Afzaal Jalil’s relatives fled to Islamabad as the floodwaters began spilling into their Pakistani village. The deluge came close to his family home, where Jalil used to stay on summer and winter breaks during his childhood in the capital.
The house was spared, and his uncles, aunts and cousins returned safely. But Jalil, now a resident of Plymouth, was dismayed as the flood swallowed huge swaths of his mother country, killing more than 1,000 people, sending a half-million residents to relief camps and affecting 33 million Pakistanis.
He’s among the Minnesotans now working to raise money to send to Pakistan, messaging his long list of local Pakistani American contacts through WhatsApp and other channels to encourage donations to charities such as Helping Hand for Relief and Development, Islamic Relief USA and the Pakistan-based Edhi Foundation.
The devastation prompted his friend Masaood Yunus to work with him to get the word out. The men operate a Facebook group called Pakistani American Society of Minnesota and have organized many cultural events over the years. Yunus, now a resident of Eden Prairie, was born in Abu Dhabi and lived in Pakistan for five years.
A third of Pakistan is underwater, and Yunus lamented that people were not evacuated in a timely manner. Some remain stuck. Children have been washed away. Families are separated. Residents have lost their cattle and their houses. He just received a list sent out by the Consulate General of Pakistan in Chicago requesting donations for medications to treat cholera and dengue fever.
“The government response was not very effective … it gave me a déjà vu of Katrina,” said Yunus, the founder of a tech startup.
He and Jalil organize a local event every year or two to raise money for Pakistan’s Indus Hospital and Heath Network, and this year’s fundraiser at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Base Camp in Fort Snelling will give attendees the option to donate to flood victims, too.
Sarah Alam, a member of NorthWest Islamic Community Center, raised money at the Plymouth mosque during Friday prayers to give to Helping Hand for dry food, medical care, tents and household items for displaced Pakistanis.
“People were very eager … this is an emergency situation,” she said.
Jalil said local Pakistani Americans also donated during a large telethon hosted by a former prime minister that raised millions.
“Thirty-three million people impacted is a big deal for a country like Pakistan where the government response is not that effective,” said Jalil, who is a program manager at a health care company. “Then at the same time, we already have economic issues going on and things like that, and poverty.”