May 2007 Report

Afghanistan – In the land of unimaginable anguish

Once again, by the grace of Allah (SWT), I was blessed with a trip to Africa, India and Afghanistan. As is my past norm, I narrate to you about my experiences in these countries that affect the role of Comfort Aid International in lending a helping hand to those of us afflicted with poverty and related pain.

East Africa

I must say I was very impressed with the progress that WIPAS and Khatme Ambiya (KA) are doing in Africa. WIPAS just outside of Dar-es-Salaam is amazing and I was indeed taken aback with the size of infrastructure that Hajisaheb has set up. The services this organization and KA in Arusha are rendering, especially in the field of education to the poor is absolutely commendable. KA in Arusha, with the tireless work of its founder Gulamhussein Mukhtaar, has built a school for a Masai village. I never thought I would see the day when Masai children pray, recite majlis and do sinazani in Muharram!

I have had a few donors asking me if CAI has any projects in Africa. Apart from water well and food aid projects that we route through these organizations anyway, we don’t; however, we can channel your funds to the projects you want to help and send the funds for you; you will get the tax deduction here in the US. Here are some photos:

Hajisaheb and I discuss a new wing under construction
Neat and tidy classroom with neater and beautiful children
Little girls in early morning exercises
Scenic view of WIPAS complex

India

I am happy to report that I felt a sense of optimism for the first time since I began working in India some 14 years ago. India in general is on fire as far as economic development is concerned and our brethren seem to be benefiting from the boom. Although the poor and needy, especially from Ahle Tashayyo will still need a helping hand for some time, I feel degrading poverty will be eliminated from India within the next 25 – 30 years, insha’Allah, especially if the emphases on education is maintained.

Alhamd’Allah, CAI was able to help in the following projects on this trip:

1. Build a computer lab for the All India  Orphanage in Lacknow. The orphanage was opened in 1912 and 73 orphans stay and study here in really pathetic conditions. CAI was not able to help with a request for extensive repairs, but did agree to refurbish 2 rooms, purchase 7 computers, 2 room air conditioners and also pay for a computer instructor for 1 year. The cost is US $10,000; we have raised $7,000 so if anybody is interested, please help.

2. Pay for the construction of a mosque at Sonapur, in Uttar Pradesh. We have over 140 poor families in and around Sonapur with no mosques. The land has been donated by the people so CAI will pay for the construction. Total cost is US 12,000, fully funded by a donor.

3. Purchase qabrastaan land for the Momeneen of Ambivili outside Mumbai for $20,000, fully funded by a donor. These brethren of ours were burying their dead here and there for want of land. This land will now cater for the burial of up to 1,200 people living in and around Shahard, Biwandi, Kalyan, Ambernath and Titwalla. It will take another $5,000 to put in the boundary wall, ghusal khana and a small platform for reciting namaaz e janaaza. This amount has been fully funded as well.

4. In addition, CAI has taken on the sponsorship of 14 additional orphans at Zahra Boys Home in Mumbra because these were without sponsors and helped out in various cases of urgent medial care to assisting destitute and needy widows from the sadka and imam zamin (as) funds that we collect. Thank you, the donors who provide this crucial sacrifice. May Allah (SWT) bless and gladden your hearts on the Day of Judgment.

Afghanistan

Whereas I feel optimism and hope for India, Afghanistan is a basket-case of utter despair and depression. I cannot begin to relate to you the days of heart wrenching despair one feels in the country for our Muslims in general and the Ahle Tashayyo in particular. The only thing that was better than my December 2006 trip was the weather for it was quite warm during the day and cool and comfortable in the nights and early mornings.

I was accompanied by Aga Mussawi of WABIL in London, Ali Akber Ratansi for Al Imaan Charitable Trust of India and Gulam Virjee (Suku Suku) from Dubai. We gathered in Kabul, a very dangerous city indeed; its citizens are not wanting of guns. Our taxi was thoroughly searched for bombs before entry into the hotel grounds every time and two guards with fully loaded semi-automatics constantly watched our every move.

Our first visit was to an elementary school in an area that has been consistently ignored by successive governments. I am still unsure that I can still believe these facts; there are 18,000 students attending this school. Some of the classes are under tents and some under the very sky. Most students’ trek 45 minutes to and from school to attend about 2 hours of study time for the school has 6 sessions of 2 hours to accommodate its 18,000 students.

Gulambhai and I with the kids
Me trying to converse with my very little and broken Farsi
Aga Mussawi with children of school

I really can’t imagine what a child can grasp in 2 hours having walked 45 minutes to an hour; whether he has had a decent breakfast, even? Can you?

There are two such schools : for those who may not be aware, the Ahle Tashayyo account for about 40% of Afghanistan’s population, or about 16.5 million people. These are our own; as a matter of fact, I can close my eyes and see myself 40 years ago and can imagine the longing and desire in their hearts and minds. They have been denied an opportunity to progress for one and one reason only; they are believers in the wilaayat of Imam Ali (as).

Children of school

Later in the day, we met Aga Aasif Mohsini, the grand marja e taqleed of  at his hawza complex on the outskirts of Kabul.

Aga Aasif Mohsini, the Grand Marja  in Afghanistan

We departed the next day for Herat and I was full of excitement in anticipation of meeting with the orphans that had touched my heart so much during my December 2006 visit. Our team of six were given royal treatment by Air Ariana; bumped to business class by the ground crew on account of Aga Mussawi. Aga Mussawi was the only person in wudhoo and it was exactly Zohr so he decided to say his salaat on the runway. The pilot agreed to wait while Aga prayed and everybody watched.

Agha Mussawi praying

We received a rousing welcome at the orphanage with the kids looking well and healthy; exited that a brand new place would soon be built for them. No more days of bitter cold and milk at least 6 days a week, insha’Allah. I sincerely thank all you donors that have made this dream for these yateems possible. I cannot repeat this statement enough. The transformation of these boys is incredible. Before, they looked so sad and pathetic; it would tear at your heart. All the kids now look healthy and smile readily, mingle and talk and play. What a change! What you guys have given them is HOPE, and an opportunity that things will be better tomorrow, insha’Allah.

The orphans of Herat – Afghanistan
Gulaam Ali, the crippled orphan will be going to Iran soon for surgery, as soon as his passport is released by the government. He has sent a special thank you to the donor and prays for him every day.

Now comes another plea; it is good that we have stabilized the situation of the orphans. Unlike India, however, there is no education in Herat. It would be terrible if we only feed and bring up these boys without the opportunity for an education. CAI proposes to construct an elementary school besides the orphanage. It will be a simple structure of 5 classrooms and an office. We will begin this way and then expand as we get self sufficient from fees charged to outsiders. We are in negotiation for the land adjoining the orphanage and should be able to strike a deal shortly. I am appealing to you once again; please give if you can to this worthy cause. CAI will accept sehme Imam (as) and any other donation for this project. We need to raise $70,000; $23,000 has already been pledged/collected.

We then proceeded to visit village after village of  mud houses; this was the saddest part of my stay in Afghanistan. The savagery of the Taleban on Afghanistan will take decades to heal, if ever. If Allah (SWT) had not given me the ability to bear this, I would be a mental case in deep depression by now. The hardest part was not being able to do anything, not even a promise of a better tomorrow; house after house that we visited had a tragic tale to tell. One widow had just completed a meal with her 4 children; 2 day old nan, salt and raw onions with water. She was abased that she could not offer us a meal or refreshments. What can one say or do in this situation? I could not say that I will try and better her tomorrow or that I would return and assist. We stayed, we prayed for them and we left. The only solace I felt was of helping assist their children with an education and perhaps a better tomorrow?

A poor sadaat village in Herat – Afghanistan
Aga Mussawi treated the kids and us with snacks at a village
Children play in the filthy water at a village outskirt

CAI, in league with WABIL of London constructs homes for the widows of Herat at the cost of $5,000 per home. We went to inspect this project next. It is almost complete and a new block will begin construction soon. CAI uses sehme sadaat funds for this purpose so if any of you have these available, we can use them here.

A sadaat house under construction
The entire wing
Gulambhai, Aliakberbhai, Aga Musawwi and me outside the hotel rooms in Kabul

In conclusion, a few of us are questioning the scope of CAI in the projects that we undertake. How many people can you help, we are asked, and how much can you do? I have a story to tell in response and you may have already heard this before. It is, however, a very apt answer to these questions.

A frog (Frog A) once met his colleague (Frog B) going against the fire that Namrood had started to burn Ibraheem (as).
‘Where are you going’, Frog A asked? ‘You are going the wrong way! There is a huge fire ahead and you will certainly perish if you do not retreat.’
‘Why, I have water in my mouth,’ said Frog B, ‘and I am going to douse that very fire that you are running from.’
Frog A laughed. ‘Are you nuts? Don’t you feel the fire even here, far away that we are from it? Do not be crazy! You will surely get toasted and die. Return back with me and let us flee together.’
Frog B thought for a moment, shook his head and then said. ‘Well’, he said, ‘I am taking as much water that Allah has given me the capacity for. I will do my part and douse a small portion of the fire, perhaps. The rest is His business, and He will take care of it.’
Saying this, Frog B went towards the fire and doused a small portion of it. Certainly Allah (SWT) took care of the rest; the fire was doused indeed. Frog B is our paradigm and we at CAI choose to follow his role.

My fond and deep gratitude to Aga Musawwi, Gulambhai Virjee and Aliakberbhai Rattansi who were my colleagues, mentors, guides and much more on the trip to Afghanistan. Without you, my trip would have been that much harder and devoid of humor in those days of despair. The deep care for humanity in general and the commitment you guys have for the less fortunate in our community is hope that we will do our part in aping Frog B, insha’Allah. Ahsant!

I respectfully request you all to do your part, if Allah (SWT) has given you the ability; the best favor you can do for CAI is propagate this message to those that might not have received it. It is only through people like you that CAI has progressed as much as they have, alhamd’Allah.

Jazaak’Allah.

Yusuf S. Yusufali