Islamic Relief USA Fundraiser for Pakistan in the San Francisco Bay Area
By Ras H. Siddiqui

Islamic Relief USA ( http://www.irusa.org/ ) brought its “Paving the Path to Development: Pakistan Fundraising Dinner” to the San Francisco Bay Area city of Newark, California on April 5 th, to the delight of many present. The area social scene had been experiencing some “event saturation” of sorts with a Benjamin Sisters event a week before and the Atif Aslam concert the week after, but the cause here was great and even though it took some effort on our part to not attend a “party of the year” in San Francisco (we will now have to wait for that till 2015) it was well worth being involved in doing some good here. Brother Hamayoun Jamali the local coordinator Islamic Relief USA and Raana Faiz of Hamrahi Radio can be pretty persuasive at times and they certainly were here.

The work that Islamic Relief USA has been doing in various countries is noteworthy. In Pakistan it currently has at least 11 projects active, including assistance for widows (it aims to provide assist some 1,200 underprivileged widows living in Rawalpindi), an avoidable blindness initiative in Baluchistan (more than 21,360 individuals stand to benefit from this program) which includes access to preventable and curative eye care services, a community sustainable initiative in KPK which provides access to safe drinking water and improvement in sanitation and better hygiene (to benefit up to 22,000 people) and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons also in KPK (in the Jalozi and Nowshera camps where more than 4,600 people stand to benefit). There is also an effort to provide sustainable agribusiness support in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (assisting 172,000 at-risk people in Bagh and Neelum) and a very important area of orphan support and sponsorship (following Islamic teachings) program, plus a district health systems effort in Nowshera ( more than 56,900 internally displaced persons there stand to benefit) and a tribal village integrated rehabilitation project in KPK (for more than 7000 people).

Now getting back to the event, after a fine Chandni Restaurant dinner, the formalities began with a recitation from the Holy Qur'an. Comedian extraordinaire Aman Ali next entertained the audience, pushing the envelope of humor to its (halal) limits as he journeyed through his young days growing up as an American Muslim in Ohio. He was the only non-white person in his school at the time and in the school play he could only play two roles, an American-Indian or that of Martin Luther King Jr! Aman currently lives in New York City. His parent’s “support” for his sporting and career choices also generated some serious laughter. But his wrestling tournament match with a girl had to be at the top of his entertainment game.

Hamayoun Jamali came to the stage next to welcome everyone. “Tonight is the night for Pakistan…Zindabad,” he said. Hamayoun is originally from Afghanistan but has had the opportunity to live in Pakistan for a long time. He added that on this night we should think about Pakistan as a country that belongs to all of us, a country that has done so much for humanity, so much for America.

Shaista Khan, the Pakistan Campaign Lead for Islamic Relief, spoke next. She thanked all the esteemed guests for being there. “Accounting is really important,” she said. People donate to Islamic Relief frequently and that it is the organization’s fiduciary duty to explain to them how the money is spent. She went back into history, since the inception of Islamic Relief in 1993, and invited everyone to visit their website for more details. IR is currently working in about 40 countries around the world. Islamic Relief in Pakistan has been working for about two decades, she said. With almost 60 million dollars in assistance provided there (close to 100 million if gifts in kind are included) she explained that two categories of relief are provided: 1) Emergency (Earthquakes and Floods for example), and 2) Development (sustainable long-term) like heath, building infrastructure, etc. She said that we are a proud people who do not want aid but could use some help. “It is about empowerment and that is what Islamic Relief is excellent at doing.” Aided with a slide or two she explained how the donated funds have been spent in the past five years. “Almost one million Pakistanis were helped in the past five years,” she added.

A video presentation of the challenges (e.g. floods) faced by Pakistanis and the work that Islamic Relief is doing in Pakistan was also shown. The problems faced by women and children there were highlighted in this presentation.

Imam Abdeljalil Mezgouri next came to the stage for his words of wisdom and to conduct the official fundraiser. He said that there are three segments of this effort: the recipients (people in need), the vehicle (in this case Islamic Relief) and the donors who are the key and that in Islam the donors (like the people here) have a special place. He said that the #1 people who contribute to Islamic Relief are people from Pakistan. The Imam was extremely persuasive and persistent in his call for donations and I believe that the final number collected was over $60,000.

The entertainment segment which started with Aman Ali’s comedy was capped by a very powerful spiritual performance by Najam Sheraz, and the Pakistan focused songs of Salman Ahmad (of Junoon fame). It proves here that education is certainly a must in Pakistani families as a former engineer (Najam) and a former doctor (Salman) headlined the entertainment here!

The event concluded with Shaista Khan presenting an award of appreciation to Dr Mobasher Rana for his support of Islamic Relief and its efforts over the years, and the recognition was well-deserved by Dr Rana. This fine evening of charity, goodwill and entertainment put together by Islamic Relief USA certainly ended on a positive note.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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