Individual people really can make a difference
By Sima Husain
One evening while at a social gathering, Sumbla Hasan and her friends were talking about the recent influx of Syrian refugees that had settled in their area. Hasan discovered that many of the new arrivals in Detroit weren’t receiving appropriate assistance from resettlement organizations, so she volunteered her garage to store the donated furniture.
While volunteering, she was deeply disturbed by their living conditions, lack of basic necessities and inability to provide for themselves. After discussing the need for an organized effort, she and her friends created a WhatsApp group to encourage others to join their grassroots initiative. Naming this group chat Community Helpers , she began her career in service. Within a few days, about 150 like-minded volunteers were assigned to various areas in which the refugees were being placed.
Hasan, along with other amazing volunteers, delegated and helped provide food for refugees staying in hotels, find volunteer doctors, fill out children’s school admissions forms and take refugees to the Department of Homeland Security office for their paperwork. Gradually, resettlement and other nonprofit organizations recognized their work, and donors started donating generously.
As CH’s influence grew, Hasan registered it as a nonprofit organization. Today, Community Helpers USA is a volunteer-based organization, which means that all of its board members, certified public accountants, lawyers and team volunteers have been working for free since 2017. Most volunteers are professionals who work after hours, during work or whenever they have free time.
Founder and current president Hasan is supported by Faisal Imam (treasurer), Nida Imam (head of logistics and Pakistan Projects) and Safiya Aidross (board member and website manager). Together, they have created a Michigan-based organization that runs both domestic and international successful, ongoing projects. Its goal is to create stable communities with self-sustaining confident, hopeful and empowered individuals.
CH’s involvement in refugee-related activities was the beginning of its U.S.-based projects. Since then, its members have created food pantries in Ypsilanti for refugees and anybody in need. When Afghan refugees arrived in Michigan after the U.S. withdrawal, the Community Helpers Youth Group organized clothing drives at Washtenaw International High School and Greenhills Academy. All the items went directly to refugees temporarily residing in a hotel. Not only did they help distribute winter clothes, but during the Covid-19 pandemic they organized the distribution of hard-to-get N95 masks to those who needed them most, as well as fresh meals to frontline workers in hospitals.
Over the years, CH has organized international projects based primarily in Pakistan, India and Yemen and completed projects in Syria and Bangladesh. Pakistani-born-and-raised Hasan aims to give back to her birth country.
CH collaborates with other nonprofits to send food, clothes, Eid gifts, tents and other needed items. One of their significant projects is providing water wells and tanks to Pakistan and Yemen. Hasan’s customized system lets donors request that customize name plates for themselves or their loved ones be attached to these wells.
CH has established computer labs in Pakistan to introduce IT into underserved areas so their youth can have a chance to learn essential skills, supported orphanages in Syria by providing winter clothes and firewood, as well as distributing groceries in Bangladesh. In addition, its members have distributed food in many countries, especially groceries, iftar and Eid clothes around Ramadan and Eid.
Hasan, who finds these projects extremely rewarding, looks forward to continuing them in the future. CH also has many ideas for future projects, such as:
• Creating a membership system for providing affordable funeral services, a common concern for many low-income Muslim families. This project can give them peace of mind and decrease their stress level.
• Setting up a career advising service. This service would be focused on IT and targeted toward youth and stay-at-home parents who need guidance in choosing a career.
• Developing a Muslim senior’s home. Such homes are still rare in Muslim cultures, despite the fact that some elderly people don’t have the necessary support or resources.
What makes CH unique is its members’ willingness to sit down with anyone, discuss their ideas and turn their vision into a reality by launching their project and giving them a leading role. Everyone desires to help others, so she made it easy for working people to volunteer whenever they want.
CH provides volunteer options: visiting in person or supporting from home via such remote options as teaching English, Quran reading and free counseling over the phone. As the nonprofit welcomes ideas with open arms, it’s very easy to become a part of it.
Hasan noted that it’s difficult to trust larger organizations, for donors aren’t exactly sure what their money is going. The personal relationship CH fosters with its donors allows its members to build trust and maintain integrity.
Hasan is inspired by the leadership of Abdul Sattar Edhi (d.2016), the Pakistani humanitarian, philanthropist and ascetic who founded the Edhi Foundation. This nonprofit social welfare organization runs the world’s largest volunteer ambulance network, along with homeless/animal shelters, orphanages and rehabilitation centers. Inspired by the honorable personality of this very humble, driven and knowledgeable person, Hasan uses her charisma and personality to motivate the other board members and volunteers to continue their work throughout the years.
Hasan is driven by the fact that without CH, many families wouldn’t have been given the tools they need to build their new lives. The lack of appropriate governmental support was alarming, and she knows that resettlement organizations haven’t changed much since 2016. Another major motivation for Hasan, along with her board members and volunteers, is gaining good deeds and pleasing God. Having an Islamic-based organization has helped her grow into being a better Muslima, and her work feels more rewarding when it is being done in God’s name.
CH started out as just a WhatsApp group among friends who saw a need and responded to it. All it takes to start the butterfly effect to impactful work is one motivated individual with the right intentions.
Sima Husain is a freelance writer.