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U of T Scarborough employee lends a hand in Afghanistan

FUNDRAISING FOR AFGHANISTAN: Inayat Habib, a staff member at U of T Scarborough's parking services office, is pictured here on the UTSC campus. He made his second fundraising trip to Afghanistan this year to deliver cash aid to needy families. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

Staff member delivers funds to impoverished villages

by Eleni Kanavas

A sense of commitment, dedication and passion is what motivates UTSC staff member Inayat Habib to bring aid to impoverished villages in Afghanistan.

In March 2009, Habib traveled on his second humanitarian mission to the war-torn country, where he distributed envelopes of cash aid to needy families. To see more photos from his trip, click here. Prior to his journey, members of Toronto’s Afghan community and the University of Toronto Scarborough community helped to raise $25,000 for Afghanistan. Fundraising efforts are continuing, as organizers strive to reach a long-term goal of $100,000.

In the months leading up to the trip, Habib drafted a document outlining the most impoverished locations in Afghanistan, where citizens would benefit the most from money delivered in the local Afghani currency. His proposal for the charitable mission included the logistics, security measures and costs that would be involved in completing the mission. Once the proposal was accepted by the Afghan Community Assistance Fund committee based in Toronto, Habib was chosen to travel to Afghanistan to deliver the funds. The married father of three is an Afghan-Canadian who has worked at U of T Scarborough as a parking enforcement officer since 2001.

In March, Habib arrived in Kabul City after a 26-hour journey. There he joined a network of supporters. Among the group were two other Afghan-Canadian men who were volunteering, Wais Popalyar and Omaid Sarwary, members of other Afghan organizations who also helped with the Toronto fundraising campaign.

“I have a passion to work hard to bring aid to those less fortunate, and it gives me a sense of happiness when I see a smile on someone’s face,” Habib said. “It just pushes me more to do what I can, even if I have to go beyond my own ability and find the right person to help me, because it’s not about the money but what you can do to provide a better living for people.”

Upon arriving in Kabul, Habib did not waste time. He immediately began calling members of parliament to organize transportation to areas of the country where his group was to distribute the money. The initial plan was to hand-deliver half of the funds to impoverished areas in Kabul and Kandahar. Habib also wanted to deliver a message of thanks to the Canadian troops in Kandahar and to visit a refugee camp in Spin Boldak, an area he says is in desperate need of help.

Although Habib had gained full support and assurance from the provincial government in Kandahar to visit Spin Boldak, when he arrived in the country, government officials declared a high security alert in the area, prohibiting the group from traveling to that area. Instead, the volunteers came up with an alternate plan to direct funds to another worthwhile destination. With only a few days left to distribute the remaining funds, Habib, Popalyar and Sarwary decided to visit the Gulestaan Learning Centre for Women, an adult learning facility in the southwest end of Kabul city with a large Hazara ethnic population. (The Hazara people have faced persecution and displacement from other dominant ethnic groups in Afghanistan in recent years.) An estimated 400 women, mostly widows with young children, are registered in a program at the centre, where they are taught to read and write. They also learn carpentry skills that enable them to make wooden furniture and other decorative items.

“This project attracted us because it provides jobs, skills and education,” he said. “The best way to help the people in Afghanistan is by supporting new ideas and centres that provide adult learning. Funding these small projects is significant because it supports sustainability and has a long-term impact on small communities and villages.”

A total of 65,000 Afghanis ($1,350 CDN) was donated to the centre, which helped the women and their young children. In appreciation for the labour of the women carpenters, Habib also spent his own money to buy decorative items in an effort to support the centre.

The group also visited four districts within Kabul province and gave small cash donations to impoverished families, including people with medical conditions who needed to buy or refill prescriptions, he said. The four districts were Char Asyaab, Dehsabz, Bagraami and Chardyhi, which are situated on the outskirts of Kabul city and have mixed populations of different ethnic groups. Due to economic hardships, many people there are unemployed and have only a few assets. Some can farm their land, cultivate their herds or work in local shops, but jobs and income are scarce.

Habib embarked on his first charitable journey to Afghanistan in March 2008, when he traveled to Herat province. He traveled with Canadian volunteer Zakariakhan Zakaria, a local real estate agent and member of the Canadian Afghan Business Council. Together the two men hand-delivered money raised by Toronto’s Afghan community to more than 1,000 needy families in villages hard hit by poverty, conflict and the worst winter on record.

With numerous initiatives underway, Habib is looking forward to creating more broad project fundraisers rather than giving one-time donations to people in Afghanistan. In April, the Polish Orphans Charity invited Habib to represent the Afghan community when the charity expanded its scope to raise funds at its ninth annual charity ball in support of orphans in both Afghanistan and Poland. “It was a very successful event, and we raised a significant amount of money for an orphanage in Afghanistan,” he said. Habib encouraged the Afghan community to purchase tickets for the event and provided items for the silent auction.

Habib was born and raised in Kabul and had been studying commerce at Kabul University, but he left the country midway through his studies when the Taliban took over. This was his fifth visit to the country since he came to Canada in 1998. He is now embarking on a fundraising project to help provide clean drinking water for an Afghani orphanage he visited. Anyone who wishes to donate or learn more can contact Inayat Habib at habib@utsc.utoronto.ca. To learn more about fundraising efforts for Afghanistan, visit www.afgcommunity.com.




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