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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CEO appointed to prestigious USAID committee

Islamic Relief USA CEO, Abed Ayoub, has been appointed to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid (ACVFA). Established by President Truman in 1946, ACVFA was created to serve as a link between the U.S. Government and NGOs that are active in international relief, rehabilitation and development.

“I think this is a great opportunity to have the Muslim voice heard and to show the Islamic perspective on issues that affect the world’s needy,” Ayoub said. “We hope to be able to make a contribution to this prestigious committee.”

Ayoub’s two-year term begins on April 1, 2010 and extends until March 31, 2012. Along with other leaders in the international development field, Ayoub will provide advice, analysis and recommendations to the USAID Administrator on the most pressing development issues in the world today.

USAID is a federal government agency that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. President John F. Kennedy created USAID in 1961 to implement development assistance programs throughout the world.

India Department of State Delegation visits IR

On Tuesday, a delegation of Indian government officials, educators and journalists visited Islamic Relief USA’s headquarters in the Washington D.C.-metro area. They were part of the International Visitor Leadership program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

“I found the work you are doing and the zeal you have to be thrilling,” said Navaid Hamid, a member of the National Integration Council of the Indian government. “After seeing your work, I have to say that the Muslims in South Asia need to learn from your organization.”

The delegation met with Islamic Relief USA CEO, Abed Ayoub (pictured above), to discuss Islamic Relief’s vision and work around the world. Islamic Relief has offices in 35 countries and is the largest Muslim NGO in the West. IR USA’s yearly revenue grew from $7 million in 2002 to $147 million in 2009.

“The meeting was very inspiring and was an eye-opener about the needs of India’s poor,” said Ayoub.

In a presentation to the delegation, International Programs Coordinator, Saadia Abdu, spoke about Islamic Relief USA’s projects in India. IR USA distributed Udhiyah/Qurbani packages to more than 700,000 people in need and IR USA’s donors sponsor 330 orphans in India through IR’s One-to-One Orphan Sponsorship program.

The Department of State plans to send another delegation to IR USA’s headquarters in May.

Monday, March 22, 2010

World Water Day

Mar. 22 was World Water Day, an international day designated by the United Nations to help raise awareness and support for people who lack access to safe water.

In the developing world, about one billion people don't have access to clean drinking water. In fact, more people die each year from waterborne diseases than all violence, including wars.

This is why water and sanitation projects are so important.

A delegation from Islamic Relief USA was invited by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District to an event commemorating World Water Day. The organizers also presented Islamic Relief with an award for our work in the water and sanitation sector.

Gil Garcetti, a photographer and activist, shared his experiences in West Africa, where he met hundreds of people who walked miles everyday just for water, and it wasn't always safe to drink.

Garcetti, who is most known for serving as L.A.'s District Attorney during the OJ Simpson murder trial in the mid-90s, also shared brief excerpts from a one-hour discussion he had with Mali's President, Amadou Toure. Garcetti the crowd that Toure, like many African leaders, wants to bring clean water to his people.

"Everything good flows from safe water," Toure reportedly told Garcetti.

This is our belief as well, as water projects help people lead normal lives, as evidenced by Islamic Relief's projects in Mali. These projects help girls have time for school and mothers to concentrate on enterprise and business.

Islamic Relief has multiple offices in Mali and helps thousands of people in the country. Projects include health and nutrition, education, orphan support, and water and sanitation.

Islamic Relief USA staff recently returned from a visit to Mali. Click here to read more.

Click here to read more about Islamic Relief's water projects.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Haiti aid worker diary

Ruqaya Izzidien joined Islamic Relief’s team on the ground in Haiti, two months after a 7.0-magnitude rocked the island nation. She recently shared her experiences from the field.

March 15

From thousands of feet in the air, it's hard to imagine the destruction below. It's easy to get distracted by the sapphire Haitian coastline and the spiky, copper-tinted mountains that fold away into the horizon. But as the mountains transform into grassy hills and as we near the capital, I spot the first signs of devastation. Patches of sandy earth contrast against the green landscape where entire hillsides slipped away.

Coming in to land, the ground is littered with blocks of blue; plastic sheets that shelter the lucky few who have found protection from the impending rains. The road to our base takes us through one of the worst-hit areas; building after building looks as though it has been carelessly tossed onto the pavement. I try to direct my gaze towards an area that is not occupied by a makeshift campsite, or broken buildings but I struggle to find a house that has not been reshaped, bent in half like a piece of wire or facing the pavement at a 45 degree angle.

There are mounds of rubble which you would never guess once stood as houses if not for the metal frames poking out like skewers from amidst the broken bricks. Just when you think you have found a structure that withstood the earthquake, you view it from another angle and realize that it crumbled from the inside, or that it has no floors, or that it is only the front wall that is still standing. One building resembles a tower of pancakes; every single supporting wall has disappeared, leaving just four floors layered one on top of the other.

Although I have yet to speak to an earthquake survivor, the physical devastation alone is overwhelming. One of my Haitian colleagues tried, but failed, to contextualize the effects of the quake: “This is something you cannot explain- the country was working and in one single minute everything turned upside down.”

Tomorrow I hope to meet people living in Parc Saint Claire, one of the first campsites set up in the aftermath of the quake. It's run by Islamic Relief.

March 16

My first visit to Parc Saint Claire, the camp housing 2,000 homeless people, was eye-opening. Unexpectedly, I recognized people from photographs I’d seen, and it was strange to finally meet the people I've been writing about since I joined Islamic Relief one month ago.

The children at Parc Saint Claire are curious and friendly. They flash bright smiles at you then run away and hide. When a little boy grabbed hold of my hand as he walked past in the other direction, my heart was suddenly warm - and it had nothing to do with the blistering sun.

So many of the girls in the camp are around my age, but they carry the heavy responsibility of raising children in a poverty-stricken country, and the additional challenge of helping them cope with the trauma of the earthquake.

One of these mothers is Beatrice, who looks far younger than her age: 22 years. Beatrice gave birth to her first child on the morning of the quake. A few hours after leaving the hospital, she felt the first tremors of the quake.

“I didn’t know what was happening when the earthquake hit. I was sitting down and my whole house began to shake,” Beatrice said. “My husband grabbed our baby, Emmanuel, and put him under the bed to try and keep him safe. I was very worried about him. Even though my house was only damaged in the quake, I can’t return because it is unstable. I want to go home.”

Beatrice and her husband brought Emmanuel to the football pitch in Parc Saint Claire and sheltered under a sheet until Islamic Relief arrived and set up 200 tents.

“Life improved when Islamic Relief opened this camp but I am still not used to being outside or living in a tent,” explained Beatrice. “Now I want my husband to be able to get a job and my baby to grow up in a stable environment without struggling for food, clothes or education.

I hope people will come to help us and I hope nothing like this ever happens to them. We survived this earthquake but I hope you never have to. May God protect you and may you stay safe.”

The families I spoke to did not simply ask for food or medicine, but emphasized the need for jobs so that they can rebuild their schools, hospitals and homes. I took hope from their determination to rebuild and become self-sufficient once more. In my next post, I hope to share some more of the stories of survival and provide an insight into the work that Islamic Relief is carrying out here.

Click here to read more about Islamic Relief's response to the Haiti earthquake.