She has experienced the death of three of her children. She has felt more pain than a mother should ever have to endure. And yet, she is firm in her belief that there are many more people in the world worse off than her.
And she is dedicating her life, and the memory of her children, to help them.
Bilkis Al-Haddad is organizing yet another mission trip to Tanzania, this time to improve the lives of orphans, and help a family living in extreme poverty with six disabled children.
This is a video of the children walking on their hands and feet. No one knows why they don’t stand up.
She will leave with a group of youth volunteers in August. This month, she is fundraising and collecting donations that will be packed into a 12-metre-long storage container and shipped overseas.
In 2002, her three children, Qamer, Ahmed and Nabil, died in a house fire. Only one, her son Mohammed, escaped by climbing out a window onto the roof.
And yet, faith will not allow her spirit to be crushed.
Two years after the death of her children, she created a foundation in their honour. The Qamer Foundation, named after her 13-year-old daughter, builds youth into community leaders by showing them how to do good in the world.
Since 2004, the foundation has raised funds to construct a well to bring clean water to a village in Tanzania. It has delivered a wheelchair and commode chair to a man who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident. It has delivered food and clothing to orphaned children, and medical supplies to a hospital in East Africa.
And all the while, driven to help others by the memory of her children.
“I feel like when I’m doing this, they’re watching me,” she says.
“God said, I’ve taken your children but I’ve given you so many orphans.
“My orphans are all my children.”
And as if all this was not enough, there have been more hurdles.
Her van, its transmission shot, sits broken in the driveway. She had not only used it to travel to and from work as a personal support worker, but to collect donations and shuttle loads of goods to storage sites across St. Catharines.
And this winter, a metal shed she had bought to store donated wheelchairs for the Tanzania trip, blew away in a windstorm and landed upside down and damaged in her neighbour’s backyard.
None of this will deter her.
The goodwill of friends and public transit get her to work. In her words: “God sends a ride for me.”
And although the shed at first seemed unsalvageable, she refused to write it off as garbage.
“No my dear,” she told her neighbour, “I’m getting my volunteers to come put it back together.”
And they did.
It is that very determination that will see her take nine youth volunteers with her to one of the poorest areas of Pemba Island, in Tanzania. They will deliver wheelchairs, walkers and medical supplies to a hospital. They will bring shoes, clothing, backpacks and schools supplies to orphans. Fishing supplies to the fishermen who make their livelihood from the water. Bikes to remote communities so children can peddle to schools and adults can get to work. And they will build a brick home for a family with six disabled children who walk on their hands and feet, and live in a one-room mud hut.
The next few weeks are crucial to making it happen.
She is organizing fundraisers, and is asking people to donate items from bikes to sewing machines, blackboard and chalk to fishing gear and rain barrels. She needs new mattresses, backpacks, school supplies and small generators. The youth volunteers are also crowd sourcing funds for airfare.
In the mean time, charges for six, $1,380 airline tickets sit on her credit card. She’s not worried.
“When God wants to send you something, it will come from sources you don’t know,” she says.
Helping her are volunteers like 26-year-old Hisham Sharif, a PhD student in kinesiology at Brock whose interest is in spinal cord injuries. He has collected wheelchairs and walkers.
“You have to have that faith,” he says. “If not, you have nothing.
“Every human being is given something that he or she is obligated to use, to help others in a better way.”
Bilkis knows the experience will change her young volunteers.
“It will no more be me, it will be we,” she says.
She is determined to change a world that often puts materialism over human dignity.
“You want hot water? You open the hot (tap). You want cold, you open the cold,” she says.
“You don’t have to walk to a well, if there even is one, put a bucket on your head and walk home.
“When a message comes to you, we have to do it. We can’t ignore it. I am obligated.”
Hisham met Bilkis when he was 11 years old and his family moved in next door.
“You have to make the most impact on the world before you leave,” he says.
“And this is what she’s doing.
“People get preoccupied with worldly things that don’t last.”
When Bilkis’ last van broke down, she shrugged it off as part of life, sold it for $300 at a garage sale and gave the money to the well project in Tanzania. And now, the transmission shot on her 1999 van, she laughs that maybe she should hold another garage sale.
“I will not spend money on anything when I can change lives,” she says.
“I wish I was a millionaire. I’d change the entire village. Then those kids will grow up, and change another village.”
1ST FAMILY DINNER
What: 1st Family Dinner, a fundraiser for the mission trip to Tanzania from Aug. 11-26.
When: Saturday, May 30, 6 p.m.
Where: New Hope Community Centre, 2360 First Street Louth, St., Catharines.
Tickets: Until May 16 – adults, $20; children, $15 (five to 12 years). From May 17 – adults, $30. Tickets can be bought online at www.qamerfoundation.com
Contact: For more information, call 905-348-1700 or firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Back pack filled with school supplies. (pencils/crayons/colouring books/etc)
2. Children shoes (in separate box and label the box)
3. Children and newborn babies clothes – only summer (Washed and packed in box and label contents on the box)
5. Note books
6. Children books
7. Art supplies
9. 2-piece hijabs
10. Under garments
11. Soccer shoes and soccer items
12. Skipping ropes
13. Solar lights
3. Summer skirts/ dresses/tshirts
4. Sandles/ shoes
6. Long dresses
1. Shirts /pants/t.shirts/shorts (only summer)
Most needed for their livelihood:
2. Fishing gear
3. Diesel or petrol driven water pumps
4. Small generators
5. Hospital beds
6. Computers/laptops /printer (working well)
7. Carpentry tools
8. Sewing machines
9. Pots & pans
1. Dishes (Please wrap with newspaper to protect)
3. Special need equipments
4. Twin beds and mattresses. New or gently used; no stains.
5. Bedsheets /pillows/pillow cases/ towels
6. Black board and chalk
8. Praying mats
9. Note books and pencils/pen/crayons
10. Paint for exterior and interior – new only
11. Pail with cover, filled with soap bars for washing clothes & bath soaps. (Container is used to fetch water from the well)
Donations can be dropped off behind the St. Catharines mosque, 117 Geneva St., every Friday from 2:45-3:30 p.m., until the end of May. Or, you can make other arrangements by calling 905-348-1700.