women walking to one of IR's 22 water wells in the area to get the water for the day. Since the deep bore water wells have been built in villages, women do not have to spend half of each day fetching water. Children who were fetching water can go to school. The women, who now have more time, help the men on the land, or do business and provide more income for the family.

We went by road and riverboat to a school, which was very basic. First and second grade are still writing with slate and chalk. The school has three classrooms and five grades.

There is no running water, or sanitation facilities. They eat very basic food on the sand and under the hot sun. They requested a small kitchen to prepare the food in hygienic conditions.

We then took the river boat to a cereal bank. We set up community associations which store cereal in small warehouses.

Our barter rate is five times better than the market rate, according to the locals. They were very appreciative of our help and were asking for basic services, like schools.

We were running late, too much to do and so little time. We got back to Gourma Rharous and left quickly for an irrigation project, which was on the way back to Timbuktu.

The irrigation project is reclaiming fertile land from the desert. We are turning the desert green. The community was dwindling as men were forced to go overseas to support their families. Now they are working on their fields. Families are now staying together, fathers are staying with their sons, husbands with their wives. It is wonderful to see the transformation from desert to fields of crops.

The whole village came to greet us. The women showed us their vegetable gardens. I was given three huge purple onions as a gift to take back to the U.S. It was a wonderful gift from a widow, giving me her best produces and asking us to stay for lunch. We apologized that we could not take the gift, or have lunch. They have so little, yet they are so willing to share.

We visited the school we support. As we sped off into the desert in our trucks, the children ran behind us waving. We did not want to leave, but we have to continue turning the desert green by bringing greater awareness about this cause in the U.S.

It was a 4-hour ride back to Timbuktu. One of our trucks was stuck in the sand. Ten of us and four strangers helped us to push it out of the sand. That evening we visited the U.N. World Heritage site in Timbuktu, the Djingaray Masjid and Sancara University. But, what I will remember most from my trip to the North is the sincerity and warmth of the people.

Video Diary: Downtown Gourma Rharous, Mali

Islamic Relief USA staff member Zeyad Maasarani captures Downtown Gourma Rharous from the rooftop of Islamic Relief Mali.

Video Diary: Mali School

Islamic Relief USA staff member Zeyad Maasarani reports from a classroom in Mali.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Diary from Mali: IR USA Staff, Anwar Khan and Zeyad Maasarani

Anwar Khan
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

We were up early in the morning to take the 2-hour flight to Timbuktu. The flight was delayed 3 hours. We took 4 hours for a 2-hour journey by road and river barge. Our average speed was 25 mph. The trip was mostly offroad.

We arrived late, but visited the mayor of Gourma Rharous, a rural clinic and radiostation. IR has supported the clinic in the past and set up the radio station to broadcast educational programs to the nomads in the desert. We had to do all the visits in the dark. There are no street lights and the stars were extremely luminous. In the rural clinic there were patients laying on the floor of the corridoor. There was a stench and many of the patients were laying on the floor.

As soon as malaria medicine comes it is distributed to children under 5. Life is very austere here. There is no indoor plumbing and our office has a generator so it's the only building with electricity.

Life has improved from the last time I was here eight years ago. There are more services, more medicine, more schools. Services are not what we would want in the U.S., but they are better than what they received before, which was nothing.

Zeyad Maasarani
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I woke up this morning refreshed and amazed at the amazing scenery of Gourma Rharous. But the satisfaction I got from the sleep is a luxury very few people can afford in this region, because I slept in a medically-treated mosquito net.

Knowing I was safe from the danger of malaria helped me fall asleep and rest. Thousands of our neighbors probably stressed all night, worrying of being pinched by a malaria-carrying mosquito.

Many of the widows and orphans we met had lost loved ones to malaria, a preventable and curable disease that has been eliminated from most areas of the world, but here, it claims lives everyday.

But there is a silver lining in the storm cloud. A $10 medically-treated mosquito net can help a person sleep without the threat of losing their life to malaria. We say a life is priceless, but in reality, we can save a life and give someone peace of mind by just donating $10.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Visiting widows and orphans in Mali

Communications Writer Zeyad Maasarani takes us inside the home of a widow in Mali.

Zeyad visits orphans in Mali.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Diary from Mali: VP of Fund Development, Anwar Khan

Stirring and frying peanuts for peanut butter.

Monday, February 8, 2010

We arrived at Bamako airport at 2.30 am on Sunday. It took 30 hours to travel from Dallas to Bamako. I and my wife met up with the rest of the delegation in London.There are 11 staff and volunteers on this trip to Mali. After a few hours of rest we went to see three orphans.Ibrahim is now 18 and was an orphan when he was 8. His mother explained that she was not able to receive help, even from family. She is too old to work. Ibrahim would not have been able to eat more than one meal a day, or go to school without support.Now he is planning to go to University. We met several orphans in the slums of Bamako. Without assistance it is a struggle for them to survive. Many were farmers who lost their farms and moved to the city. In the city they did not have their family support and were alone when the male head of the family died.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The orphans we visited today were living in single family homes, but with up to 50 people. There were between 5 to 10 people per room. In one house there were 26 children from several families. I have never seen so many children live together in such confined spaces. Meeting orphans, hearing their stories, and watching their widowed mothers cry has a sobering effect. I saw most of my group with tears in their eyes and looks of despair. I reminded them we have to smile on the outside, even when our heart is breaking on the inside. We want to show respect and empathy, not pity and despair.

In the afternoon we went to see community microfinance associations. The widows in these areas formed community associations that would receive interest-free loans to help support businesses set up by local widows. They produce soap and peanut butter from local supplies and sell the final product in the market place.

The widows were very gracious and allowed me to help them make soap by hand in the local traditional way. Another group was roasting peanuts under a wooden fire and then crushing the peanuts to make peanut butter. The peanut butter tasted delicious. There is no salt, or sugar added, the special ingredient is pride and respect. The widows association is giving a voice to these women and providing a social network for them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

‘Islamic Relief For Haiti’ Campaign

Islamic Relief volunteers are helping launch a nationwide campaign to keep public focus on the Haiti earthquake and raise much needed funds to help the victims. Below are details for participating in the campaign. Get involved if you can and please spread this to others.

‘Islamic Relief For Haiti’ Campaign

Date: February 8 – March 8 2010

Location: Nationwide

How does the campaign work?
  • A volunteer team from each of the six different IR regions will be formed.
  • The teams will compete against each other to raise funds for Haiti.
  • The teams that raise the most funds will be acknowledged by IR for their achievements.
  • There can be many sub-teams within a region. The collective efforts of the teams will help to raise more funds.

What do you have to do?
  1. Invest in a large envelope to start collecting funds for Haiti.
  2. Speak to your family members, friends, co-workers, and classmates asking them to donate money.
  3. Make sure you send all funds raised into the IR USA Headquarters by March 8th! Talking points and donation forms can be emailed to you upon request.
  4. Donations can be of any amount (including loose change).
  5. Checks can be made out to Islamic Relief.
  6. All donations will be collected in your envelope.
  7. When collecting donations, the donor’s contact information should be taken.
  8. At the end of the campaign, all envelopes will be mailed to IR headquarters.
Islamic Relief USA
3655 Wheeler Ave
Alexandria, VA 22304

For more information, email Volunteer [at] IslamicReliefUSA [dot] org.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Staff Video Diary From Mali

Communications Writer Zeyad Maasarani shares his first impressions of Mali via video.

Mali Trip Day 4 - "It's 4 a.m. but I can't sleep."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's 4 a.m. but I can't sleep. Every time I close my eyes I keep recounting things I can't make sense of.

Yesterday, our Islamic Relief USA envoy visited 5 orphans that are sponsored by donors back in the U.S.

When we arrived to the first orphan's house, a boy named Suleyman, I was so appalled to see the living conditions he and his family endured. Despite the living conditions, they were very hospitable, kind and proud.

We had to step over sewage to walk in, but that didn't stop the family from welcoming us. Children from around the neighborhood flocked to greet us and show us their toys. Most of them were covered in dirt and I could tell some of them were very sick. I remembered the head of the envoy, Anwar, warning us that what we would see would be horrific. But seeing is different than hearing.

No human should have to endure what these people were enduring. And still, they were better off than most in their neighborhood. One-to-One Orphan Sponsorship through Islamic Relief had allowed Suleyman to go to school instead of working a backbreaking job like many young boys we had passed on the streets of Bamako. Although I was very sad to see what I saw, I couldn't believe how happy and positive Suleyman and his family were.

He told us that the last time he ate meat was around Eid al-Adha, when Islamic Relief conducted Udhiyah/Qurbani distributions in his area. I felt guilty to have a full stomach as I heard this. Then, I was given a tour of their humble home. An inoperative refrigerator was one of the few pieces of furniture inside the 3-room shack. A tore-up hammock and dirty sheets on the ground made up their bedroom, but I wondered how they could sleep in a room with no windows. I was holding my breath the whole time. But, they seemed so thankful for what they had.

I pretended that what I saw was normal, so I didn't insult the family. Inside, I was crying. I hope they couldn't tell.

-Zeyad Maasarani
Communications Writer

Monday, February 8, 2010

Islamic Relief USA team heads off to Mali

On Saturday, February 6, 2010, a group of staff and volunteers departed for Mali. They'll be visiting projects funded by Islamic Relief USA in the South and North, including in the Timbuktu region. The group includes Communications Writer (and Islamic Relief USA blogger) Zeyad Maasarani (left) and Anwar Khan, VP of Fund Development. Zeyad will be posting video and text from Mali regularly. You can follow Anwar Khan's updates via Twitter here.

Zeyad's first posts are below.

Saturday, February 6, 2010
We're getting ready to depart from lax and I don't know what to expect.

I'm ready for "the worst" but that's all relative. For all I know, what I perceive as bad might be paradise for somebody else.

I know I'm going to see some suffering. I can't wait to see how our work has helped people there.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

We just arrived in Bamako international airport. Its really hot and dusty.

Flying over Bamako, I hardly saw any light. Its obvious I'm in a different part of the world. The airport bathroom doesn't even have running water.

I just saw a mosquito. I wonder how the people live with the constant threat of malaria.

But the people don't seem to be fazed. Everyone is smiling and glad to have us here. Judging by dress and demeanor, the people seem poor, but dignified.

I gave chocolate to the airport workers. They thanked me and ate it quietly. This might even be their only meal of the night, judging by how some of them wolfed it down.

But I'm excited to see the people in the daytime. I know the sun will shed light on some major suffering, but I also hope it can show us how great and fulfilling it is to support Islamic Relief's work in Mali.

-Zeyad Maasarani
Communications Writer

Monday, February 1, 2010

Youth group hosts auction for Haiti

The Islamic Center of Hawthorne youth group hosted a silent auction on Saturday Jan. 30 to help aid Haitian quake victims. Arts, crafts and jewelery from as far as Australia were auctioned off.

All proceeds were donated to Islamic Relief USA's Haiti Emergency fund.

Groups and organizations from around the nation are also organizing events to help Haiti.

What are you doing for Haiti? Email to share your story with us.

To read about Islamic Relief's response in Haiti, click here.

More aid pledged for Haiti

Islamic Relief is planning to assist an additional 5,000 Haitian earthquake victims, through food, water and tent distributions.

2 million people need food aid in Haiti, and only 400,000 are receiving the proper nutrition. Also, 1.5 million Haitians are homeless, and about one million still need temporary shelter.

Islamic Relief USA launched a $2.5 million appeal, and is housing 1,200 quake victims in Port-au-Prince.

Click here to read more about Islamic Relief's response in Haiti. Donate today.