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Friday, October 29, 2010

'Day of Dignity' Serves Impoverished in New York City's Brooklyn and Manhattan

New York, New York
Karim Amin

Every time I drive past Exit 9 on the New Jersey turnpike, I feel a shot of energy. The air, traffic and scenery transforms: The autumn-colored trees and rest stops that line the highway are replaced by sprawling buildings and billboards. My mindset changes to a New York state of mind. But underneath all the bright lights of Broadway and the massive bridges that connect this metropolis are the often unheard stories of people in need.

This is the sixth year that Islamic Relief USA hosted Day of Dignity in New York. The weekend of events kicked off in Brooklyn at Masjid Al-Taqwa, the home of Imam Siraj Wahaj. Dozens of volunteers from all over the city converged on this historic mosque to serve the community. The line wrapped around the building. Recipients received basic health check-ups, clothing and food.

Each beneficiary was greeted at the end of the line with a warm meal and drink. Toward the end of the event, Imam Siraj Wahaj stopped by his mosque and provided a boost of energy to the volunteers who had worked so hard to organize this event.

The next day started with the same energy as the first. Recipients lined up outside of the Saint Francis Xavier Church in midtown Manhattan. As some of the city’s homeless and working poor entered the building, they were welcomed with goods and meals.

“This is a great example of interfaith work,” said a St. Xavier staff member. “There are Muslims organizing an event at a Catholic church, with donations (book bags and school kits) from the Mormon church with Jewish volunteers.”

That is the beauty of Day of Dignity. It marries dignity with giving and brings together diverse groups for a common cause — to simply help those who need it, no matter where they are from or where they are going.

--Karim Amin is IR USA's Day of Dignity and domestic programs coordinator
photo: Bilal Aslam

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Extending the Spolight on Breast Cancer Past October

October is dedicated to breast cancer awareness. But as the month winds down, it's important for us to realize that this is a disease that affects hundreds of thousands of women and men around the world, so the spotlight on breast cancer shouldn't end when October turns into November.

We must continue to fight for research, better medicines and more funding to find a cure. Yesterday was Global Pink Day — one special day when we were all asked to wear pink to draw attention to breast cancer. Did you wear pink for breast cancer awareness and for those suffering from this disease?

Consider these facts from the American Cancer Society:

  • Every 69 seconds, somewhere in the world, a woman dies of breast cancer.
  • Almost 500,000 women and men will die of breast cancer in just this year alone.

  • Islamic Relief USA staff and volunteers in Dallas, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for a number of years because we feel this is a very important cause, and we must do what we can to help bring an end to breast cancer. For us, like for so many around the world, this is not just an issue. It's personal. Many of us at IR USA have had a friend or family member diagnosed with breast cancer or have lost a loved one to this disease.

    Please share your support for this cause and wear pink on the last days of this month. Put on a pink shirt or headscarf. Pin a pink ribbon to your clothes. Make your profile picture on Facebook a pink one. Tweet pink. Or take it one step further and sign up to walk with IR USA or with any local group next year. Every little bit helps, insha’Allah.

    -- Nazia A. Hossein, National Volunteer Coordinator for Islamic Relief USA

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Maher Zain, Native Deen kick off tour to benefit children in need

    Evening of Inspiration officially kicked off this past weekend with concerts in San Diego, Calif.; Campbell, Calif.; and Richardson, Texas.

    Acclaimed artists Maher Zain and Native Deen teamed up with Islamic Relief USA to tour the country, helping raise money for Islamic Relief’s projects that serve children in need. More than $200,000 was raised at the events.

    The benefit tour, officially called Evening of Inspiration, lived up to the event’s title with inspiring lyrics and humble stories from the performers.

    One of Native Deen’s band members, Naeem Muhammad, told the crowd in San Diego, which was estimated to be nearly 1,000 strong, that the hip-hop group had originally planned to perform in the United Kingdom but chose to tour with Islamic Relief USA because of the event’s cause.

    “We had a chance to perform internationally in front of thousands of people in London, but we chose to join Islamic Relief, go city to city, across the country, to be involved with their great work,” Muhammad said afterward.

    “Native Deen has toured throughout Africa and visited Islamic Relief’s work in Mali,” he added. “We are inspired by their commitment to helping children, and we hope to invest our music career into the lives of young people around the world. So it’s a perfect match.”

    Don’t miss your chance to enjoy the music of Native Deen and Maher Zain while helping children in need.

    Evening of Inspiration will be coming to Rahway, N.J., on Oct. 30 and Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31.

    To purchase tickets or to read more about Evening of Inspiration, please click here.

    To donate to Islamic Relief’s children’s projects, click here.

    -Zeyad Maasarani

    Are You Ready for an Evening of Inspiration?

    How was your weekend? If you live in California or Texas, did you check out Maher Zain, one of the newest, most popular artists on the nasheed music scene? Along with crowd favorite Native Deen, Maher Zain performed at Islamic Relief USA’s Evening of Inspiration concerts in San Jose, San Diego, and Dallas last weekend — with all concert proceeds going to IR projects supporting children in need.

    The Evening of Inspiration concerts are a signature event for Islamic Relief USA that strives to bring together uplifting entertainment with a chance to help children in need. By purchasing a ticket to these concerts (click here to see the full concert schedule), you’ll be supporting numerous projects at Islamic Relief, like orphan sponsorships, education programs and health care projects for children in need around the world.

    The concerts promise to be truly inspiring, joyous, and fun-filled evenings. This coming weekend the concerts are coming to the East Coast – to New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Don’t miss your chance to see Maher Zain and Native Deen.

    About the Artists

    Native Deen, a trio of talented musicians featuring Joshua Salaam, Abdul-Malik Ahmad and Naeem Muhammad, uses only percussion instruments to perform its music. The group has been performing its unique fusion of R&B and hip-hop music to promote positive Islamic messages for a decade. Native Deen’s last two albums sold thousands of copies, and its newest album, “The Remedy,” was just released in October.

    Singer and songwriter Maher Zain burst onto the music scene just last year with his hit album, “Thank You Allah.” His special blend of meaningful spiritual lyrics and beautiful music has touched millions around the world, and his music videos on YouTube have garnered more than 4 million views. His latest video for “The Chosen One” relates the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and has elevated Islamically inspired music to a whole new level.

    Together, these artists will insha'Allah make for a truly magical and inspiring evening of music. Don’t miss your last chance to see the concert event of the year and support children’s projects at the same time.

    Check out this personal invitation from Maher Zain!

    Click here for more information.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    World Food Day: Give Your Qurbani/Udihiyah and Help Feed the Hungry

    Today is World Food Day, a worldwide event designed to raise awareness, understanding, and action against hunger. This year’s World Food Day comes after massive flooding destroyed crops and clean water supply for millions in Pakistan. In numerous countries in Africa, severe droughts have led to food shortages and a major hunger crisis. And in developing nations all over the world, ailing economies are marginalizing the availability of food.

    Islamic Relief USA humanitarian workers travel to remote corners of the world, reaching out to those most affected by poverty and hunger. As IR USA VP of Fund Development Anwar Khan says, throwing packages off a truck to waiting hands by the side of the road makes for great media footage, but it doesn’t help the elderly ladies in the back of the crowd who aren’t strong enough to elbow their way to the front and collect their due aid. And it doesn’t help remote villagers, often the poorest of the poor, who cannot be reached by paved roads alone.

    In any given country on any given day, one person may die from an obesity-related illness while 100 miles away someone else dies of hunger. We, the nearly seven billion citizens of Earth, produce enough food to feed between 9 and 11 billion people, but one billion people around the world are still living with hunger, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    A Season of Sacrifice: Udhiyah/Qurbani

    This week at Islamic Relief USA, we launched our yearly Udhiyah/Qurbani program. The Islamic tradition of Udhiyah/Qurbani, in which Muslims honor the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), sets a stage for feeding the world’s poor. This Islamic mandate calls for Muslims to sacrifice an animal (goat, sheep, cow or camel – click here for more information) and share that meat with the less fortunate. This is an opportunity for Muslims to ensure at least some of world’s hungry are fed and provided for, especially during the Islamic holy days.

    In 2009 alone, more than a million people benefitted from IR USA’s Udhiyah/Qurbani meat distributions. Many of these people eat little or no meat during the year and look forward to these annual provisions. Many have not eaten a solid meal for weeks, while others have been suffering from starvation. The outpouring of food and nourishment eases their hunger pangs.

    This World Food Day and in the weeks to come, give generously through Islamic Relief USA’s Udhiyah/Qurbani program and help feed those who are unable to feed themselves.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Haiti, Nine Months Later

    It’s been nine months since I last stepped onto the island. I still remember the devastation caused by the earthquake, the camps of injured and newly orphaned children, the thousands of tired people standing in endless lines to receive a minimal quantity of aid, the brick and mortar homes reduced to piles of rubble, the lingering smell of corpses that received no burial and the ever-increasing demand for aid that simply could not be met.

    The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 killed 200,000 people, injured 300,000, displaced 2.3 million and caused $8 billion in damage. I witnessed the ensuing emergency chaos that shattered the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Walking through the camps, I heard victims’ stories of trials and tribulations; and when I landed in a makeshift hospital myself from dehydration, I heard screams echoing around me. It was a trip I’ll never forget.

    Since I left Haiti, Islamic Relief USA has continued to provide support for over 8,000 Haitians through relief and recovery programs focusing on shelter, camp management support and water and sanitation IR USA is also working to ensure that people have access to food and basic needs through cash-for-work programs.

    More than 450 people were hired by Islamic Relief to clear 20,000 tons of rubble from destroyed and damaged buildings, allowing more than 100 families to return to their homes. Damaged schools are being provided materials and labor for repair so an estimated 2,500 students can return to school. And over 600 youth are being trained in computer and trade skills through Islamic Relief USA’s vocational training center.

    While the initial emergency chaos has waned, Haiti is not recovering from the quake rapidly or smoothly enough. Poor infrastructure, an excessively dense population, a lack of adequate building standards, an unbalanced division of economic activity, and other factors have hindered Haiti’s recovery.

    Haiti still needs our help. Now more than ever. Please donate to Islamic Relief USA so we can continue our work there.

    --Karim Amin, Domestic Programs Coordinator for Islamic Relief USA

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    Fighting Hunger, Disease with Aid, Faith and Love: Anwar Khan

    Islamic Relief USA’s VP of Fund Development Anwar Khan returns to Pakistan for the second time since severe flooding in late July marginalized millions of people and spread hunger, disease and homelessness throughout the country. Read about his latest journey below.

    In the final days of my visit through flood-devastated areas, the Islamic Relief team and I headed to Thatta, a town in the province of Sindh, with Pakistani cricketers Moin Khan and Salah Uddin in a three-car convey to join other Islamic Relief staff in the area.

    As we passed the intersection closest to the town of Thatta, we saw some camps and then no organized camps for miles. As we drove into Thatta, we still could see stagnant water. The water is receding, but still stagnant.

    When we were a few kilometers from Jhatti Village, the road stopped and we were delayed by two hours to cross only fifty yards. The water was now a foot high and had gone down from Tuesday, but actually caused more delays. Many of the vehicles were being pulled out by tractors.

    One of our trucks was still stuck and was being unloaded by hand. Our workers were walking through water to load the supplies into smaller trucks.

    We arrived at Jhatti to see people waiting for us in a clinic. The clinic opening had been delayed by the floods.

    We did a quick distribution and then took a break as the crowd was getting larger. Some members of the crowd were getting anxious that they may not get aid. People have given them broken promises for their whole lives. We are asking them to be patient and promised that we would stay for 3 months.

    We proceeded to a quieter part of the village and spoke to more residents. Again we heard stories of aid not getting through, disease spreading and concern for the future. Locals are still drinking contaminated water.

    As we left we saw our water treatment equipment stuck at the flooded road. The driver was refusing to cross and our staff tried to persuade him to cross, like all the other vehicles. Lives can be saved by that equipment arriving in the village.

    We left hoping that we would have done more. We were able to reach areas that no one else has reached. Soon tents and more aid will arrive, however the situation is worsening. The road should open in a few days then more aid will go through.

    Our main projects in Sindh have begun and we are not well known there as in other parts of the country. In time, as people see our work, they will trust us more. We are planning to work in an integrated approach by working in several sectors in the same village.

    Fighting Hunger, Disease with Aid, Faith and Love

    I reviewed the Jhatti trip with our Karachi staff and prepared to leave Pakistan. As I was traveling to UK for meetings I was trying to reflect on the trip. However fatigue had set in and I was trying to just make it to my destination.

    This is my second trip to Pakistan in a month. We followed the path of the floods from north to south. Reconstruction of homes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa started. In Punjab we are winding down emergency distribution and preparing for rehabilitation. In Sindh we are starting emergency distribution in some of the most needy areas.

    I am happy to see progress, but much more needs to be done. We are in a fight against hunger, disease, ignorance and must use our love and our faith to combat these problems with food, medical care and education.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Winning Entry of 'Name that Bee' Contest: Beelal

    “Is this real? Is this really real?” Yomna Abouelleil, winner of Islamic Relief USA’s ‘Name that Bee and Win a Wii’ contest said when she discovered she indeed submitted the winning entry.

    Hundreds of youth across the United States submitted their entries for the contest and a panel of judges voted on the best entry. The winning entry, Beelal, will be the official name of the new Islamic Relief USA children’s mascot. Seven children submitted the winning entry and a drawing was held to determine the winner of the Wii: 15-year-old Abouelleil from Oswego, IL.

    Abouelleil said her cousins helped her select the name Beelal. She also had a message for children in the United States to become more active in helping others: “It’s always good to help out. Even the smallest amount of help can make a very big difference and affect someone’s life in a good way,” she said.

    The following six runner-ups each received a Visa gift card: Sajid Ahmed, 12, of Bridgeview, IL; Youmna Elboghdady, 14, of Orland Park, IL; Ahmed Gaballa, 17, of Franklin Lakes, NJ; Basma Muhammad, 8, of Sterling, VA; Adam Musleh, 7, of Schererville, IN; and Laila Sabagh, 16, of Xenia, OH.

    Other top entries included Bee-smillah, Humble Bee, Habeebee and Bee-liever.

    Islamic Relief USA’s Public Affairs Coordinator, Christina Tobias-Nahi, said the organization chose a bee to be the company’s mascot because of how bees work together in building communities, helping the sick and making the world a more beautiful place.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    From Orphans in the Slums of Rawalpindi to the Once-Lush Fields of Southern Punjab, Anwar Khan's Journey Continues

    Islamic Relief USA’s VP of Fund Development Anwar Khan returns to Pakistan for the second time since severe flooding in late July marginalized millions of people and spread hunger, disease and homelessness throughout the country. Read about his latest journey below and follow his live updates via Twitter: @AnwarKhan_IRUSA.

    Whenever I conduct field visits, even on emergency trips, I try to make time to visit the orphans we sponsor. Last Wednesday, the Islamic Relief team and I went to the slums of Rawalpindi where the stench of open sewage was prevalent in the air and entire families were living in one or two-bedroom homes.

    The first orphan we visited, Kiran, lives in a two-bedroom home with her mother and sister that was damaged by flooding four years ago. The roof is in poor condition, with water leaking into the kitchen whenever it rains. The kitchen is now out of use. Kiran's mother is too ill to work and sponsorship helps Kiran's family pay for food and school uniforms, along with paying down the debt on the cost of repairs to the house from previous flood damage.

    The second orphan we visited, Pari, is originally from Afghanistan and lives in Rawalpindi with her mother and brother. As in Kiran's case, Pari's mother is also too sick to work. Her brother works, but his income does not even cover the cost of food.
    I visit these orphans so as not to forget their plight amidst the destruction and devastation in Pakistan. It helps to fuel our fire to help them as much as we are trying to help the flood victims.

    Helping Many Areas at Once

    The following day, I had meetings with Islamic Relief Pakistan and our international staff to see how we can improve our services to those we help. IR Pakistan is planning an integrated approach where they will be assisting in several sectors simultaneously. We are trying this approach in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh. These are our newer offices, and we already have other work in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Baluchistan.

    Traveling to Lahore on Friday, I saw the lush agricultural fields of northern and central Punjab contrast with the devastated fields of southern Punjab. The floods have mostly affected those in smaller towns and agricultural areas. None of Pakistan's major cities were affected; otherwise the number of flood victims would have been much greater.

    On Saturday we went to Karachi just as our shipment of tents arrived from Dubai and began the process of being cleared by customs for distribution in Sindh. The shipment is anticipated to be cleared by customs on Monday and sent by road to our warehouse in Thatta. We have been told that the food purchased in Karachi was not distributed today but will be tomorrow. I wanted the distribution to begin before we arrived with the cricket player Moin Khan. I did not want us to do the first distribution, but it appears that will be the case tomorrow.

    Traveling daily through flooded areas throughout the country has tired me some, but this is just a part of the work I love. I am blessed to eventually return to a home with running water and a refrigerator stocked with food. Millions of people in Pakistan do not have these luxuries.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Flood Victims Return Home to Debris, No Food, No Water

    Islamic Relief USA’s VP of Fund Development Anwar Khan returns to Pakistan for the second time since severe flooding in late July marginalized millions of people and spread hunger, disease and homelessness throughout the country. Read about his latest journey below and follow his live updates via Twitter: @AnwarKhan_IRUSA.

    During our days here, the Islamic Relief USA team and I have been following the trail of flood devastation through Pakistan from north to south. Thatta District in southern Sindh was devastated by the floods. The district of 300,000 was evacuated days before the floods was about to hit the area, only to have another 200,000 people pour in from remote villages after flooding began.

    The evacuees from the district were sent to camps and higher grounds. Some of the camps were located inside schools, and after Eid-al-Fitr, those taking shelter in the schools were told to leave as the new school year was about to begin.

    On Tuesday, we left Karachi early in the morning and, nearly two hours later, approached the main road outside Thatta. We saw many small camps all next to each other on the main road, with administering organizations’ banners and flags waving about, but as we continued further on down the road, the camps ceased.

    For miles we saw flooded fields, washed out roads, and destroyed bridges. There were not many buildings; those we did see were destroyed. There were a few makeshift tents near the destroyed buildings. As people were returning home from the camps, many found they had no home to return to. All that was left was debris and destruction. Slowly they will have to rebuild their homes and lives.

    From Bad to Worse

    During the drive from Thatta to Jhatti village, which was one of the most devastated villages in the district, we saw roads being rebuilt by hand as we were traveling on them. We were forced to drive in flooded areas while construction as ensuing and at one point one of our accompanying trucks got stuck in a ditch, requiring six people to free it. From that point onwards, someone had to walk in front of the cars in waist-high contaminated water to guide us. We were very grateful to the passerby who assisted us.

    There was a large semi-truck packed with aid that refused to go in the water. It was on a one-way road, and for hours it had blocked all traffic on the road. Finally the other cars had to drive off the road to pass it by. At least one of the cars had to be abandoned.

    We finally arrived at our destination to see a large crowd waiting to get registered to receive aid. Many of the people were told to go home after Eid-al-Fitr. Since their return 10 days ago, they have not received clean water, food, or medicine. In the afternoon heat you could sense the desperation. Children are thirsty and are drinking contaminated water. They are getting sick and have no money for medicine. If they do not receive aid, it is only a matter of time before they start dying.

    A teenage boy died the day before while crossing the flooded water to visit his home. This is the third village on this trip that I have visited where a child has died a few days before my arrival. It has been two months since the emergency was declared in Pakistan, yet children are still dying nearly every day.

    One of the villagers showed me his hands, which were ravaged with scabies. An elderly woman was barely able to talk about her struggle just to survive.
    We were asked to visit homes that were cut off. We had to go knee high in water to get to the first home. These homes are still submerged in water and will collapse.

    Islamic Relief has done a needs-assessment and will be helping this area. Tents have arrived from the Islamic Relief warehouse in Dubai, and we are waiting for them to clear customs. Food and non-food supplies will be purchased in Karachi. The aid will be sent in large trucks to an IR warehouse in Thatta and then will be transported in small trucks to villages. Once the trucks arrive distribution will be done to those who have registered. As we are winding down the emergency distribution in the north and starting the rehabilitation phase, we are preparing for emergency distribution in the south. No aid has reached the area we have visited. I plan to return in a few days to assist and monitor the distribution.

    That night we just about made our flight to Islamabad. Tomorrow we will visit orphans we have been supporting for years.

    Please don’t forget the people of Pakistan in their time of need. They need our help now more than ever. Donate today. Act now to save lives.