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Father and Daughter Drive 18 Hours to Volunteer in Flint, Michigan

Flint, Michigan, is a long way from the East Coast, and not many people would make that drive to volunteer to deliver water. But for one father/daughter pair from Virginia, providing safe, clean water in Flint was simply their priority one February weekend in 2016, so they made the drive.

“It all comes down to priorities,” said Zakaria Shaikh. “Everybody has the same number of hours, but what do you do with those hours? Allah is going to ask us. … We ask Allah that we always prioritize service to Allah’s creations, which is really service to Allah.”

So Shaikh and his 12-year-old daughter Alexandra-Ola Chaic hit the road and drove to Michigan, where they lived before moving to Virginia.

They met up with IRUSA’s team in Flint. There, the Disaster Response Team was delivering cases of water to residents whose tap water was unsafe to use.

“I wanted to do something to help a cause that really disturbed me,” Alexandra-Ola said. “The best part was on Sunday where I actually got to sit with Sister Arooj in the U-Haul truck, even though we did get lost.”

Alexandra-Ola enjoyed helping, and she also enjoyed the bond the volunteers formed.

“When we were all there, I felt like we were all on the same level,” she said. “I felt on a spiritual sense like we were all kin, because we were all there for the same reason—serving our community and giving them what we needed. That’s what I felt was really magical about the weekend—we were really close.”

Her father jumped in: “Notice she mentioned our community. It doesn’t have defined by religion, by skin color, by ethnicity or geography. The world is our community.”

He said their 18-hour round trip shouldn’t be seen as something exceptional.

“Alhamdulillah, we’re thankful for the opportunity to serve,” he said. “We have all the blessings. When you get up in the morning and you have health, food and a place to sleep, you have ample reasons to be thankful to Allah.

“What is the ni’mah that Allah has given us? It’s both physical and immaterial. Physical, we have a car, we have gas money—it takes about $200 each way, about $400 in gas money—we have clothes to wear, winter gear.

“What are the immaterial ones? Those are really important. We have health. Allah has given us a heart and empathy for fellow human beings. Allah has given us the most important one—Islam, and then the ability to understand the implications of that. Islam comes with responsibilities, to my lord and to my fellow human beings as well. One of these I strongly believe is doing such a thing that we did.”

Shaikh deflected praise to the IRUSA team leaders.

“I want to mention the great work that Islamic Relief is doing,” he said. “There’s a lot of staging for volunteers to come and take advantage of this training. Local coalition building. A lot of behind-the-scenes work that Islamic Relief does to provide a platform within which people can come and engage productively. Without that, you have haphazard efforts that don’t have a focus and have very little impact. You have to have a focus, and Islamic Relief provided that focus for us.”

Alexandra-Ola added, “One of the beautiful things about Islamic Relief is that you don’t have to be Muslim for Islamic Relief to help you, and you don’t have to be Muslim to join Islamic Relief either.”

Shaikh said, “We saw that there. We saw someone driving by and said ‘I saw you guys and just decided to join.’ ”

Alexandra-Ola said the trip was completely worthwhile: “I felt really proud to be there with everybody helping and delivering clean water for them to drink.”

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IRUSA staff hope to see more projects started by volunteers—of all ages, backgrounds and faiths—in the coming years. If you want to help, volunteer manager Said Durrah wants you there.

On IRUSA Volunteer Team, Sometimes Youth Lead the Way

Before he even became volunteer manager, Said Durrah was at a conference once, sitting at IRUSA’s booth, while some young people were filling out volunteer applications. They asked where they should put the forms.

“I’d say, ‘Put it in the donation box,’” he says. “And they’d always be taken aback.”

But to Durrah, that’s exactly where it belongs, because volunteer service is a donation—an invaluable one.

IRUSA’s volunteers span the country, representing many backgrounds and even many faiths. And they range in age from senior citizens down to the toddler who carefully drop granola bars into lunch bags for the homeless.

In fact, young volunteers often make a very large impact. In California in 2016, two eighth-graders—Najm Masri and Mariam Mustafa—led a drive at their school that raised $3,000 for Syrian refugees. The girls presented a check at a dinner, addressing hundreds of guests with a poise and maturity that belied their young age. “We pray that Allah relieves the people of Syria and puts barakah in our efforts to help them,” Masri prayed. The girls shared an excited smile when IRUSA’s chief executive officer joined them on stage to accept the donation.

Meanwhile, across the country in Virginia, students at Al-Fatih Academy in Reston also worked for Syrian refugees, raising $5,000 and making 22 refugee welcome kits.

At the college level, Muslim Students Associations across the country gave back in many ways, including through Project Sadaqa. The MSAs competed with one another to raise funds for Syrian refugees through a tournament called the MSA Showdown. More than 200 students represented 19 universities at the event hosted in Texas. The associations each set up pages on LaunchGood, a crowdfunding site that helps raise awareness in addition to funds. Together, they raised $16,442.

IRUSA’s Abdullah Shawky accepted the MSA donation at the Showdown. He described what an incredible sight it was to see so many youth excited to help:

“It’s extremely important for youth to be engaged in programs like this, to remind them of what else may be going on in the world. It energizes them to want to help and do more for others, and the added element of competition makes them want to ‘be the best’ at helping.”

IRUSA staff hope to see more projects started by volunteers—of all ages, backgrounds and faiths—in the coming years. If you want to help, volunteer manager Said Durrah wants you there.

“It’s not necessarily the size of the resume—it’s the size of the heart,” he says.

He invites you to join one of the activities already planned, or plan one of your own.

“YOU create a project,” Durrah says. “Some of the best projects we’ve ever had were created by volunteers. They say, ‘We want to do this, we just need a little bit of support.’ And we support them.”

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Naeem said, “There’s nothing more rewarding than putting on an event like this, whether it’s with five people or 150, and looking around the room and seeing grownups cry and make that connection that you’ve made and pull out their wallets to help.”

Pair of Volunteers Host Dinners for Charity

Sonia Laflamme and Naeem Randhawa are the perfect example of what one or two people can do.

Longtime Islamic Relief supporters, they noticed after moving to a new city that there wasn’t much activity there. So when drought and famine hit East Africa in 2011, they decided to run a fundraiser themselves to help.

They’d never organized an event like that before, and hosting several hundred people turned out to be more complicated and difficult than they’d bargained for. But a few months, a thousand details and—Sonia admits—a fair number of tears later, they did it. Alhamdulillah, their event raised $85,000 for food, water, medical care and other aid for families suffering in the terrible 2011 drought and famine.

“That’s life-changing,” said Khalid Bakali, a development coordinator for Islamic Relief USA who mentored them. “How many smiles did they put on the faces of small kids? How many hungry people have been saved because of the initiative they took?”

The pair were so relieved and happy with the result that they forgot the pain and decided to do it again the next year, this time for Syrian refugees. The planning was going much more smoothly that time—until their mentor fell sick and they were left all on their own.

“That was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die,’” Sonya says. “We were either going to get divorced or this event was going to happen.”

They didn’t know how to proceed with the final preparations alone, but through their panic, the remembered that the refugees they wanted to help couldn’t see the road ahead either, and needed their help. So they kept going and figured it out. Naeem got some pledge cards made, and one of their helpers went to the bank and took out his own money to give change. And all the other details fell into place, and it worked.

With two dinners under their belts, why not a third one? The third year, dedicated to children in need, they gave their guests an event to remember, with entertainment and an auction run by a professional auctioneer—this is Texas, remember. By the end, attendees were taking off their jewelry and offering it up to be auctioned off as well.

Naeem said, “There’s nothing more rewarding than putting on an event like this, whether it’s with five people or 150, and looking around the room and seeing grownups cry and make that connection that you’ve made and pull out their wallets to help.”