Today • • 24 February

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#Everyone Can Help

Haji Basheer Ahmad is no stranger to working on the ground, spending long, arduous journeys distributing humanitarian aid. Since 2015, he has been on almost 50 different trips, all in the name of helping the underprivileged communities around the world. 

We sat down with Haji Basheer – the CEO of Global Ehsan Relief – to learn more about his years of experience on the ground, and gain some insight into one of his most recent trips, the Winter Emergency Relief Trip in November 2021. 

Q: What made you want to go ahead with this trip despite the many travel restrictions and “risks” involved? 

First of all, we have not had the opportunity to travel for almost two years. There are a lot of restrictions and risks but there was a window where it was not very rigid at that time, so we took that opportunity to go. It’s an opportunity to train our team members.

Usually our GER team are always travelling, myself especially. I would travel once a month to meet up with our partners. I’m a hands-on person – I prefer to go on the ground and see the situation first-hand; it’s very important to me. And to me, my staff in GER also has to have that experience, to go on the ground and meet the refugees in their condition, to see with their own eyes, with their minds, the condition of the people that we are helping. 

Sometimes when we sit in our office, we might not have a general picture of what they are going through – whether it be the orphans, the refugees, or the hardship they are facing. So all these, it helps with the education of the team. It teaches us to be humble, to be thankful and grateful for what we have. When we see the difficult situation, we empathise and then we see how thankful they are. The younger generation, especially in Singapore, don’t realise how comfortable they are, how lucky we are (and) we take things for granted.

I think this is a very important development factor in GER, where the team members are able to engage our partners. When they go on the ground and when they see the condition, they come back with a better idea of how to formulate projects. 

All that we do comes from the heart, because we’ve been through it personally. So the captions that you use, the videos, the stories, the message that we send to the community, it comes from the heart. And it only comes from the heart if you experience it yourself. 

Q: What is the most crucial factor while working on the ground? 

One important factor is the importance of having partners. Without partners, nothing can be done, and we saw it on the ground. Whether in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, or wherever we go, having good partners makes the foundation strong. Without them we cannot work, we cannot do it. And creating that bond, synergy with all our partners, such as getting to know them, that’s the most important. They take care of us and we are able to focus on our work easily.

And to me, Masya-Allah, it’s beautiful how one problem comes up, one refugee problem comes up, we partners from four corners of the world, from different backgrounds, nationalities, language, all come together and have a common solution to think of. For example, how to relieve the problem for the refugees, or the orphans, the poor community. We’re from different places, we’ve never met each other but through this we become like family. 

Our partners, they will remain with us. We remain in contact, we remain good friends for the rest of our lives. 

Q: Why do you always describe travelling as your “resting time” even though it is non-stop travelling? 

*laughs*

When I say resting, I mean being away from my laptop. Here, I’m glued to my PC most of the time. When I’m away, the admin work is being done by my team so I can focus on the distributions. So to me, the ‘rest’ is from the back-end, the admin matters which I usually face everyday. 

Travelling opens up your mind. It’s ‘resting’ because I get to travel. It’s a different environment, different country, different locations. It rejuvenates you. Even though it’s difficult and can be punishing, it’s fun – it’s a different kind of challenge.

Over here it’s a domestic challenge. Over there it’s the airport challenge, timing challenge and the challenge to complete our schedule. And also a stomach challenge…. *laughs* Surprisingly, we don’t think too much about food. When we travel we take our breakfast and we don’t think about food until we have our dinner.

Q: You’ve travelled a lot, what made the Winter Emergency Relief Trip 2021 particularly different and special? 

I think the highlight is seeing the schools that we are supporting. There’s this school in Mafraq that we all went to for the first time – first time we saw the kids, and the first time seeing the set-up for the refugees.

One more school was the Orphan Girls School, where we didn’t get a chance to go but our Malaysia team had the chance, and they were also very impressed with the school. The students are very good. Most of the girls were orphans. They were really making the effort to learn the Quran, memorise the hadith, they had good akhlaq and were very happy. The team agreed that this school is a good investment.

And we can see the results – the children are educated, they are confident. The girls, they are confident, interact with our team. Usually you can say that the war has traumatised these children but through education, the trauma is sort of, reverse. It helps with the trauma, and they become confident ladies.

So you can see how the education programmes initiated by our partners, we are just supporting it, and it has a tremendous impact on the lives of these refugees.

Q: Why does GER focus heavily on helping refugees?

All the refugees in the world, combined, if we all pitch in to help them, we can only help 10%. What about the rest? So it’s a mammoth job. These refugees, they left everything behind, they are alone in a foreign country or in a camp. Stripped of dignity, identity, everything. Everything is gone. So they have to rebuild their lives from zero, from absolute zero. Just imagine the condition. 

So to me I think, that’s why refugees are our second priority after orphans. To help them stand on their own two feet. On top of building their lives back, the basic necessities for these refugees are food and water, and shelter. They cannot run away from these basic needs. 

As well as livelihood programmes, so that they can stand on their own. This is what we can do as an NGO, help them stand on their own two feet through the livelihood programmes. Instead of us always supporting one child, with their business they can support the whole family. So livelihood, empowering these refugees are important. 

For example, when we went to Jordan, when we saw the Syrian refugees, the widows, they were working hard to try and stand on their own two feet. There were crafters, sometimes they were sewing leather things, so there are ways for us to help them. We can see them struggling, but at the same time they also want to have this, they want to be independent, they themselves don’t want to rely too much on external help.

Q: What is your call to action to the GER community?

Give small, give regularly. I know it’s different, with pandemics and everyone struggling and facing a tough time, but we should continue giving, even if it’s very small. Like our GEMs programme, giving $10, $20 every month. By having a volume of people contributing a small amount, we have a large group of people, it becomes a snowball and we can help more people. 

Help change the world, in any way you can. You cannot give, you share, you speak about it, talk about it. Everyone has a part to play. Even a child, a student. 

#EveryoneCanHelp – students, whoever. The most important is how we get people inspired to start helping.