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My Journey with Al-Khair Foundation
By Adam Saleh
YouTube sensation Adam Saleh shares his journey of learning and giving with Al-Khair Foundation.
This story doesn’t start in Pakistan, or London. It starts in New York City.
It was the first day of Ramadan. I was in my bedroom, editing a vlog. The window was wide open but even then it was really hot. I was thirsty, tired and hungry and I still had half a day of fasting left.
That evening, my mom made samboosa for iftar, but it wasn’t the type I liked – it had meat in it, not cheese. I snapped at her – she knows cheese samboosa is my favourite. She snapped right back at me and told me to be grateful for what I had – there were some people in the world who only had dates and water for iftar and nothing else.
That night, her words kept playing around in my head. I realised then that I wanted to do something worthwhile this Ramadan. So here I am – in London with Al-Khair Foundation after a trip of a lifetime trying to put myself in the shoes of those less fortunate; trying to raise awareness about important causes; and trying to be a voice for topics the media likes to ignore.
Day 1 – Karachi, Pakistan:
When I found out that Al-Khair Foundation would be taking me to Pakistan to meet Rohingya refugees and learn more about their projects, I was thrilled. I’ve never been to Pakistan before and some of my closest friends are Pakistani so I’ve heard a lot of great things.
I’ve also heard a few worrying things in the news but to be honest, it didn’t really bother me. The only thing I fear is God and I knew He would protect me because I was out there for a good cause. I was really excited about getting there, getting involved and putting a smile on their faces. I wanted to talk to the helpless, hang out with them and try to put myself in their shoes. Once we boarded that plane and everyone was setting themselves up comfortably to sleep; I stayed awake, impatient. I just wanted to get there and try and make that difference, however small.
The first thing I saw when we reached Karachi airport was a halal McDonalds and I was hoping I’d get the chance to have a burger! But all thought of food and burgers melted away the minute we stepped out into the scorching heat to the weather outside and the Pakistan heatwave hit us right in the face – I’ve never experienced anything like this before – even as a fellow New-Yorker! Hot steam literally fogged up my sunglasses! Trying to be cool about it (pun intended) I cleaned it off, stepped out and was ready for my journey. I was exhausted but not too tired, I was trying to appreciate my surroundings. Even though I’ve travelled quite a bit, Pakistan was nothing I had ever seen before. There were families of up to 5 members on motorbikes including one clan that included a 2 month year old baby and a 2 year old fully sleeping! We were definitely no longer in London. Arriving at the hotel, I quickly freshened up and received my cool Al-Khair t-shirt that I wore throughout my trip.
Our first stop was Al-Khair Foundation’s Emergency Medical Health Clinic. I was told it was there specifically to provide aid to those individuals who can’t afford it; this is clearly needed now more than ever with the current heatwave taking more than 1200 lives! SubhaAllah! This was beyond eye-opening to me and feeling emotional was a complete understatement.
There were a variety of different patients, probably around 100 altogether, most of them were women and young kids. I arrived there at 1.00pm but was told that these patients had been there since 8.00am. This broke my heart. There were those who had suffered from heat strokes, rashes and those who had massive blisters on their faces – definitely not for the fainthearted. As depressing as this was, I shared a more pained expression than those receiving treatment. However, seeing the smiles on the young children’s faces not only woke me up but uplifted me too. I spoke to all the children, they were all incredibly cute, polite and they seemed so happy to speak to me. The language barrier wasn’t an issue – our emotions shared a greater connection. There was this one young girl; she was so loving and happy. When she got her medicine she was ecstatic and went round showing everyone her medication. Due to them being unable to read any instructions, the doctors would place marks on the boxes indicating how many times a day to take it.
The heat was starting to get unbearable; it felt like someone had forgotten to tell the sun to take a break. The moment it hit you, sweat poured from every inch of your body.
I was about to learn about the value of water next as we went to distribute it in Karachi. When the massive water truck arrived everyone came running towards it like they’d seen an ice cream truck – excitement filled the air and everyone came out with containers of all sizes ranging from pots to coffee canisters. It was all-hands-on-deck and just seeing them wait in line for ages just for water – something we have easy access to – was such an emotional experience. Imam Qasim explained to me the difficulties the people here have faced and what Al-Khair Foundation has done to offer a regular water supply. He said something that really made me think. He said: “For them this is sweet water??? – meaning that no matter what issues they face they appreciate everything they have! A lesson we should all need to implement in our lives. I struggled lifting the water pipe helping to fill the barrels when this women came to help me and lifted it like it was nothing! Completely put me to shame…
After a couple of hours rest we went to visit the Rohingya people to distribute Al-Khair Foundation Ramadan food packs. They rented out this big hall enough for 150 people. There was a stage and on it lay their awaiting food packs. This felt amazing – I FELT AMAZING – what a beautiful opportunity this was for me. Imam Qasim, Al-Khair Foundation’s Chairman, called me up on stage and told me not to worry about not being able to speak Urdu but for me to just speak from the heart. I felt put on the spot but again this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The families were so excited to get their food; they were all clapping wholeheartedly and were so happy by this blessing. It was great to see what Al-Khair Foundation was providing them. Once that was over we proceeded to hand out these massive food packs. They were unbelievably heavy weighing at around 10 kg each but I felt happy knowing that they will keep a family of six fed for a month. Good news for me was that I wouldn’t have to work out for the next month!
Finished for the day we went for iftar, I had some dates and LOTS of water. We got to pray with and Imam Qasim and then went to have our main course. On the menu there was chicken tandoori, biryani, fish, pakoras – the variety was insane! Safe to say I can totally handle the spice now. I was stuffed by the end of it but Imam Qasim insisted I have dessert. His hospitality is next to none; he’s simply one of the kindest and wisest men I’ve come to know. Heading back to the hotel we went straight to sleep only to wake up at 4am to start editing the vlogs for YouTube.
Day 2 – Rohingya camps:
Day 2 consisted of a visit to the Rohingya compound. Despite there being so many people, I never felt more safe. Their houses were small and made up of brick, there was no electricity and no running water. There were approximately 300-400 people living in the area that only consisted of 10-12 houses between them. As soon as we pulled up we heard cheering and clapping, they were so happy to see Al-Khair Foundation coming in. It was incredibly moving to see the love they had in their eyes when they saw me – someone they don’t even know. They saw someone who cared about their issues and wanted to help. The children were shirtless but there were many mothers in niqaab standing amidst very few men. The thing that struck me was the fact that the men were really old – where were the young men? I found out later than many of them had passed away. I spoke to some of the kids and one of them took an interest in my prayer beads, so I gave it to him. I was happy that I was able to give something to make him smile. When we were leaving the children were left sad so they began to chase our car. I was speechless.
We had to rush to get to our next destination: Multan. As soon as we arrived we went straight to the hotel to have iftar. I chose a typical Pakistani biryani – I can never get enough. We sat up talking the whole night discussing our day’s activities. I was still trying to get my head round everything I had witnessed so far.
It was hard waking up that day. My body was in agony from lifting 150 10kg food packs and I was exhausted from the heat. But even though I was physically tired, I had never been so emotionally content. We woke up and by 8am we were on our way to Al-Khair Foundation’s very own village, Ehsanpur, which is where they settled the internally displaced victims of the Pakistan floods. Today, the village has housing, clean water facilities, a school, medical clinic and training centres. It has everything these victims need to live a safe, happy and fulfilling life.
It had been a long journey but the very first thing I saw as soon as I arrived was this huge banner that said “Al-Khair Foundation welcomes Adam Mohsan Saleh.??? What a welcome! I was so touched, I laughed at the fact that they spelt my middle name wrong (it’s spelt Mohsin) but the thought and effort was amazing. I couldn’t believe that they had done all that so quickly.
I thought Karachi was hot but Ehsanpur was even hotter. The air was like an oven. There was no breeze, the sun burned down on me and even breathing was tough. But this was the harsh reality of many. I had just come out of an air-conditioned car which I was going to return to in a couple of hours. Some people didn’t have that luxury.
I tried not to let the heat get to me. The first place we got to visit was the Football Stitching Training Centre which was full of women sitting there in the heat learning how to stitch. This was a great initiative by Al-Khair Foundation as it gave them the chance to learn a vital skill that would later lead to secure employment. The way Al-Khair Foundation believes in rebuilding these people’s lives and giving them job opportunities to secure a safer future.
Al-Khair Foundation cares about grassroot issues and finds solutions to them.
Watching the woman train in the heat, sweating, was really inspirational. I couldn’t even sit there for two minutes but they were there for hours making only 50 cent per football a day. I was told that they only get a small percentage of the money it makes, but they rely on the income it offers. This was one of my wake up calls to appreciate the life Allah (SWT) has given me and a reminder to myself to stop complaining about trivial things.
The next stop was the hospital where they offer free services and check ups. This was definitely the most emotional visit I had made. I saw a mother there who had been there for a couple of weeks. Her family members were just sitting beside her, staring with nothing but sadness in their eyes. This made me grateful for everything I have and just reminds me that others are not as lucky as you and I have been.
The hospital was a difficult experience for me and I was glad that we would be going to Al-Khair Middle School: Millenium Village. It was lovely with really nice dorms but best of all they offered free education! I got to speak to some of the students and hear of their many experiences growing up in Ehsanpur. We then left the school to visit the nearby Orphanage where I got the incredible opportunity to lay their very first brick – I am so grateful. This was an indescribable yet amazing experience. I then went to give out lots of Eid toys to the children there; you should’ve seen their expressions! I could feel the excitement rise when the gifts were spotted, a great feeling to know that I played a role in helping to put a smile on their faces. There was this one little boy who ended up with the last toy, which was a girl’s doll, but he looked like Eid had come early. He didn’t care that it was a girl’s toy – maybe he didn’t even know that it was meant for girls. It really highlighted the difference between these kids and those back home in New York who are always complaining about being bored or wanting this or that.
Our last stop in Ehsanpur was the Qurbani farm where I was surrounded by dozens of goats. A rather eager one that I picked up for a photo opportunity felt relaxed enough to poop on me! I quickly picked up another; bonding instantly I quickly named it Haider.
Ehsanpur was a beautiful but really hard experience. Seeing what Al-Khair Foundation has done for the victims of the flood was beautiful – but even then – for me it drove home the stark contrast of my life compared to theirs.
My time in Pakistan has been a beautiful one. I’m thankful to Al-Khair Foundation for giving me the opportunity to document the plight of the Rohingya and allowing me to visit their projects in Pakistan. I’m also incredibly thankful to Imam Qasim for taking the time to show me all these wonderful projects and introduce me to Al-Khair. He really is an inspirational, kind and wise leader and through my time with him I’ve feel like I’ve become a much better person.
To anyone reading this, I encourage you to donate what you can, believe me every penny helps! If you can’t donate, the spread awareness and campaign for causes that need our attention.
I care about Rohingya – DO YOU?