Hasnain Syed

Written by

January 13, 2020


Working for a faith-inspired development and humanitarian agency, it’s often presumed that we only work with Muslims and for Muslims. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Since 1984, we’ve been working across the globe to support those in need. And we employ and support people of all faiths and none.

As Major Gifts Manager at Islamic Relief UK, I’m fortunate to not only meet a diverse range of the people we help but also our supporters, who also reflect this sense of diversity. I was delighted when a non-Muslim retiree recently approached me about leaving Islamic Relief a gift in her will.

After carrying out extensive research, Jillian Walker had decided she wished to make a significant donation to Islamic Relief. It was very touching to learn that Jillian had taken so much time and care to research and choose Islamic Relief.

Jillian and I recently went to Ethiopia to see the kind of work her generous donation will be supporting. Here’s her travel diary.

Days 1-2: A warm Ethiopian welcome

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When I came to revise my will recently, I wanted it to reflect my humanitarian interests and concerns. So I decided to become an Islamic Relief donor. I was then delighted to be given the opportunity to visit the charity’s work in Ethiopia.

Coming from a British non-Muslim background, I was conscious that I was entering a new environment and culture – one with different customs and social traditions to mine. I felt it was important to keep an open mind. After stop-offs and transfers, and a staggering 16-hour journey, my concerns were immediately put to rest by the wonderful welcome we received! I immediately felt fully at ease and it soon became clear that this was going to be a truly rewarding trip.

The next morning we headed to the Islamic Relief office to meet the team and find out more about their work on the ground. I was impressed by their commitment to holistic integrated projects which work to solve a variety of problems over the long-term. I also admired their sense of environmental custodianship, ensuring that projects are eco-friendly.

Day 3: Education is the future

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Our first trip was to a project in the capital, Addis Ababa, to meet a family receiving support from Islamic Relief. This was, without doubt, the toughest and most emotional of all our visits. Coming from the UK, we often don’t fully appreciate that our simple human needs are met every single day.

Here in Ethiopia, we met Hayat (now widowed) and her children. We heard their touching life story. Facing abuse, abandonment, homelessness and sickness, without any form of support, Hayat had faced incredible hardship, yet remained strong and determined to face the future.

A mother of five, Hayat is currently undergoing treatment for stage three breast cancer, whilst one of her sons also has brain cancer. Abandoned by her family after converting to Islam, Hayat later had children and married. Unfortunately, her daughter was raped by a family member aged just three and after reporting the abuse to the police, Hayat was beaten by her husband and subsequently made homeless.

Thankfully, the family is now being supported by Islamic Relief through the orphan sponsorship programme. To see the support that Islamic Relief had provided to enable her to turn her life around was extremely emotive and distressing; but it was also a wonderful, touching and admirable experience. The mother displayed incredible strength and determination to overcome adversity and provide the best possible start in life for her children.

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We later visited a school where Islamic Relief had provided much-needed furniture and books for the library as well as laboratory and ICT equipment. We were greeted by happy and excited children and it was a joy to see how enthusiastic they were to learn.

Day 4: Gender justice takes full stage

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While we were in Ethiopia, Islamic Relief launched its Islamic Declaration on Gender Justice. Declaring its commitment to gender justice for all women and girls worldwide, this was a monumental step.

We were joined by a number of excellent speakers from Islamic Relief and other NGOs at a civil society event in Addis Ababa to highlight their work. It was heartwarming to see such positive representation at this event and it was clear that the meeting had required considerable consultation and planning. To see things moving forward so efficiently and fruitfully was very encouraging. This declaration will hopefully improve millions of lives – including those of the women I’ve met.

Days 5-6: Seeing field projects in action

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Over the next two days, we visited a range of projects outside Addis Ababa. First stop was Semara in the remote northern region of Afar, where the climate is arid and hot with very little vegetation. In order to get to Afar, we had to travel long distances by road, often over unmade tracks. It was not an easy journey – which just does to show how remote these communities are!

In these isolated areas live small self-sufficient communities who constantly have to face a range of environmental pressures such as drought. Leaders elected by the community are responsible for their village and often establish a co-operative to support the entire community.

These co-operatives are mostly led by women and I was impressed at how projects worked to support locals for the long-term. This was particularly clear to see when we visited the grain mill where a community co-operative uses a machine to grind the grain, which is much more efficient than grinding by hand.

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We also visited a water pump in a very dry, remote area. With power generated by solar panels, this pump provides much-needed clean water to the community. Extracted and pumped to three distant sites for crop cultivation, drinking and washing, families have a safe source of water not only to meet their basic hygiene needs but also to earn a living. I was  delighted to hear that the water supply will be extended further afield, to help even more people.

Day 7: Friendships, farewells and final thoughts

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Back to Addis Ababa, it was time to bid a sad farewell to the wonderful people I had met, and also reflect on the busy week I’d had.

I felt fortunate to have had such a life-changing experience. I’d witnessed the commitment of each and every staff member to Islamic Relief’s vision of saving lives and empowering communities. They displayed nothing but the deepest respect, compassion, enthusiasm and sincerity to relieve the suffering and poverty of the Ethiopian people.

Witnessing Islamic Relief’s work for myself, I know that the money I will be donating will be prioritised as needed and spent wisely. Their diverse range of projects offer multiple solutions and inspire hope.

I would like to thank everyone at Islamic Relief – both in the UK and Ethiopia – for making my trip possible and most importantly for offering such great friendship and hospitality throughout.

 

Alhamdulillah, it’s great to see how as an organisation we’re reaching so many people from all walks of life. It was a pleasure to travel to Ethiopia with Jillian and I’m delighted to say that Jillian was so impressed by our work during the trip that she’s since decided to donate to Islamic Relief now (rather than in her will), so she can see the benefits for herself! SubhanAllah!

Find out more about our lifesaving work in Ethiopia. If you’d also like to offer a legacy gift to Islamic Relief, please email Hasnain Syed (Major Gifts Manager), at hasnain.syed@islamic-relief.org.uk.

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