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     Volume 7 Issue 38 | September 19, 2008 |

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Straight Talk

A Fun Lesson in Charity

Nadia Kabir Barb

“Did you know that almost 774 million adults across the world can't read or write?” asked my youngest daughter. “No I didn't” I replied not really listening to what she was saying. “Can I have some money?” was the next question directed at me. “No, you can't” I replied with a frown. “But I want to put some money in my Penny Box to give to the orphans.” “What orphans?” I queried still not looking up from my book. “It says on Hilal's Calendar that Islamic Relief has sponsored more than 26,000 orphans. So I want to put some money in my collection box and send it to them”. “Who on earth is Hilal?” By this stage the book was forgotten and I was thoroughly confused. “Okay, let's rewind a bit as I haven't got a clue what you're talking about”. The look I got was a rather reproachful one for not paying attention. A little activity pack was thrust in my hand consisting of a calendar, a couple of collection boxes, a sheet of stickers and a letter. I was told that my husband had been given the pack by someone at work and had handed it to my daughter to look at.

I was rather surprised to find that the activity pack was from the charity Islamic Relief (IR), an international relief and development charity, which aims to alleviate the suffering of the world's poorest people. According to the accompanying letter, it is an independent Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) founded in the UK in 1984 by Dr Hany El Banna. It was refreshing to read that as well as responding to disasters and emergencies, Islamic Relief promotes sustainable economic and social development by working with local communities - regardless of race, religion or gender. I wish organisations such as IR were more recognised. It might help rid the notion that all Islamic organisations are somehow affiliated to extremists and terrorists.

As I looked at the items on my lap, I was particularly struck by the innovative way they had produced the pack to make it more appealing and interesting for children. The stickers had 'I am fasting' written on them and my daughter lost no time sticking them all over my sweater before I had a chance to defend myself. There were two Penny Boxes which my youngest had already assembled and the main objective seemed to be to try and get youngsters involved in helping the poor and disadvantaged.

The calendar called Hilal's Ramadan calendar (so that's who Hilal is!) was designed to teach basic facts about Islam but in a fun and interactive way and also to encourage boys and girls to find out more about the holy month of Ramadan. It reminded me of the advent calendars you see everywhere in London before Christmas. The traditional calendar is made up of two pieces of cardboard on top of each other with twenty four doors cut out in the top layer and a number ranging from one to twenty four on each of them. Beginning on the first day of December, you are supposed to open one door every day, counting down the days remaining until Christmas Eve, from twenty four to one. Each compartment displays an image, which can be either a feature of the Nativity story and the birth of Jesus or a picture of something related to Christmas (e.g., bells or holly). Nowadays many calendars have been adapted by manufacturers to include a piece of chocolate or some sort of sweet behind each door. Obviously these marketing strategies are mostly aimed at children who are counting down to Christmas and the arrival of Santa Claus. There is criticism against these merchandisers for commercialising the whole concept thereby diminishing the basic idea of advent calendars and simply cashing in on Christmas sales. I mean these days you get Winnie the Pooh advent calendars or ones with a picture of cute cats and dogs on them! When I told my daughter that she should try not to be too disappointed as there were no chocolates in the calendar, she looked at me and said, “obviously not Ma, it is a Ramadan calendar you know!”

The calendar from the Islamic Relief had similar windows for each day of the month of Ramadan and inside the little windows contained teachings from the Quran and from the sayings of our prophet and activities that encourage children to act on what they have learnt. For example, one of the compartments said, “Start Ramadan by remembering all the people around the world who have no food or drink. Say a prayer for them” Others had “Did you know” facts in them about world poverty and why people should help them. It talked about the earthquake in China and the Cyclone in Myanmar and all the people affected by these disasters.

On the back of the calendar was a word search game and a glossary with the meanings of various words used in the calendar e.g. suhur, tawhid etc. All in all I was quite impressed with the whole pack. It was both informative and constructive but managed not to sermonise to the children. If a simple calendar can make someone pause and think about those less fortunate themselves, then IR definitely deserves the credit that is due to them.

Obviously we have not opened all the windows on the calendar as we still have a little way to go before Eid but I have a strong suspicion I am going to be inundated with a lot of facts starting with “Did you know....” and family and friends are going to have to dig into their pockets to fill my daughter's Penny Box!

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