Sunday, 8 December 2013

Interview : Kamran Fazil from Islamic Help

A fascinating interview recently with Kamran Fazil (from the charity Islamic Help) looking at issues relating to the efficient aid delivery, the importance of water and also some tips on effective donating.

Tiny bit of Info about Islamic Help
Smiles Better
A School Satchel
The Muslim Charities Forum
Ladies with buckets of water
Be Fair in Your Funding
Do More Than One Thing at a Time
The Special Question
Further Links

A tiny bit of info about Islamic Help
Kamran described how the charity had grown from modest beginnings in 2003, initially only looking to support a single school in Pakistan – to large organisation, operating in many countries around the world, that it is now.

Smiles Better
As an example of the innovative programmes that the charity undertakes, Kamran gave the example of the "Smiles Better" campaign which aims to provide medical and other help to women who have been the victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uganda, Nepal and Cambodia.

The work of the programme featured in the Academy Award winning short documentary "Saving Face"

As well as medical help, the program also aims to providing employment opportunities for the victims and also to combat the culture that allowed the attacks in the first place.

Kamran emphasised the importance of the multi-pronged approach, commenting that:
"Tackling the issues of women and gender equality is one of the issues that we need to tackle to combat poverty around the world"
and also recognising that pious words and legislation were not enough :
"a country can pass legislation but…courts have to be strong, policing has to be strong "
And public opinion also had to change, and this change has to " come from the local community, no good someone from the west telling the east what to do"

A school satchel
BFTF asked Kamran about comparing the effectiveness of charities by giving the example of two charities who are asking for donations to provide school satchels for kids in a developing country.

One charity takes the money, buys the satchels cheaply from a supermarket and sends them to the country for distribution.

The other charity looks for satchel manufacturers and suppliers in the developing country itself and tries to source the satchels from them.

The second charity is presumably doing a more effective job of delivering aid, but how are donors to know which charity is doing what so that they can donate accordingly.

Kamran responded by saying that he was a big fan of partnership and that there were indeed a great many factors that needed to be examined in order to deliver the most effective and sustainable aid.

Sharing resources, both with other charities and with local businesses, was important.

Kamran went on to explain that, when working at the scene of a natural disaster, charities will form a round table or have so-called "cluster meetings" in which the NGOs decide how to work together to deliver aid effectively. For example, the group may decide that one charity will focus on food while another focuses on delivering medical aid.

How does your charity source its school satchels?

The Muslim Charities Forum
Within the UK, Muslim charities have formed an organisation called the Muslim Charities Forum to allow Muslim charities to speak with one voice and also to act as an advocate at a government level.

The forum also allows charities to meet and discuss best practice. For example, if two charities find that their costs for providing a Qurbani(Eid animal sacrifice) in a particular country are wildly different, the forum provides a place where they can talk and decide where the best practice lies, or perhaps share costs to improve efficiency.

BFTF was shocked.

Muslim organisations working together.

Don't see that very often.

Kamran commented that, in regards to their relationship with the public, there were responsibilities on both sides:

There is a responsibility on charities to be honest, to be transparent and to educate the public of positive effect that longer term, more sustainable, aid can deliver

And there was a responsibility on donors and the public to question and challenge charities to ensure that they are working to best practice.

As an introduction to the topic of access to water in the developing world, BFTF offered up the point that for many in the UK, water was not something they thought about, it just came out of a tap. Instead, what worried people was ensuring they always had a good internet signal.

In contrast, Kamran described how, when he was in a very deprived part of Somalia, there was very little access to water, but he could Tweet from his mobile phone without any problems!

Kamran went on to remind people that giving water to those without this precious resource was one of the best forms of Sadaqa Jariya (continuous charity) - a view that has also been expressed to BFTF by other charities.

But thought needs to be given to how water should be delivered to people. The best way is not always to dig a well. Kamran recalled how, in when there was a famine in Somalia, some charities were raising money to dig wells – but it was a famine, there was a drought, there was no water !

Sometimes, other approaches such as trucking in water or water harvesting are more appropriate.

Rainwater harvesting can take many forms, but one example is to fix peoples roofs and install drainage so that rainwater collects in water butts. If such an approach is taken, it needs to go hand in hand with education of the local people so that they know how to keep their roofs clean and the water containers clean.

Another approach is to build dams in valleys, even if the water collected is not suitable for humans, it is likely to be good enough for livestock to drink, which reduces the pressure on the limited about of potable water that may be available.

And, of course, trees are perhaps the most effective way of ensuring that water is kept in the soil and does not drain away. Cutting trees in an unsustainable way results in soil and water loss, resulting in a lowering of the water table and running the risk of wells drying up.

"In Meatu district, Shinyanga region, Tanzania,
water most often comes from open holes dug in the sand of dry riverbeds,
and it is invariably contaminated."

The key word here is "unsustainable" – the environment can cope with trees being cut in moderation, it is when the pace of destruction is faster than the forest can regenerate itself that problems occur. Kamran emphasised that we "need to start giving respect back" to the environment

In many cases, the situation can be helped by slowly regenerating the land, with the aid of outside agricultural experts to provide advice – the solutions still need to come from the people themselves to be sustainable. The advice might relate to "permaculture" practices, in which efforts are made to create sustainable and productive farmland using non-polluting and sustainable approaches such as combining trees and ground crops, or using mulches to improve soil water retention.

[NB: A lot of useful related information in this Wikipedia article on Water Scarcity] And there is a long Islamic history of protecting green spaces and water sources by denoting them as being protected "Hima" or "Haram" respectively.

Kamran gave the example of a locality in a developing country that, 20yrs ago, had a lovely stream running through it. Over the years the trees in the area have been steadily cut down for charcoal, leaving the ground unable to retain water, and the wells dry. The stream has long since disappeared and the local inhabitants have forgotten how their forebears lived in balance with the environment.

Islamic Help is now planting trees in the area to protect the aquifers.

If the problem were only local, then this might be enough, but that is not the case. Large companies are now cutting down many of the trees for sale elsewhere as charcoal. And in some areas, water hungry industries such as soft drink bottling plants can wreak havoc on the water table and severely deplete the aquifers that supply local wells.

So organisations like Islamic Help then need to talk to local and national government, who have to balance the need to protect the environment with the need to attract investment and jobs.

An example of Innovation  : The Groasis Waterboxx

Ladies with buckets of water
I'm sure we have all seen and heard about how women in some areas of the developing world walk for miles to get water – and have thought that this is an outrage and that a well clearly needs to be dug in the village itself so save these women from all this hard labour.

But what we have probably not heard is comments like those of Kamran, who said that, often these women were bringing the water to the village in order to sell it, and building a well will instantly put these women out of a job. As Kamran pointedly asks, "What other source of income will you provide for those women"

And how will the well be maintained? Who will pay for spare parts for the pump? In many cases, once the well breaks down, the community is forced to revert back to collecting water from some distance away.

So Islamic Help, when building a well, tries to ensure that the water carriers have an alternative means of earning an income so that they can continue to support their families and that the future maintenance of the well has been considered.

Northern Tanzania

Be fair in your funding
Kamran commented that many people have a very narrow view of what constitutes "aid", and do not see that planting trees, or campaigning against gender based violence, are poverty issues.

This view is a double whammy as it means that these kinds of projects do not receive much funding, and also means that charities are therefore less likely to undertake, or even suggest, them.

The solution, according to Kamran, is education. Charities have to educate donors in the value of schemes such as tree planting. Masajid have to educate the community, and Imams need to be equipped with an understanding of current affairs. Youth Groups and, of course, also parents have an educating role to play.

Do more than one thing at a time
BFTF asked Kamran whether the Muslim community was too focussed on overseas aid, via Muslim charities, and should perhaps also directing some of their donations towards organisations such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Help The Aged, CancerUK etc

Kamran responded by saying that all of these charities, as well as many others "do a fantastic job" and that it was important to direct some support towards organisations working locally within the UK.

He added that would encourage other Muslim aid charities and community groups to also look working on local issues

Islamic help, for their part, are working with Help the Aged and are also running soup kitchens in the UK.

Charmingly, Kamran recounted how he was involved in a project with a local Church group to provide Christmas hampers to local people in dire economic need and that this had become a valuable annual interfaith event.

Kamran also pointed out that peoples time was even more valuable to Islamic Help that their donations.

The Special Question
All guests on the BFTF show are asked a "Special Question" : What do you think is the best thing about living in the UK?

Kamrans response was to say this:

I've travelled to many countries throughout the world. For me, my health is important, and in the media recently the NHS has taken a lot of stick – let me tell the listeners out there that the NHS is amongst one of the best services that you will receive anywhere in the world.

I could talk about this really quite passionately, its not where it was 10 years ago, or where it was 5 years ago….but in the way it is currently, the NHS is a godsend.

I have had to visit medical centres in other countries and, by God… if I had to live there, if my child suffered a terrible accident, then I would be on my knees begging Allah Almighty for something like the NHS where I can take my child straight away and take him to see a doctor and get him fixed up. I wouldn't mind being on a waiting list, waiting to pick up the phone because I know I will get something.

Further links for Islamic Help
Website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter.

Image Sources
Satchel, Waterbox, Tanzania, Water Source

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