A charity worker from Tower Hamlets has told ELL how he used £10,000 that he raised in an emergency appeal to help Syrian refugees, orphans and widows in Lebanon.
Ballal Qureshi, the 27-year-old Fundraising Officer for the international charity Human Aid in Whitechapel, started the ‘Month of Giving’ project back in October 2018 and by January 2019 he had collected around £10,000.
Qureshi used the money to buy blankets, socks, jackets and hats to bring to Beqaa Valley in Lebanon during January and distribute them to 30 Syrian families in a refugee camp there.
Qureshi was informed of the appalling condition of the Afzal camp, which lied four miles from the border with Syria, during a Facebook live on Human Aid’s page to raise money.
“It was snowed out completely; it was on the mountainsides and I realised I had to raise even more money through the live appeal.”
The emergency appeal was named ‘Babies of Beqaa’, dedicated to fifteen babies who were frozen to death.
Qureshi said there may have been many more deaths which had not been reported.
He told ELL about some beneficiaries including a mother with whom he had “a heart-breaking interview”.
“A widow in Afzal camp has four children and six people in the family. They’re given about 100 dollars a month to survive by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
“That includes food, medication, clothing, everything.
“To expect a family to survive on 100 dollars a month for everything is literally impossible, man. She said to me ‘I try my best to raise money for me and my children, my oldest son had to drop out of school to raise money for our family’.”
Qureshi said there were men who took advantage of refugee women in exchange for money.
“It got my blood boiling and stuck in my heart,” Qureshi said.
He also met many husbands and fathers who couldn’t provide for their family.
“Bomb blastings in Syria caused men to have their limbs ripped off, ” he said.
It was then, he said, he realised the importance of continuing his work to “preserve the dignity of our sisters and brothers”.
Qureshi said the need for winter aid in Beqaa Valley was “really dire” and he wished he could raise more money to help people who fled Syria because of the crisis in the country.
“The Beqaa Valley has 135,000 refugees all allocated in different parts of the valley,” said Qureshi. He added that he did not realise the scale of the camps until a week before his flight.
Qureshi volunteered to travel and distribute aid, as he felt sitting behind a desk to raise money for projects can make people “completely disconnected” with the reality of the situation.
He explained going on a delegation was a key aspect in any charity as it gave him the motivation to continue his charity work.
“After three or four months of sitting behind the desk raising money and you see one video of it being commissioned, it makes you feel happy and content. Like Allah is on your side.
“But after doing that again and again and again, your drive starts to diminish.”
He continued: “It [the trip to Lebanon] gives you a vision, it gives you a plan, it gives you a direction for when you return, and it gives you that motivation again.”
When in Beqaa Valley, Qureshi asked his tour guide to take him to another camp in the area. Conditions were also dire, but he couldn’t raise the funds to provide winter aid for the whole valley.
Beqaa Valley is a large, flat area surrounded by mountains. Qureshi described it as “humongous” with camps scattered everywhere.
Having completed his studies in Psychology at Queen Mary’s, University of London, Qureshi started his work at Human Aid as a part-time volunteer to gain work experience. However, he felt the work was “extremely rewarding” so continued on as full-time staff.
Qureshi explained the difficulty of his role in which a standard 9-6 job was not enough.
“When working in charity, you need to be available around the clock to constantly accept donations and accept volunteers.
“There’s no sleeping in this job, you continue the work in and out of the office.
“Whenever you have any opportunity to raise money, you need to take it, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, it doesn’t matter if you’re on holiday, it doesn’t matter if you’re on annual leave, it doesn’t matter if you’re sick. You need to continue.”
Qureshi’s parents migrated from Pakistan to England at a young age. He is an only child and has lived in Stepney Green with his mum and dad his entire life.
He now has plans to take his family to settle down in Walthamstow and hopes to have an arranged marriage.