The Qamer Foundation, led by Bilkis Al-Haddad, took a group of volunteers to Pemba Island off the coast of Tanzania, Africa in August.Pictured here, clockwise from front: Bilkis Al-Haddad, Louaina Sati, Nayrah Islamovic, Shazia Khan, Abdulhakim Awadh, Hisham Sharif, Ria Stehouwer and Wazira Hamdani. Missing: Yusuf Ben Halim, Abubaker Hammuda and Sadiya Al-Haddad. on Tuesday September 15, 2015 in St. Catharines, Ont.
The man has six disabled children who walk on their hands and feet.
No one really understands why they don’t want upright.
He is poor, and lives with his family in a small mud hut on Pemba Island, off the coast of Tanzania, Africa.
And yet, it was this man who inspired a group of volunteers from St. Catharines, who travelled to Tanzania to help him.
A man who has nothing, gave them everything, says Bilkis Al-Haddad, who organized the 10-day mission in August.
The project was the biggest yet for Al-Haddad, who has co-ordinated many missions through The Qamer Foundation, an organization she founded to shape youth into community leaders by encouraging them to do good in the world.
Previously, they have built wells to bring clean water to villages in Tanzania. They’ve delivered food and clothing to orphans, and medical supplies to hospitals.
This time, one of their projects was to help Imam Saleh Sheikh and his family. The group finished off a new house for him, made of cement blocks and a corrugated steel roof, and furnished it with items like mattresses for each of his children – they had been sleeping on woven mats – and carpet to protect their hands and feet. They gave the family clothing and shoes, and sacks of charcoal for fuel, rice, flour and cooking oil. And they installed horizontal bars to encourage the children, ages three to 14, to practise walking on two feet.
And yet, it was his generosity that inspired them.
“His family fed us twice,” says Nayrah Islamovic. “They live in a one-room hut and don’t have a lot with so many mouths to feed. And still they took time to do this for us.”
The man had a lasting impact on Hisham Sharif, a PhD student in kinesiology at Brock University specializing in spinal cord injuries.
“Once you see this man, you wouldn’t think he had a problem in his life,” says Sharif.
“When you were around him, you felt at peace. It resonated around him.”
He drew the man’s attitude into his own life.
“Regardless of your circumstances, you always have a choice of how to respond to it,” he says.
Just before they left, they presented the father with a cart and ox. Al-Haddad and volunteer Ria Stehouwer were driving to a local village for supplies, when they saw it for sale on the side of the road. After some negotiation and logistical co-ordination, they managed to secure another ox-cart pair for $900 U.S., and kept it hidden behind the man’s new house to surprise him.
“This was like giving him a big John Deere tractor,” says Stehouwer.
He could use it for daily needs like transporting his family, hauling water from the well in big drums or he could rent it out for some income.
There were other projects as well. Volunteers built a school classroom, handed out backpacks and school supplies to 176 orphans and sponsored 10 children for the year. They treated orphans to pilau, a rice and goat meat dish. Rice is a luxury that few can afford, says Al-Haddad.
After the dinner, children scraped leftovers off of plates and left with food bundled up in their shirts, she says.
And before they left, the group raised funds and donations, enough to fill a 12-metre-long storage container with everything from wheelchairs to clothing, skipping ropes to fishing gear. Items will be distributed to the needy.
Every Friday, Al-Haddad, a Muslim woman, reads a chapter in the Qur’an called Al-Kahf. It’s a story about a man, Zul-Qarnain, who is a king and travels far and wide, using his power to do good to the people he meets.
She tries to do the same.
“Those words touch me a lot,” says Al-Haddad.
“To me, that was Pemba. I have no idea how we did it,” she says.
“But we came home, and said, ‘It happened. We did it.”