Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Shiraz Ahmed
“40 orphans in one room” mentions Talha Javed as he describes the situation of relief efforts regarding for orphans in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Due to the destruction, the accommodations made were so dire that there was up to 40 orphans in one room just a bit outside Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. “There just two two brothers taking care of these orphans.” This was the level of emergency that Javed and other members of Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) were dealing with. It would not be Javed’s only experience in such a scenario, nor would it be Helping Hand’s only time helping out those in need abroad. However this would give a glimpse of the dire situation which would lead Helping Hand and Javed to do what they do, and what to expect moving forward.
Talha Javed is the regional Helping Hand coordinator for North Carolina and South Carolina. He obtained an undergraduate degree from East Carolina University and sought to get “out of his bubble” which led him to get involved with Helping Hand. His first trip was to Haiti in response to the 2010 earthquake. His experiences there enabled him to do another trip, this time to Jordan to work with Syrian refugees.
These works are a result of the mission Helping Hand for Relief and Development is trying to fulfill. The organization, which was part of the Islamic Circle of North America, was started in 2005. HHRD works in accordance to the Islamic principle in the Holy Quran Chapter 8 Verse 9: “They feed with food – despite their own desire for it – the indigent, and the orphan and the captive (saying): ‘We feed you purely for the sake of God. We desire no reward from you, nor thankfulness.’” Helping Hand carries out aims to fulfill universal humanitarian commitment regardless of one’s ethnicity, religion, race, etc and a special focus is placed on areas where a majority or a significant portion of the population lives below the poverty line.
The process starts off with HHRD developing programs for need in a country, with that need often being immediate relief work. While developing programs for specific countries, Helping Hand has long term goals that it desires to see stemming from the programs, such as education projects, and taking care of widows (micro programs). The short term works for HHRD revolve around food, medical clinics, and shelter, depending on the needs of the area. The long term focus is on educational programs, skills development for widows to work, jump starting economy on a micro level, and facilitating micro finance opportunities. As Javed puts it, the main goal is “to help develop society.” He mentions it as a restart of sorts, similar to “teaching a man how to fish.”
Javed describes his experiences as helping him appreciate things one takes for granted. One example stems from his time in Haiti where there were 40 orphans in one room for shelter from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. The orphans had two brothers as the only ones taking care of them. However thanks to help and efforts from Helping Hand and its volunteers, over the course of the year the orphans were able to be provided a 12 bedroom home with 3 floors. These experiences made him realize that kids have innocence while adults can cope with travesty of life. In Jordan one unique factor was that many refugees had regular lives in Syria but now find themselves in conflict. There, Javed with HHRD not only worked with Syrian refugees but Palestinians and impoverished South Jordanians in the Al-Mafreq district. For Javed, what to expect from just seeing the devastation on the news is nothing like going to Jordan and seeing it in front of you. He describes the living situation in the camps in Jordan as “no one should be living like this….” and then mentioning that other than a lack of resources, sandstorms, scorpions, and snakes are a problem as well and kids getting sick from sand getting into their systems. In one specific incident, Javed recalls a moment where a kid who had not had chicken for so long that when given chicken he didn’t recognize it and was putting it to the side. Javed stresses that while we often feel sad by watching what is happening in certain areas around the world, once you actually travel to those areas reality hits you that the situation is actually a lot worse than perceived and any help is needed.
The work done by Helping Hand seeks to have both an immediate as well as a long-term impact. As a result, a requirement for the HHRD programs is to have the kids stay in school. Javed mentions that some children who received help from Helping Hand programs are now college students and this was achieved in part due to help from donors from the U.S. A specific program Javed mentions had a moving impact was the Children with Disabilities program, where kids that are visually impaired or otherwise and donors sponsor treatment. Kids with muscle deficiencies are now able to make progress thanks to rehab and treatment, with some being able to take their first steps.
Great work does not materialize without many efforts and indeed there are limitations as well. According to Javed, Helping Hand has run into certain limitations which depend on a multitude of factors. Often due to government restrictions compromises may have to be made. An example was in an unspecified African country, HHRD had an office but employees got shot. Safety is a huge issue. HHRD cannot go into Syria due to the ongoing conflict either but continue their work in Lebanon and Jordan. It is often in countries with a high level of instability and strife where the work Helping Hand carries out is needed, but safety of the volunteers and workers is imperative as well. Finding that right balance might be hard but critical as help to those in need may be at risk.
The mission of Helping Hand is not limited to activity in countries where help is most needed; in fact, there is ample activity happening within the United States where if one wishes to make an impact it can be done so. Helping Hand recently held a fundraising event, Iftar, which is the breaking of the fast meal, in Raleigh, North Carolina for the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh. In Durham, North Carolina Helping Hand held a food and clothing drive for people in Somalia, and a full 40 foot container of supplies was shipped off to Somalia.
While we turn on the television and empathize with those suffering due to violent conflict, there is often empathy but a lack of action, perhaps due to the thought that the conflicts are across the world and those suffering are out of our reach. However Helping Hand’s presence in the United States has made it easy for those intending to help to make some of an impact, and that can be done by contributing towards events like the Food Drives and Fundraisers as mentioned.
Helping Hand for Relief and Development is driven by a mission stemming from the commandments of the Quran, and having good intentions is an integral part of the Islamic faith. However regardless of one’s faith, ethnicity, or background, it is universal humanitarian values which have brought many to action in order to help those around the world affected by conflict or disaster. While Helping Hand and various other organizations will continue to help those in dire need by both working internationally as well as efforts at home, there is still much help needed. While not everyone can go outside the country and help, events of Helping Hand in the United States demonstrate that one can do a lot from home as well, which would go towards the efforts of helping those abroad.
Shiraz Ahmed graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, he now works for a company in Raleigh while preparing to go to Graduate School. In his free time he enjoys reading history and traveling.