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#humanswithrahmah series: Love Beyond Borders – Project Meraki

Salaam friends of learnislam!

Following last week’s interview with Saufy for our first article on #humanswithrahmah, we had the opportunity to talk to another inspiring muslim, Fazila Banu – head of Project Meraki, and an advocate for human rights and spreading love beyond our borders. Project Meraki engaged refugees from Chin & Rohingnya residing in Malaysia last May. Below is our short interview with Fazila:

1) Hi Assalaamu’alaikum Fazila, firstly tell us more about yourself.

Walaikumsalam Umairah, my name is Fazila Banu and I just graduated from NTU. I did English Literature and Public Policy & Global Affairs and I have 2 nephews and a niece who taught me the love for children.

 

2) How did Project Meraki come about?

In my final year at NTU, I set up ‘Volunteering Wing’ under NTU’s United Nations Student Association, a newly revived club itself which was looking for an action wing in line with UN’s values. In semester 1- the conceptualization phase, we organized a series of focus group sessions with key individuals from Singapore who are currently working for the refugee cause. This was to raise awareness among the student body on how an ordinary individual can contribute to the situation in a humanitarian spirit.

In semester 2 this year – the actualization phase, I felt that it was the right time to initiate a pilot project, Project Meraki since National Youth Council’s Youth Expedition Project (YEP) provides a grant for overseas expedition projects. My idea was to reach out to refugee communities by maximizing undergraduate potential via this platform.

 

3) What was your motivation in taking up a leadership position for this project?

As an initiator and as one with the big idea, I will have to and had to lead the project. Since it was my final year as an undergraduate and I know that if I don’t seize the opportunity of time, I may not have another chance of youth’s blessings of strong will and health. I kept coming across two quotes,

(i) an African Proverb that said “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” and

(ii) Paulo Coelho’s “One day you will wake up & there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” Truly, these were the signs of motivation for me to embark on this journey.

I also had some experience in leading before which gave me the confidence to take up the leadership challenge to lead a brand new project that did not have much guidance or blueprint to work on with. Besides, I had my trusted and extremely patient co-leader and also a dear friend now, Tessa Ng Jo Ee who gave me her utmost support in the operations of the project.

These are, I believe, the numerous blessings that were placed along the way to keep me motivated despite the vast uncertainty.

4) Share with us about Project Meraki – about the team, what you did and how it benefits the refugees.

 

Project Meraki’s aim is to serve refugee children in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Meraki in greek means, ‘doing something with soul, creativity, or love’. It was such an apt name to what we are doing and the team voted for it. The focus was on children as I truly believe and as what the late ex-president of India Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam said, children are the leaders of the next generation. Nurturing young impressionable minds should be of top priority for refugee communities I feel personally.

After 4 months of vigorous programme planning and sourcing sponsorships and fundraising efforts, a total of 16 members embarked on the expedition to serve children from both the Chin Catholic and Rohingya Muslim refugee communities from May 14-28 2017.

The team consists of 5 sub-departments, (i) Programmes (ii) Business Development (iii) Publicity (iv) Welfare and (v) Logistics. With the programmes department’s lead, the team taught basic conversational English lessons through interactive lesson plans such as Storytelling, Art Jamming, Sports, Songs and Cheers. We brought the Chin children out for a fun day out to experiment with Science. The team also refurbished the Rohingya education centre, giving a new vibrant learning environment for the Rohingya children. With our sponsorship and fundraised amount, we donated our teaching resources, necessary materials and cash gift to both communities. In light of Ramadhan, we gave each Rohingya child a Ramadhan package with goodies carefully selected by members of the team Meraki.

Although it was a short trip with both the beneficiaries, both the headmasters told us respectively that they have learnt tremendously on how to motivate the children to learn using the interactive teaching tools we employed to engage the children’s interest. Learning should be fun and I believe my team went its way out to epitomize it. We want the children and teachers to know that anything is possible if they truly believe in it and work for it. We truly hope we instilled the value of learning and value of nurturing the young.

5) How has this trip changed you or your views?

 

Definitely, beyond words can describe! My thoughts about humanitarianism are more refined now, I have learnt the challenges of refugee communities in greater detail. I used to always see the big picture but now, I truly understand that on-the-ground work requires exceptional attention to be paid to details within the big picture. I also learnt a lot from my peers in the team, I admire the beauty of unity and teamwork in the face of challenges. My team has a majority of female members (13:3) and I marvel at women power! Indeed, the woman is a school!

I have learnt to re-learn and one of it is to learn more about the refugee communities through direct interaction. Such human interaction will be the bridge to break barriers of language, ethnicity, race and religion. We are all the same, no matter the labels.

On a personal level, I have learnt to put aside criticisms and work objectively to achieve best possible solutions. People can give us million reasons to why what we are doing won’t work but we have to strive on in the belief that what we are doing is for the Almighty’s reward and nothing else. If He can put you through trials and tribulations, He will surely walk you through, God Willing.

6) Any last words?

I would like to thank learnislam.sg for this opportunity in allowing me to share about our project. I feel extremely grateful that I am given a voice to represent my team’s effort and about the refugee children and communities in Malaysia. Alhamdulilah. Please make a du’a for the refugee communities as well as people in need all over the world to stay patient in their tests. May He provide us with the opportunities and capacity to serve others in need.

 

MasyaAllah, tabarakallah. May Allah bless their efforts to touch lives and give aid to those in need. For those who want to know more about Project Meraki, you can head on to their instagram @_projectmeraki and website. We are grateful to have the opportunity to get to know more about this project through the founder herself.

We hope you’re now as inspired as we are! Rahmah begins with us. – U

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