Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Letter to You All

Asalaamu Aalaikum Wa Rehmatullahi My Beloved Family and Friends!

         Subhanallah, the past few weeks have been crazy for our family. We have had blessed days of travel, the opportunity to reconnect with family away from home and frankly a huge reality check.

Lets start first with out trip to Karachi. Karachi is the city that never sleeps. At any given time at night, we could hear the motor of a rikshaw grumbling in the quiet of the night. During the day, the streets were often flooding with crowds of people, vendors, traffic and pollution.

Sea View, Clifton Beach. The boys with Grandma.

Still, there was something precious about this city and that was the charm of its people. The people of Karachi, with their wide smiles and over confidence, their desire to stay forever in their city was a strange sense of patriotism I had never before experience.

With my in laws living in Lahore and Islamabad, it was only natural that we would go visit. Lahore was completely different than Karachi. In SO many ways, I believe the saying goes something like “if you have not seen Lahore, you have not seen anything at all”—whoever said this was right! Lahore was a town full of history, from the Badshahi Masjid to the Gudwara next door. Settled somewhere between these sights was the town of Shadara.

 Whilst on our way to Shadara, our driver pointed out the sights as we observed all the details and charm of Lahore.  My eyes fixated on the world famous Data Darbar. Our driver insisted we go inside and offer our prayers and offerings to the saints of the past. I politely and awkwardly half smiled, citing that dua can be made from anywhere and I much rather seek help by asking Allah SWT.

Shadara was the town where our relief effort began. As we pulled up to the The Ghani Grammar School a dusty sign greeted us. We met with Waqas Khan, one of the representatives of the school. He welcomed and unloaded the heavy suitcase full of school supplies we had collected with the help of our family and friends.

Nusaybah and Zakariya sorting thru the donation supplies!

 We walked a short distance, turned a few corners until we reached the school. It was located on a muddy rocky road. Whilst making our way up a set of narrow steep stairs, we were met by two charming boys dressed in crisp blue school uniforms. They were both students at the school. We visisted each of the classrooms and were invited in with a huge smiles from all the children. The students sat neatly in their seats and ever so politely answered our questions. A sweet young girl told us it took her 30 minutes to walk to school! This gives you an idea of the motivation these children have towards wanting an education.

         One by one each sparkly eyed child told us what they wanted to be when they were older. Their answers ranged from Pilots to Teachers to Doctors. The children cheerfully presented Zakariya with handmade thank you cards. A gift and story we will forever cherish.

Zakariya & Waqas 

Waqas presented Zakariya with a certificate for his efforts

         Mashallah we recently learned that three talented children from the Ghani Grammar School went on to winning the Art for Change Competition where they competed with 2500 students from all overPakistan!

After saying goodbye to Lahore we journeyed our way ahead to Islamabad, Mauree, Pindi and then back to Karachi. We hugged our friends and family in Pakistan and the second leg of our trip to Istanbul began. 

         Ahh Istanbul! Situated between two continents, Europe and Asia. A city I had to share with my parents. Istanbul first stole my heart in 2010, when we were blessed to visit Ankara and Istanbul.

          Marhaban Istanbul! We spent some time in the city, taking in the sights. The Blue Mosque at the heart of the city surrounded by chirping birds, The Hagia Sophia filled with the ever- popular wondering stray cats and The Topkapi Palace adorned by treasures centuries old.

Baby meets Blue Mosque

         Ohh Dear Istanbul, how I missed your rich Islamic history! You look the same but you feel so different.  

Right now I am thinking of that dark alley which is sometimes visited by an old hunched over man, his palms cupped together in search of spare change. I think about the woman I saw sitting on the street cradling her two sleeping babies in her arms, her bodily heat keeping them warm. I can hear the two hungry little Syrian girls, staring into the window of McDonalds while we comfortably ate our meals. I feel for them, so I feed them. They order more than they can eat, “to take it home for the others” they say so insistently.

I take a harder look this time. You do not look the same. I hold my purse tight, I ask myself in despair “ Ya Rabb. Where do we even begin?”

The next day we headed towards Fateh, the area in which the Syrian Elite School is located. Here we meet Ayman, our interpreter. Ayman is from Canada. He reminds me of home. Our friends from the Muslim Helping Hands helped us arrange the school visit. A special thank you to Sara Syeda, Moheeb and our host in Turkey- Yashar. We could not have done this without you guys, may Allah reward you immensely. 

Yashar & Zakariya at the Airport

Children in the school have to keep their jackets and sweaters on during class 
because there is no central heating

Hanging out with some of the children during recess

We meet some of the Syrian children and hear their heart wrenching stories. It was difficult-- mostly to try and stay composed.  A sweet girl, dressed in a red sweater made her way to the office, her name is Islam. Her age just 9 years:

Islam: I lost my Father. We (my Mother and my four siblings) escaped Syria and now live with my Uncle’s family in an apartment
Me: Do you still have family in Syria?
Islam: Only my Grandmother, she is in a refugee camp
Me: Do you like coming to school?
Islam: Yes, I like to study Arabic
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Islam: A Teacher
Me: Do you miss Syria?
Islam: Yes, we will go back Inshallah.

Islam both in her intelligence and naevity surprised me. She doesn’t realize the gravity of her situation. She doesn’t realize that she will not see her Grandmother again. She doesn’t realize that the Syria she remembers is no more.

Islam captivates me with her maturity but I feel sadness. Sadness that she has to grow up so fast, sadness that she has lost her childhood, sadness thinking about what conditions she has to live in. There is a reason she survived. She has a purpose and so much to offer but only if she is given a real chance.

         Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. For Islam, her family’s future depends on her. Islam’s mother has done her part by desiring an education for her children, she is keeping them safe and off the streets.

         Your contribution can change the life not only of a child but the child’s entire family. As Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

         For just $10 a month you can sponsor a child at The Ghani Grammar School in Pakistan and for just $60 a month you can sponsor the education of a Syrian migrant in Turkey.
         I leave you with the words from my favorite book, Ayah Jamilah, “The human race is created from the one source, if one man feels pain, the others, from the same source, cannot be indifferent to it.”

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