ISLAMABAD: Pakistani students enrolled in US universities have recently resorted to Facebook to organise fund-raisers for the persisting catastrophic floods that hit Pakistan.
Originally from Lahore, Umar Agha is now a senior at Columbia University in New York City where he recently began a fund-raising initiative through Facebook, inviting about 100 close friends and family to step forth and donate whatever they could to ameliorate the situation. Umar joined hands with the SRSP (Sarhad Rural Support Programs), an NGO working in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on development programs like micro-finance, social mobility, infrastructure and various other developmental programs.
Collecting over Rs20 million, Umar’s fund-raiser has been able to help over 3000 families not only in the Nowshera and Charsadda districts, where all kinds of NGOs are active, but also in the remote and inaccessible areas of Upper Swat, Kohistan and Dir.
Donations also went to South Punjab via the Punjab Rural Support Programme. Packages containing food items, medicines, cooking equipment, towels, plates and glasses have been sent out.
Umar called his experience ‘wonderful’ and said that he had learned a lot about the nature of charity work in Pakistan. “There were times when I was very discouraged because wealthy industrialists would not open their pockets. But then there were times when someone on a motorbike would give a small donation or a stranger would hand me cash without even asking what I was going to do with it. Such things kept me going,” said Umar.
He claims that with the help of SRSP, he was able to identify the regions that needed aid the most, and provide it to them. Anum Javed Akram and Salman Baset are also students of Columbia University and were residing in New York City when the calamity struck.
They instantly set up a Facebook initiative and a Google Talk Forum named ‘NYC Unites for the Floods in Pakistan’.
Since schools were out at the time, Anum and Salman had to extend their propositions to various mosques, churches and synagogues around Manhattan to raise funds.
Pakistani students from New York University, Rutgers University and City University of New York volunteered to help and within the next three days, managed to raise $10,000.
Anum explains, “Some Mosques were very political and did not want to be associated with us, so we had to be very discrete with the fund-raising.”
She said this was a huge set back but people kept on donating. After fund-raising for a total of five days Anum headed back to Pakistan with a grand sum of $17,000 which she has used to buy food, medicine and clothes for the displaced.
Anum, Salman and Umar have helped a total of 4000 families in the affected areas.
Before leaving New York, Anum held meetings with various student body organisations at Columbia encouraging them to continue the fund-raising efforts.
Umar has made arrangements with the NRSP that will allow him to continue sending funds.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2010.