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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

IRUSA Team in Palestine

IRUSA's communications specialist, Reem El-Khatib, sends a special thank you from our beneficiaries in Palestine.

July 2-3— A tiring, long trip—48 hours or so—and the IRUSA staff has finally arrived in Ramallah, Palestine. This West Bank town is one of the best known, not just for its famous Rukab ice cream or Al Manara Square, but for its crisp night breeze and its literal closeness to the heavens. It’s one of my favorite places on Earth because its grounds cradle my family roots. Ramallah is a town of high hills and starry nights, and to be here is a blessing from Allah (swt).

We visit three towns north of the West Bank: Nablus, Qalqilya and Jenin, where we interact with people receiving sustainability assistance from Islamic Relief in a variety of ways.

Our visits include a stop to Askar School, in Nablus, a school for boys that is supported by Islamic Relief USA. The school was built to provide educational opportunities for children in the area. Before it was built, the boys had to walk a long way to an older school, over difficult terrain, through harsh weather and in unstable political circumstances that would sometimes close the roads completely or put the boys in danger. The school’s principal, Salah Rasheed, tells me that many of the boys would not even complete a full day because walking home earlier was less dangerous.

The generosity of Islamic Relief donors has changed the boys’ lives. Now, about 500 boys in grades 1-9 can attend school and focus on learning because IRUSA has helped build a safer, more accessible school in the boys’ community. While the boys used to want to leave school early, Principal Rasheed says, “Now, they don’t want to leave.”

I see how much the school means to these boys as I speak with Luay, Ahmed, Osama, Sameer, Mahmoud, Yazan, Mohammed and Marar, boys about to enter fifth, sixth and seventh grade. When they come to play some soccer in the school’s yard, the boys get an impromptu English-word challenge from me. As I write words in English, they try to guess what word I’m writing before I finish writing it, excitedly shouting out the words they recognize—and they know them all.

I watch the boys play around in the yard. I see that this is a place that they feel comfortable in. They are carefree, as children should be. In the periphery, I see a sign that reads, “Supported by Islamic Relief USA.”

That puts a smile on my face.

All the places we traveled to in Palestine,

… whether at this school in Nablus …

… or at Fairouz’s house in Jenin, where Islamic Relief provided her with sewing machines so that she could support herself and her family and put herself through college …

… or to the roads in Azzun that Islamic Relief cleaned so that farmers like Abu Othman could reach his olive tree groves …

… or to the new hospital in Yatta, where patients and doctors repeatedly told us that the close location helps them financially and physically by removing the arduous task of traveling for hours to Al-Khalil (Hebron) for daily dialysis treatments …

… or to Umm Mohammed’s home, where Islamic Relief is helping build a greenhouse so she can plant produce to feed herself and her 15 children and to sell for financial security …

… or to Shwayka, where Islamic Relief distributed 26 sheep to 13 families so they can raise herds that will insha’Allah provide for them for generations …

... all over Palestine, our interactions with local Palestinians who’ve benefited from Islamic Relief programs and projects always ended with a simple phrase: “Thank Allah (swt) and thank you.”

Thank you, Islamic Relief family—volunteers, supporters and donors—for all of the good work you do in Palestine. Insha’Allah these projects will help sustain the people for generations to come.

Jazakum Allahu khair.

Friday, July 1, 2011

IRUSA Team Bids Farewell To "Umm Al-dunia"

IRUSA Communications Specialist Reem El-Khatib sends us some final words from last days in Egypt.

June 30-July 1, Al-Ayyat, Egypt -- I'm ending my trip to Egypt, where and when I started it: around 3 a.m., overlooking a bustling Cairo. The few days that IRUSA has spent in Egypt has been absolutely amazing, between meeting with various ministries and other NGOs, to connecting with the wonderful staff at Islamic Relief Egypt, (shout out to Rasha, Marwa, Hind, Iman, Dr. Yousef, Dr. Khaled, and many more), but absolutely nothing can top meeting the exceptional people of Egypt, including those who have received assistance from Islamic Relief programs.

Our final day in Egypt was spent in Al-Ayyat. It’s an area about 30 minutes outside of Cairo, and its poor are considered among the poorest. A region that relies heavily on agriculture, we learned that about 95% of Al-Ayyat's women work to clean okra so that it can be sold to manufacturers. For many families, this is a primary source of income.

Today, Islamic Relief was able to distribute 50 food parcels, packed with rice, macaroni, dried yogurt, cooking oil, lentils, rice and more to families in Al-Ayyat. One-by-one, women lined up to receive the parcels, placing the largest boxes on their heads; warmly thanking the staff; and exiting with their heads and food packages held high. Amira, a girl of about 12 years old, was one of many who patiently waited in line to receive a food parcel for her family. Another young girl, Rasha, was concerned she would not be able to carry the heavy parcel. Amira reassured her that she could, and she did, the two smiling as they returned home with their food parcels.

This exemplifies the wonderful spirit of the Egyptian people, wherever they are found. Everyone we have encountered, no matter what their particular circumstances, has been extremely warm and gracious, much like the beautiful breeze that is flowing into my room as I write this.

IRUSA was also able to spend lots of quality time with a Christian family in Al-Ayyat's Beedif district who have been receiving assistance from Islamic Relief for quite some time, and received a food parcel with today's distribution.

"We are all one," said Wahid Malak Abdel-Shahid, "Islamic Relief is our family...and our family is their family."

Yes, that's right. Al hamdulilah. A hearty "ma3 il salama," Egypt. -- We certainly know now that you are "umm al-dunia."

Thursday, June 30, 2011

IRUSA Team Visits El-Minya, Egypt

IRUSA communications specialist Reem El-Khatib reports to us from Egypt on the living conditions and needs of one Egyptian family.

June 28-29 -- She fainted and my heart stopped as I innately yelled, "Ya Allah." Ilham, a 15-year old girl, fainted as I was interviewing her mother about the conditions she and her children face on a daily basis. Ilham, her sister Hala (16), her brother Mohammed (8), and their mother receive food and monetary assistance from a local mosque and will also be part of the orphan sponsorship program that Islamic Relief will be starting in the region in one month. Ilham and Hala both have had four heart surgeries, and their brother Mohammed is paralyzed. Their house is the second one we visited in the Abu Ghalaq region of El-Minya. -- Its people are considered the poorest of the poor in the region.

Their mother, widowed for some nine years now, explained that she cannot afford medications for the girls or for her son, although she hopes that someday, perhaps through Orphan Sponsorship, she will be able to send her girls away to get proper care for their heart conditions and will be able to get Mohammed the therapy and the prosthetics he needs to be mobile.

I saw Ilham tap her mother's shoulder out of the corner of my eye. I thought maybe she was becoming uncomfortable with my interview and Ridwan's videography and photography, but I learned soon after that it wasn't that simple. --Ilham had been trying to get her mother's attention because she realized that she was going to faint. Her head hit the marble floor behind her.

With the assistance of some of our friends from the mosque, sniffing oils, and a little mixture of water and sugar, we were able to get Ilham responsive again. Her mother tells me that this is normal for Ilham. Her daughters have weak hearts and blood. Malnutrition and lack of access to the medication they need means that they faint regularly.

As Ilham lay in her mother's arms, I wondered what the future of this lovely young girl, her sister, her brother and her mother holds. I hope that through the assistance they will soon be receiving from Islamic Relief, there is much hope to hope for.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

IRUSA team: In Helwan

Children study at the Early Intervention Rehabilitation Center in Egypt. Photo by Reem El-Khatib

IRUSA communications specialist Reem El-Khatib offers a first-hand account from the field in Egypt about ongoing programs supported by IRUSA in the region.

June 27-28—Helwan is a city whose history starts as a recreational destination for jet-setters and the rich. After it was converted to an industrial area, the area began to take a turn for the worse as the pollution spewed out by concrete and iron manufacturers drown the city in dense haze and toxins.

Today, as we discovered during our journey through and discussions with the people of Helwan, its children suffer from genetic disorders and deformities that have been attributed to its conversion.

We first stopped at EIRC, the Early Intervention Rehabilitation Center, a program that started in early 2000s to assist children who need special attention due to psychological and physical conditions that include autism, speech delays, Down syndrome, and mental challenges. The center provides each admitted child with a personal therapist who assists them according to their particular needs, and offers art therapy, family sessions and income-generation projects that help the mothers of EIRC’s children.

Dr. Mansour Yousef, the head of one of the departments, introduced us to so many wonderful children and staff members, including Aya Khaled. Aya is in her last year of assistance at EIRC—the program only follows children until they reach 8 years old. She is mentally challenged, and has difficulty understanding concepts, expressing herself and controlling her hand movements. Five years of help at EIRC has turned Aya, once destined to be dependent upon others for daily life, into a very independent young lady who is able to match pictures to concepts; to respond to her aunt’s requests to bring her “lebene from the refrigerator”; and she now uses her hands to signal certain answers, such as “thank you.”

“The program has made a huge difference in Aya’s life,” says her aunt and guardian Muna. Muna takes care of Aya because her mother, who has twins at home, cannot afford to. Muna relays that she is so thankful for the program and for all of the wonderful therapists that have helped Aya grow—but what’s next, she asks? Aya has met her term, and now, Muna, Aya, Aya’s therapist and Dr. Yousef all wonder if the progress that she has made will stick with her or will fizzle away as her weekly one-hour sessions do.

This is a common concern that I heard throughout our time at EIRC—what is next? When I asked Mohammed’s mom if she has hope for his future, as a child with Down syndrome, at first she wasn’t sure, and then she said, “yes, so long as he continues to progress with the help of EIRC.” Amin’s mom had the same hopes for him, as did Samah’s mom and the mothers and aunts and therapists and families of the 134 children who were in EIRC and the hundreds more who were waiting to get in.

There was another commonality that the children at EIRC shared with me—smiling faces. Every child smiled, despite his or her condition. Smiles abounded, and they were warm and sincere.
Those same smiles met us as we traveled with staff members Rasha, Hind and Iman to visit several families throughout Helwan. These families were among Helwan’s 30% of extremely impoverished who are going to soon be receiving financial assistance, food parcels and health care support during Islamic Relief’s one-year sponsorship program.

Suad, Samira, Sameer, Mustafa, Iman, Mohammed, Ro’ayah, Ashraf, AbdelRahman, Salma, Zainab, Ziad, Nurihan live in extremely—extremely—poor circumstances. Although from separate families, the contents of their collective households would likely fit in one closet of ours. Dwellings were so tight and consolidated that they had bathrooms in kitchens; kitchens separated from bedrooms by one torn and tattered curtain; and typically one bedroom that would be shared by 5 or 6 occupants. Sometimes, the bathrooms wouldn’t be in the house at all—Suad tells us that 17-year old Samira (engaged to be married) has to stand guard at the outdoor bathroom, holding the curtain shut, so that no one can see or go in while it’s in use. Samira demonstrates how she does this and literally steps about 4 feet to get to the eggplant that is burning on the stove because of our lengthy set of questions.

And when we first walked into the room that Salma, who was left by her husband who married another woman, we all tried not to look so puzzled when we noticed Zainab, a former EIRC participant, sitting in a green bucket. Our puzzlement turned to heartbreak when we learned that she sat in the bucket because her wheelchair was broken. Zainab was immobile and did not even have the assistance of a wheelchair to help her move about. What's more? The setup of the space that Salma lived in was constructed in such a way that the bathroom is four steep stairs up; the kitchen is three stairs up; and the exit is almost a leap down—definitely not an accommodating space for someone with a wheelchair, let alone a paralyzed young lady whose wheelchair is broken. Salma told me that she has to carry her 12-year-old daughter or ask for assistance any time she wants or needs to move Zainab somewhere; that is likely why you'll find Zainab sitting in that green bucket most of her day, every day. Salma is older and weaker and just can't muster the strength to move Zainab regularly.

There is so much we want to know, but sometimes the pictures and the experience of being there and meeting children like Samira is more than any word can describe. Insha’Allah, IRUSA will bring you more information about Samira and her family as well as the wonderful families we met throughout Helwan in following days—in both words and pictures.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hope and Help in Egypt

IRUSA communications specialist Reem El-Khatib offers a first-hand account from the field in Egypt about ongoing programs supported by IRUSA in the region. Below is the first in a series of day-to-day posts of her experiences.

June 25-26

The anxiety of what a trip to Egypt would be like now—in a post-revolutionary era, at a time where Egyptians of all backgrounds, ages, religions, classes stood together to demand better living conditions—set in when I first realized that I would be traveling to Egypt for Islamic Relief USA. I had never been to Egypt before, and while I have traveled to many parts of the world, I've never traveled internationally on the behalf of an organization.

Creative director Ridwan Adhami and I have joined several Islamic Relief USA executives to see first-hand how IRUSA programs continue to help improve the living conditions for Egyptians throughout the country. When we first exited the airport late night June 25, we both took a deep gulp of Egyptian breeze and almost simultaneously said, "This feels like when I go home" (home for me being Palestine and for Ridwan being Syria). Tonight, Umm ad-Dunya resonated with both of us as just that.

The Egyptian night breeze, the hustle and bustle of honking horns and jay-walking pedestrians—feels so beautifully familiar, yet, also surreal. I told Mohammed, who picked us up from the airport, that I had been glued to a TV screen for months watching the events unfold earlier this year and "That's the Egyptian Museum!" and "Now, we're driving on the Oct. 6 Bridge!"

I asked Mohammed, who also works with Islamic Relief in Egypt, how now is different than then—before the revolution started on Jan. 25. Quite simply, he said, we are now comfortable in mind and we have hope. He assured me that Egyptians are not disillusioned and do not think that everything is fixed and perfect. They know and we know there is much to do—and the Islamic Relief programs we are preparing to see in the following days are evidence of that. But, overall, there is a pure, comfortable hope that progress is being and will soon be made.

Ahmed, an extremely accommodating hotel host, offered a similar note, as he helped us secure our rooms for the night—he said that relief organizations were seemingly strengthening their programs here and visiting more often to help more. He had heard "Islamic Relief" a lot in the past few days, and he was happy to welcome more of its staff.

Now, settled in for the evening, I look out at the Cairo night at 2:15 am July 26 ... I see the hilal hanging in the sky and I ask ALLAH (swt) to watch over and protect Ridwan, Mohammed, Ahmed and everyone I interact with during my time here; I ask for protection for all of the Islamic Relief community who supports IRUSA programs in Egypt and elsewhere; I pray for the protection for all of the wonderful Egyptians who work in the field with or receive assistance from Islamic Relief—I pray and feel the Cairo night pulsing with horns and hope.

Insha'Allah, I'll keep you posted on more news from Egypt—with special regard to our food distribution and therapy programs—in coming days. May ALLAH (swt) accept your good deeds always, and may all of Egypt's warm, welcoming and good people sleep a sound and hope-filled night.

Tisba7o 3ala khair.

Monday, June 20, 2011

World Refugee Day: Supporting refugees worldwide

Aisha is 10 years old. She used to live in Nalut in western Libya. Then, early this year, violence erupted in Libya, and Aisha and her mother and four brothers had to leave their home. They found shelter in Tunisia at a refugee camp managed by the United Nations. At the camp, Islamic Relief provides 180 Libyan children daily classes and recreational activities. Despite being far away from home, in a state of uncertainty, these classes allow the children to keep up with their studies … and maybe, for a little while, forget their homesickness.

Today is World Refugee Day, and Aisha’s family is among tens of thousands of refugees Islamic Relief USA is caring for around the world. More than 20,000 of these refugees, who fled from violence in Libya, are taking shelter at several camps in Tunisia where Islamic Relief is providing services. At the camp where Aisha is staying, Islamic Relief is focusing on services for the children; at other camps, Islamic Relief teams are providing basic necessities for survival, such as food, water and shelter. Many thousands more refugees have already stayed at these camps and then received help getting home.

As turbulence has spread across the Middle East, Islamic Relief’s effort to help is also growing. Islamic Relief recently launched an effort to provide food and hygiene supplies to 6,000 Syrian refugees who have left their homes to escape violence and taken shelter in northern Lebanon. The first packages for the Syrian refugees and their Lebanese hosts were distributed June 7: Teams handed out 375 kits to 375 families in 19 villages in the Wadi Khaled area. Each family received food, hygiene items and 20 liters of water.

Islamic Relief also recently began providing assistance to people in Yemen who have been displaced by the upheaval there. More than 1,000 internally displaced families will receive hygiene kits and a one-month ration of foods including rice, oil, beans and flour. Teams are also setting up community kitchens in schools.

None of this can take away the fear, the uncertainty, the homesickness the refugees experience … but it gives them hope and the sense that someone cares for them.

Help Islamic Relief help refugees globally. Donate today.

Recent Visit Earns Praise for Islamic Relief's Children Education Initiatives

Friday, June 17
Update. Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, visited the Ramada camp for Libyan refugees in Tunisia last week to check on the progress of Islamic Relief's Child Protection program for Libyan children, a program that has provided support, schooling and after school activities to refugee children. News crews including CNN and Press TV covered the event, as Commissioner Guterres praised Islamic Relief's team for their school initiatives.

Here are some photographs from Islamic Relief's most recent children's activities in the Ramada camp:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A School That Brings Smiles to Libyan Children

Asma Yousef, Islamic Relief USA's public relations representative, is on the ground in Tunisia at the Ramada camp run for Libyan refugees. The following is her first-hand account of how the camp is serving some of its most precious and vulnerable members—the children.

Thursday, May 19
It is 2:00 p.m. local time. An announcer through a microphone reminded residents at Ramada camp, a camp run by the Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Libyan refugees in Tunisia, it was time for Islamic Relief's after school programs.Children ages 3 to 14 rushed to line up for the start of the program. Libyan mothers came out of their tents calling upon their children to join the activities. Each group was divided by age and class activity. Some of the older children brought their infant siblings along.

The program is part of Islamic Relief USA's child protection initiative for Libyan children at Ramada camp. IRUSA's project provides morning schooling session for 180 students from pre-k to 8th grade. Their subjects of study cover mathematics, reading, writing, science and Quran, with plans to test the students in a month to enable them to complete this school year. After a two-hour break, students begin their after-school program which includes music, painting, handcrafts and theatre.

The 1,400 inhabitants of this camp share the same narrative: they were forced to flee their homes and abandon their possessions as violence gripped the western part of Libya. Amid constant shelling and bombardment, men rushed women and children into trucks and drove for two hours through treacherous mountain terrain to arrive in Tunisia. Inhabitants have told me that their children—traumatized by what they have seen— were having difficulty trusting others. Many I spoke with were hesitant to reveal their names or say where they came from.

But today, I can see the positive effects of the school program, and am most-amazed at the transformation of these brave Libyan children. As soon one comes upon the children at the camp, the first thing they do is extend their hands to shake yours. Children at Ramada smile as they welcome visitors to what has become their temporary home. They are eager to engage visitors in conversation—introducing themselves and asking about who you are and where you come from. As a mother of two myself, it's difficult imagine the level of stress these children must have endured. I find myself comforted by their confidence and smiles as they wave their victory signs, showing pride and courage.

Undoubtedly, the life of a refugee is new to the inhabitants of the camp. As one Islamic Relief staffer explained to me: "The situation in Ramada camp is unique. Usually residents at refugee camps in other conflicts tend to be the less-fortunate, less-educated segment of society. We are seeing the vast majority of residents here are very well-educated professionals, who have never lived a life of hardship but had to adjust to the new circumstances."

UPDATE: Moments after this blog was posted, Islamic Relief was given an appreciation award by scouts from Benghazi who visited Ramada camp.

Learn more about IRUSA's Libya humanitarian relief efforts here. See more pictures taken by IR team members in Tunisia via Facebook.

Currently, there are 1,400 inhabitants at the UNHCR-run camp with plans to expand it further. With your support, these plans can be realized. Please donate toward IRUSA's Libya Humanitarian Relief fund.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Aiding Alabama

On April 27, some 150 tornadoes tore through six southern U.S. states, decimating communities and destroying lives. More than 230 people died in Alabama—the hardest-hit state.

In cities across Alabama, damage estimates range from millions to billions of dollars. Birmingham’s mayor William Bell suggests that removing debris may cost some $10 million while insured losses are expected to exceed $2 billion.

Islamic Relief USA was quick to respond to calls for relief efforts in the aftermath of the April tornadoes. Within days, the IRUSA team was on the ground in Alabama.

IRUSA has been working closely with American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and community and faith-based groups to get resources to survivors as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Here are some of the ways IRUSA team members have helped provide aid:

  • Visiting sites to assess damage
  • Staffing health clinics
  • Operating emergency response vehicles
  • Providing situational reports
  • Providing support to the American Red Cross' staff services, partner services, finance, and mental health services, and its Integrated Care Team.
  • Operating shelters, and providing shelter services, including cleaning, dormitory patrol, child care, front-desk support, answering phones, and setting up cots.
  • Assisting at federal sites
  • Operating preliminary data assessment devices
  • Distributing blankets, clothing, food to survivors
  • Interviewing survivors to assess needs
  • Conferring with other relief organization on best practices and innovative ways to serve survivors and assist with clean-up efforts
  • Connecting the Alabama governor’s office with a real estate agent to help secure temporary housing for displaced survivors
  • Giving toys to children to help create a sense of normalcy for them
  • Advising mosque congregations on how to respond to emergencies; garner supplies and distribute resources to survivors in their areas

IRUSA’s Miriam Soliman said, “We went to the Birmingham Islamic Center and were warmly welcomed by the community. We later connected another Muslim community—the Islamic Center of Tuscaloosa, which has a small distribution center—with B.I.C. and its local thrift store.” This is just one example of how IRUSA and the local Muslim communities worked together to help relief efforts.

But IRUSA’s efforts have extended well beyond Alabama’s Muslim population—and were recognized by many locals, including priest Jack Hinnen from Riverchase United Methodist Church in Bessemer. Jack sent a warm note, thanking IRUSA for its efforts in Alabama—he mentioned that he wanted to buy coffee for the volunteers, but couldn't do so in time, so he made a donation toward's IRUSA's work instead.

IRUSA's efforts were also documented in "Religious Relief for Southern Disasters,” an article on, one of the nation’s top blog sites.

Perhaps most important, however, are the connections IRUSA has made with survivors and other volunteers, such as Jefferson Traywick. Jefferson, an American Red Cross volunteer working in Alabama, posted this on IRUSA’s Facebook page:

"As a local Red Cross volunteer from Alabama, I just want to publicly acknowledge the great contributions your volunteers have made down here. I spent the day yesterday with five IR workers doing damage assessment in rural parts of the state and helping unload a tractor trailer load of supplies in Alexander City. The IR volunteers worked hard and were an absolute pleasure. Thank you all!"

IRUSA has been using every minute it can to provide assistance. An example: the IRUSA team arrived early for a day to be dedicated to survivor interviews—while waiting for the drivers who would take them to the work sites, team members fulfilled a request from the American Red Cross to help with an administrative task.

"IRUSA is gaining a reputation for filling any need requested,” says IRUSA’s W. Derrick Lea, “And we will continue to serve in this manner."

Thank you for your continued support toward our efforts in Alabama. To help us help more, donate to our USA Emergency fund.

And please remember to pray for the victims, survivors and relief workers in Alabama.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Motherhood brings unspeakable joy, but all moms know it’s not easy

In celebration of Mother's Day, May 8, 2011, Lina Hashem, Islamic Relief USA communications specialist and mother of two, writes about the significance of being a mother.

The early years can mire a mother in diapers, midnight feedings, lack of sleep. Then you watch your child grow older and head away from you – onto the bus for first grade, behind the wheel of a car, off to college, down the aisle on her wedding day.

But in some countries, the hardships are much more basic: Can I get to a doctor for prenatal care? Will I have help from a doctor, nurse or midwife for the birth itself? Will I survive?

And then, looking into the hungry eyes of my child … can I find food for him? Can I get help for her when she is sick? In some countries, as many as one in every four children born this year will die before his fifth birthday – will my child be one of them?

In the United States, good medical care makes childbirth relatively safe. A mother in the United States has a 14 in 100,000 chance of dying. In Afghanistan – where only 14% of births are attended by medical personnel – a mother’s chance of dying during birth is 10,000% higher.

According to the World Health Organization, one thousand women died every day in 2008 from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the vast majority of them in poor regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Save the Children ranked Afghanistan as the worst place to be a mother — Yemen was not far behind, ranked at 161 out of 164 countries, and Mali came in at 157. Islamic Relief provides programs that help women in all of these countries and many more.

In Afghanistan, Islamic Relief is giving women education and entrepreneurial support so they can live better lives and provide for their children.

In Yemen, Islamic Relief programs are teaching women practices to improve their health as well as that of their children. These programs also help free them from crushing daily burdens so they can work and lift their families out of poverty.

In Mali, pregnant women are at heightened risk for malaria, a deadly threat. An Islamic Relief program is providing them with preventative care and treatment if they get sick. A new maternal health center is helping save lives of mothers in a country where 830 mothers die for every 100,000 births.

Countless other Islamic Relief programs help mothers around the world. In Pakistan, at a new health clinic in Nowshera funded by Islamic Relief USA, teams hired a female doctor so conservative women will agree to receive medical treatment. Here in the United States, an Islamic Relief grant is supporting a shelter for battered women and their children in Baltimore.

Islamic Relief is working to alleviate the suffering of mothers around the world. This Mother’s Day, when you give your beloved mother a gift, consider giving one of these other mothers a gift as well – a gift that might just save her life and allow her children the blessing and right to grow up with a mother.

Please donate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Journey Through Pakistan: Eight Months After the Floods, How is the Country Faring?

Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief USA'S vice president of fund development, is on the ground in Pakistan, and gives a first-hand account of how the country and its people are faring post flood.

Sunday, April 17
I returned to Southern Punjab which was devastated by the floods last year, as was large amounts of Pakistan. I was eager to see how people were doing eight months later. The floods were akin to a slow-moving tsunami, which spanned five weeks decimated large areas from the North to the South affecting all five states.

For many of us living in the U.S., the 2010 Pakistan floods have become a distant memory: more recent turmoil in the Middle East and natural disasters in Japan have taken precedence in the media.

Insha’Allah, my journey through the country will help us reconnect with the people of Pakistan so that we can learn about how much has been done and how much still needs to be done to help them rebuild.

Monday, April 18
I was eager to return to Muzaffargarh, but did not miss the heat and humidity of the area. Mercifully, there were clouds and it was only 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Last time I was here it was more than 110 degrees and humid.

We traveled to Mashori, a remote area where Islamic Relief has been helping rebuild villages that were washed away during the 2010 floods. IR has been building one room houses, toilets, sewage pipes and water pumps here. As part of an integrated-rehabilitation program , IR teams have been distributing chickens, goats and sewing machines to local women to help them generate extra income while caring for their children; the sewing machines also help take care of their families’ sewing needs. Men from Mashori often travel outside of the area to work as drivers in larger cities.

Many of Mashori’s families have 10 children—many of the girls marrying in their teens. One such lady is Farzana Bibi, who is 18 years-old, and has three children. During last year’s floods, she was forced to evacuate her home and live in a tent with 12 people for a month. When she was finally able to return, she found that her home and belongings had washed away. But now, al hamdulilah, things are improving: Golden fields of wheat are growing next to the shack she is staying in. Farzana is grateful that life is seemingly coming back to the village, but explains that she has to rebuild and reestablish everything from scratch—the little possessions and savings she had collected during her young eighteen years of life were wiped away with the flood waters. She was already surviving in impoverished circumstances; the floods exacerbated that.

And despite it all, Farzana is so thankful for the bed and emergency aid she received from IR early on, but said she had received no other aid since returning home. She brought back the tent she was staying in the camp and set it up next to her shack, made of broken bricks, stones and pieces of wood. Soon, she will be moving into a new home IR is building—it will be equipped with a toilet and sewer. Farzana has also received 10 chickens, and will soon be getting a goat—she is very pleased. Once the nearby water pump is built, Farzana will also have access to clean water from the correct depth (120 ft. deep), instead of contaminate water from the current shallow depth (40 ft. deep). There is also a clinic nearby; she and her family will have access to free medicine and medical care, provided via a joint IR and government project, for a full year.

When many 18-year old girls around the world are making plans to go to college, Farzana, an 18-year old mother of three, is striving to rebuild her life. She is a dignified woman.

During my journey, I’ve met many like Farzana who have heart-breaking and captivating stories to share:

Sameer Azhar’s mother approached us with her 4-year old son: He is in pain from a kidney stone, but his family cannot afford the $200 operation to remove it. They have already depleted their $100 savings on medication.

Asia Bibi was very emotional when she told me the hell she had to live through in the camp last year. Her story reminded me of one of my camp visits last year, where I learned about an 11-month old baby who died from hunger during Ramadan.

All the families I had met in Mashori had hope for the future as there new village was being built in front of their eyes.

I also visited Ghohar Wala. There, despair was in the air as villagers are still waiting for assistance some eight months after the floods. Immediately after the floods, Ghohar Wala received some emergency assistance from IR and other agencies, but the village is still in ruins: homes have been decimated; children are drinking contaminated water, spouting from a 40 foot dig, when clean water begins at 120 feet; doctors do not visit their area and residents cannot afford transportation to the hospitals in the main town; veterinary doctors don’t come either, so many of the villages cattle have died or are sick.

Local IR relief teams recently announced that they will soon help rebuild Ghohar Wala—the villagers are ecstatic.

An elder asked me if IR was going to rebuild the mosque, but before I could answer, another resident responded, and said that IR would build them their houses and they—the villagers—would build the house of Allah (swt).

It was interesting to see the difference between Mashori and Ghohar Wala. I saw hope and despair, the difference when they get assistance and when they do not. For every village that is helped, there are still many more that need help. To the men, women and children of that village knowing that others care enough to offer assistance makes a world of difference.

Tuesday, April 19
Islamic Relief’s integrated village rehabilitation programs in Pakistan include health components aimed at addressing "Millennium Development Goals": reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. In conjunction with the local government’s health authority, the region’s IR staff and doctors run mobile clinics that run for one year, and rotate among different villages at no charge to residents. Without these clinics, many of the patients would not receive even basic primary care; they would suffer—many would die.

Scabies, skin infections and diarrhea are prevalent among flood survivors. For children—already malnourished and receiving little food—being hit with diarrhea could be deadly: an 11-month old baby girl in Muzaffargarh died the day before I first arrived in the area last year (a few weeks after the floods); the cause of her death was hunger and contaminated water. Many of the area children were bathed in dirty water because residents had no other choice.

Now, the campsite is different: the flood waters have receded, and people have gone home. The bridge has been reconstructed, so, instead of traveling by boat, as we had to do last year, one can now drive a motorcycle.

But the conditions are still dire: Many lost their homes and all of their belongings; they’ve had to endure temperatures that surpass 110 Fahrenheit. I met a local man, who was clutching Tylenol in his hand. He told me that it was the only medicine he had for his children—it had to serve whatever ailment they faced.

In Bundh, I visited a clinic and witnessed the stream of people who came in the morning from nearby villages to receive treatment. One of the top conditions facing women here is anemia—60% of the adult female population is affected. Poor nutrition is a cause. The women, who often marry in their early teenage years and have many children, often have to sacrifice their food rations for their children and husbands: whatever little meat the family has often goes to the husband first; the rest is divided among the family.

Labor is another concern for the area’s women: At the clinic this morning, I saw a female doctor give a birthing kit to a pregnant patient—the kit would help reduce infection during child birth. The doctor told her that if she gave birth between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., she could get free care at the clinic; after that, she would have to make do at home with the kit.

And the water: the water in the area is still contaminated, and diarrhea is rampant. But, insha’Allah, water pumps will be installed soon, and will help reduce the amount of water-borne disease.

As I left Muzaffargarh, I was happy that there had been progress; homes were being built; clean water would be arriving; livelihood earning programs had begun. However there were still many people in need.

It’s interesting to compare what I see in each area I visit: Yesterday, I saw hope in the people of Mashori, who had already been receiving help and seeing progress made; in Ghohar Wala, I saw despair turn to excitement and applause as villagers heard that soon (after about nine months insha’Allah), they would also be getting help. The dignity and resilience of these people has made quite an impression on me. Everyone is very friendly and hospitable, especially the children: they insist that I drink a cold glass of soda when I visit them. That is a rare treat for them and an honor for me.

Wednesday, April 21
Today was full of meetings with the IR Pakistan staff in Islamabad. Team members explained that the chronology of their response to the 2010 floods had gone from emergency to rehabilitation and now, finally, to development.

The government has requested that relief efforts move beyond food aid—officials do not want residents to become dependent upon outside assistance for food; rather, the government wants the people to be supplied with the tools they need to support themselves. Various work-for-food programs and income-generation programs have been implemented to help the people help themselves. As the one-year anniversary of relief efforts approaches, however, many of these programs may be phased out within the coming months.

IR Pakistan is working in large villages in Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa and Punjab, and in smaller communities in Balochistan and Sindh. The country director was shocked at the malnutrition levels in Sindh. He said that he had known malnutrition levels to be that high in Africa, but did not realize that was now also the case in Pakistan.

Islamic Relief teams are looking beyond the programs currently in place to see what other versatile projects can be developed and implemented to help those affected by the floods in more ways.

Tomorrow, insha’Allah, I will return to KPK.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

IR USA Receives Top Charity Rating For Eighth Consecutive Year

Islamic Relief USA last week earned its eighth consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, the United States’ largest and most respected overseer of US charities. The 4-star rating – Charity Navigator’s highest mark – recognizes IR USA’s sound fiscal management.

Only 2% of the charities we rate have received at least 8 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Islamic Relief USA consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way, and outperforms most other charities in America,” Charity Navigator President Ken Berger wrote in a letter dated April 1, 2011.

This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Islamic Relief USA from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust,” Berger wrote.

IR USA’s CEO Abed Ayoub accepted this year’s distinction. “We are honored by this recognition,” Ayoub said. “We work hard every day to ensure we utilize our donor funds in the most transparent and responsible way. This rating by Charity Navigator is proof that we’re on the right track.”

Charity Navigator rates 5,000 U.S. nonprofit organizations every year, providing donors with essential information to give them greater confidence in the charitable choices they make.

To stay up to date on Islamic Relief's work, subscribe to our email list, become a fan on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New projects on the West Bank

Three new Islamic Relief projects have reached momentous stages in Palestine’s West Bank: A new school opened in February, a kidney dialysis center is preparing to open and a land rehabilitation project is getting under way.


The Askar Camp School is a modern campus for 550 students in grades 1-9. Before the school opened, children traveled all the way to other end of the refugee camp, across the main highway, to go to class – about two to three miles each way.

This school will serve boys. Another new school recently opened nearby for the local girls.

Local officials and a representative of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) attended the grand opening on Feb. 20, 2011.

The school, which cost $1.3 million to build, features high-tech amenities appropriate for a world-class education to help children in the refugee camp break the cycle of poverty.

“The Askar School is a great example of quality work,” said Yousef Abdallah, an Islamic Relief USA regional operational manager who attended the grand opening. “It’s state of the art -- it has a computer lab, science lab, meeting rooms, 18 classrooms … It’s going to have a huge impact.”

Kidney dialysis center

In the West Bank, health care is often a long and difficult journey away. A new kidney dialysis center will make it easier for many in the southern West Bank to receive vital treatments.

The center is almost ready to open in Abu Al Qasem Hospital in Yatta. The room and infrastructure are ready, and the six kidney dialysis units should be up and running in a month or so, Abdallah said.

About 700 patients in Yatta and surrounding areas will benefit from the center. For these patients, regular dialysis treatment is essential for their health, and now the journey will be much less burdensome.

Land rehabilitation

Islamic Relief is also rehabilitating a section of land just inside the wall partitioning off the West Bank.

This land used to be planted with olive trees, Abdallah said. Then the partition wall was built on it, and the trees were uprooted. The wall was later moved back about 2.5 miles. A section of land about 50-60 feet by 7 or 8 miles long was left destroyed.

“Now people are trying to reuse this land,” Abdallah said. “The first phase is to make roads across the agricultural land to enable people to reach their land.”

During Abdallah’s visit in late February and early March, machinery was clearing land of rocks and other debris to make way for the roads. This land is mountainous, so after the roads are built, terraced steps will be carved to create fields that can be farmed more efficiently. Farmers will most likely replant olive trees, as that is the best crop in the area, Abdallah said. Unlike before, however, the farmers will be able to carry in their harvest via car rather than on animals.

“In developing countries,” Abdallah said, “the land is priceless for people. It’s something in their blood, it’s their roots. To help them fix their land and utilize it – you’re really helping them with something that is so dear to their hearts. They recognize that and appreciate what Islamic Relief is doing.”

Building up communities and individuals

Islamic Relief also has several other projects in the area.

Orphan sponsorships and food distributions are ongoing, and a $1.4 million family sponsorship project started less than a year ago. The program ensures that 1,500 of the most affected families are provided with basic nutrition and services needed for survival. It also enables families to cover part or all costs of medication and supplies children with school bags, uniforms and stationery items for an educational year.

“We’re helping on different levels – the individual and communities,” Abdallah said. “We’re helping individuals when we do projects like the Askar School, and we’re helping the community when we do things like the dialysis center.

“Education is key. They have no wealth, they have no natural resources in Palestine -- all they have is the human being. Taking care of the human being is something they value a lot. Education is going to be a key for the future.”

You can help Islamic Relief keep these and other projects going. Please donate today.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

IR USA commemorates World Water Day … every day

A sanitary, convenient, modern well provided by Islamic Relief in Mali.

Today, on World Water Day, take a moment to consider … how did you use water this morning?

A 10-minute shower?

Brushed your teeth?

Flushed the toilet?

Washed your hands?

Maybe made some coffee, washed an orange and boiled an egg?

Then washed the pot, plate and cup?

All of that is perfectly reasonable. This morning routine would require about 30 gallons of water. Thankfully, getting that water is no harder than turning a faucet.

If we had gotten it the way many millions of people around the world get their water, though, we would have carried it home from a well in buckets on our heads or attached to a pole across our shoulders.

Those 30 gallons would weigh about 250 pounds.

Imagine carrying this much weight over your shoulders a few miles every morning just to be able to use enough water to wash up and eat breakfast?

And that’s just one person’s morning routine. How much more water would you have to carry home to get through the rest of the day? To wash clothes? To care for a family?

Would you wash yourself and the things around you as often? Would you even drink a glass of water without a second thought?

Who would carry all that water for the family?

Now, granted, if you had to carry your water, you wouldn’t have a shower to bathe in or even a toilet to flush. This would require less water but would cause another host of problems, as without proper toilets, the water you carry home might not even be clean. Without proper sanitation systems, human waste easily seeps into the water supply. This takes the problem far beyond convenience.

According to the World Health Organization in a 2008 report, only about 60 percent of the world uses a sanitation facility that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. For the other 40 percent or so, this contamination spreads diseases … often with fatal results. According to the United Nations, diarrhea-related diseases are the second most common cause of death in children younger than 5, and of these deaths, 88 percent are caused by lack of sanitation, poor hygiene and contaminated drinking water.

Nearly 900 million people in the world do not have access to safe water supplies – about one in eight people. According to the World Health Organization, about 3.5 million people die from the resulting diseases each year.

So the water you carefully carried home over your shoulders has an excellent chance of harboring bacteria that could kill your children.
Islamic Relief is helping people in situations like this, and you can help too.
Islamic Relief is carrying out water and sanitation projects around the world. One of these projects is being implemented in Yemen, where water is a major concern for most rural communities. In one region called Al Farsha in particular, war in the early 1990s damaged so much of the infrastructure that nearly the entire population lost access to sanitary water. From 1994 until recently, the locals got their water by digging wells by hand – sometimes to a depth of more than 100 feet. The water from these crudely constructed wells was salty and contaminated with bacteria, so diarrhea and other waterborne diseases became common. Men spent their days trying to earn money, and it was women and girls who painfully carried the water home from the wells, balancing the weight on their heads. This took much of their days. Partly as a result, three-quarters of women there are illiterate.

Islamic Relief launched a project to provide safe water to the households in Al Farsha. Teams are digging modern wells and building infrastructure to bring the clean water right to local homes. This yearlong project began in 2010 and will benefit more than 7,000 people.

A similar project is under way in Mali, another country where women and girls spend much of their time carrying water – which is often contaminated – from wells at times miles from home. Islamic Relief began a water and sanitation project in Mali last year, and by 2012, clean water and improved sanitation facilities will be accessible to an additional 25,000 people.

These are just two of Islamic Relief’s many development projects. Islamic Relief implemented a similar water and sanitation project in China and is also helping to provide modern wells in Pakistan following the destructive floods in summer 2010.

A clean water supply means better health. It means less pain. It means more time for school or work. For so many people, it would mean the world.

These projects are run with the support of donors like you. Help Islamic Relief continue these efforts. Please donate today.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

IR USA's CEO meets with officials in Egypt

March 17, 2011 -- Islamic Relief USA’s CEO, Abed Ayoub, is in Egypt this week, meeting with high-level officials in an effort to expand IR’s programs to help the needy in the country and throughout the region.

Ayoub has met with Minister of Health Ashraf Hatem, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa and Al-Azhar Shaykh Ahmed el-Tayeb and has scheduled a meeting later this week with Minister of Development Gouda Abdel Khalek.

Ayoub and Hatem discussed plans Islamic Relief will explore implementing in cooperation with the health ministry. Among them:

• Send a shipment of medicine to clinics and hospitals. “Together we will decide the clinics and hospitals where they will be distributed,” Ayoub said.

• Send supplies such as wheelchairs, emergency kits, hygiene kits, blankets and milk powder to refugees who fled violence in Libya and crossed into Egypt.

• Send doctors to perform surgeries and train local physicians in remote villages in Egypt

In the other meetings, Ayoub said he received the support of the grand mufti and Al-Azhar’s imam for projects in Egypt such as support for families and orphans. “Insha Allah, together we will start developing projects,” he said. “They will help us to identify the needy families.”

During his trip, Ayoub traveled to many cities in Egypt and also visited refugees at the Libya-Egypt border, where an Islamic Relief team met with the Egyptian Red Crescent.

Although there are almost 1,500 refugees in the border region, Ayoub said, “The atmosphere is quiet.” The refugees there now are mainly from Chad, Somalia and Bangladesh, he said. “The refugees from Egypt and Libya and other countries – their embassies came and took care of them,” Ayoub said. But the remaining refuges are stuck at the border, where they have been for three weeks.

“The situation is really bad,” he said. “They sleep on the street. They are hoping things will settle down in Libya. They want to go back to Libya and don’t want to leave the border.”

Inside Egypt, Ayoub said the atmosphere is quiet as well, as a vote on changes to the constitution nears.

“The Egyptians welcomed us with open arms,” Ayoub said. “They want more involvement from the NGOs.”

Ayoub traveled with the Islamic Relief team to areas including Al-Ayat and Bani Swaif to distribute food packages. “We’ve seen people living in very bad shape and they need a lot of help,” he said. “We’ve seen families live on 20 L.E., or $5 per month. We’ve seen a lot of people with no income -- large families with no income. They barely can get enough bread.”

One woman Ayoub met was an elderly woman in great need. “She is 106 years old -- she is legally blind. And she lives by herself. She’s in a very bad condition. Her neighbors come and help her a little bit. She barely can walk. When you see her you will cry.”

The Islamic Relief team brought her food packages with staples like rice, pasta, sugar and oil, and gave her clothes. “We gave them to her daughter who lives next to her so she can insha Allah cook for her.”

The team is now in Southern Egypt, where another food distribution is planned for today.