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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."