A wise man once said that a thousand candles could be lit by a single candle, before going on to proclaim that happiness never decreases by being shared. He was right, and little did he know that his words of wisdom would inspire so many and mean life or death for millions of people around the world.
While it is true how one person can indeed shine the light for the benefit of another, we must also realise how important it is to share our fortunes with one another. And looking at the smile on young Tareq’s* face, we realise how one person’s gratitude could mean the livelihood of another.
The nine-year-old student from one of Oman’s schools is ever-so-grateful to his sponsor, who takes care of his schooling, meals and clothing – all done through a safe and anonymous channel.
It’s something one has to see to be believed; his smile is so captivating that it makes us realise that a good deed does go a long way.
We do not know who is sponsoring the young child but one of the teachers of his school believes that this is indeed what is helping a handful of students get through the early years of education.
The teacher – who is sponsoring a child himself through a charitable organisation in Oman – wishes to remain unnamed in our interview and says he has received nothing but an abundance of “blessings from the prayers of the children”.
“People of today are so engrossed in their daily lives that they tend to forget about others. But, if there is something I have learnt throughout the course of my life, it is that a person will never lose his or her wealth by providing to the needy.
“It is also something that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wisely taught us: “No wealth (of a servant of Allah) is decreased because of charity.”
“I started giving charity at the age of 18 when I got my first job as a clerk in the ministry,” he tells us.
“Back then, I used to give roughly RO15 (10 per cent) from my salary of RO150. Of course, now the tables have changed and the amount has increased; but I cannot reveal how much I donate now, because I think it would take away the relevance of giving.”
But the teacher is happy that he does not have to reach further than his credit card and smartphone to make a donation, thanks to the new online portal by Dar Al Atta’a.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, Dar Al Atta’a is an inclusive charity association that caters to the needy in the Sultanate. It is a non-profit volunteer-based charity organisation formed in 2002 and formally registered as a charity with the Ministry of Social Development in 2006.
And ever since its formal inception, the organisation has made leaps and strides to promote the welfare of needy citizens and provide more residents an opportunity – and a simpler platform – to promote charity giving.
“It’s funny how I do not need to buy an envelope and a stamp and send in my cheques by mail in order to make a donation today. I can do everything online and easily. This also means more people are motivated to make a donation,” the teacher says.
And he’s right. A quick search of the Dar Al Atta’a website shows us that you can not only sponsor a child through school, but also aid in constructing and maintaining houses for the poor, help waiver water and electricity bills, and also pay your zakah (a form of alms-giving treated in Islam as a religious obligation or tax).
You can also use the website to join the team as a volunteer, member, or even a corporate sponsor, by paying as little as RO12 a year.
But how has the response to the Dar Al Atta’a been? And what are the struggles that the organisation face on a daily basis? To get to grips with these questions, we have a chat with the chairperson of Dar Al Atta’a, Maryam al Zadjali.
“It’s hard to describe how incredible the support we have received from the Omani community has been,” she says, in response to our question.
“It’s not new for Omanis as it (giving to charity) is part of Omani culture. Despite that, the response has been overwhelming and it encourages us, keeps us positive and inspires us to give more.”
With more people in need of help, however, the responsibilities of the organisation have increased beyond boundaries.
“With the increasing demand from Dar Al Atta’a, we struggle to keep up with it,” Maryam says.
“The focus of our activities is to create fund-raising programmes that are effective and diverse. We are continuously brainstorming for new ideas to raise more funds and at the same time engage our audience in order to have more effective results and achievements.”
And create programmes, they do.
A quick search on the internet reveals the work Dar Al Atta’a has conducted in recent times.
Just this week (October 29), the mobile library operated by Dar Al Atta’a began touring villages and towns across Muscat to collect donations for Oman’s Society for Petroleum Services’ (Opal’s) programme.
In an interview with the local daily Times of Oman, Musallam Al Mandhary, chief executive officer of Opal, said: “We worked with Dar Al Atta’a at the beginning of this year and we donated a library bus.”
The bus is aimed at helping Dar Al Atta’a’s mobile library programme, Maktabati, which promotes the habit of reading among young Omani children.
The bus goes to different villages, towns and schools of Oman to provide a range of books to children to choose from. The mobile library also makes appearances at special events and festivals.
“The bus is fully equipped as a library and is very nicely done,” Al Mandhary was quoted as saying.
The bus carries a wide range of books, including novels, short stories and poetry for children of different age groups, and is an offshoot of Dar Al Atta’a’s ‘Let’s Read Campaign’ that has been encouraging children to develop the habit of reading since 2007.
A few weeks ago, they also hosted a charity book sale wherein people could purchase books at discounts of up to 50 per cent to help those who cannot afford to get hold of newer and expensive books.
The discounted prices of books ranged from 500 baizas to RO1.
If that wasn’t all, Dar al Atta’a also commemorated World Food Day in cooperation with schools, companies and volunteers by collecting foodstuffs for the needy. The food items were distributed this month (October 16), and evoked good response.
A few months ago – in August – the organisation helped underprivileged students prepare themselves for the start of the new academic year by providing thousands of pupils with stationery and uniforms necessary for school.
The aid was supported by companies in Oman such as Al Hadash National Company, National Life and General Insurance Company and Dar Al Atta’a themselves.
In total, 69 schools received aid, and the number of students given stationery stood at 4,897, with 721 students from Dar Al Atta’a families. The number of students who received school uniforms stood at 2,198, with 877 from Dar Al Atta’a families.
But, Dar Al Atta’a is only one of the few charitable organisations recognised by the government of Oman – and doing a job to make the country a place habitable to all.
The Oman Charitable Organisation (OCO) is another institution that aims at providing the needy with much-needed facilities and amenities.
Also in the list of active organisations is Al Rahma Association for Motherhood and Childhood, which opened doors to the less fortunate in 2005. It is supported by the societal development committee in the wilayat of Al Seeb, and strives to help less fortunate families across the governorates by providing them with the necessary financial and non-financial support through donations from charitable sources.
The Ministry of Housing and Al Jisr Charity Foundation are also on a huge drive to provide roofs for several Omani families. This year, the organisation has handed over 36 homes to the underprivileged families who are entitled to zakah.
Of the 36 houses, 29 were newly constructed, six were purchased and one was renovated for accommodation.
A volunteer at Al Jisr Charity Foundation says: “There’s nothing more satisfying than watching the happiness seep through the eyes of those getting something they have always dreamt of.
“And our projects aim to give these people the opportunity to start off their lives at home. Many of these people have never experienced the warmth or the hospitability of a house, and we are slowly giving them that.”
Al Jisr Charity Foundation lists 2,300 volunteers who have completed a total of 5,720 projects since its inception.
Another new non-profit organisation giving a ray of hope to those in need is Eshraqa, which is part of the Khimji Ramdas social development arm. It is pushing ahead with efforts to make the lives of a set of children easy: the blind students of the Omar Bin Al Khattab school.
The organisation primarily intends to provide education, health and well-being to the community by working hand in hand with various non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
And as part of the initiative, they provided 10 new braille machines – dubbed the Braille Sense U2 – to the students of the school. Each machine costs over RO2,500 but provides the student with an advanced machine for learning.
“The older machine weighed over 8kg and made a lot of noise,” says Rajive Ahuja, head of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility (CSR) at Khimji Ramdas.
“The keys on the older machine were extremely hard to punch in and used to clutter a lot, too.
“Blind children use their sense of hearing to achieve many tasks, so such noises used to hinder their judgment. They also couldn’t concentrate on their work.
“The new machine is smaller, lighter and provides new technologies – for example – it supports voice guidance and can sync with another computer.”
Currently, the school – which is under the Ministry of Education – has over 600 students, including kids as young as five. Even more remarkable is that 120 students have finished their courses and are now in college.
In order to increase awareness within the local community, the organisation has released numerous videos of the handing over of the braille machines to the school, and an exclusive music video wherein a student, Noor al Mamri, sings an Arabic song thanking Eshraqa.
“We shot a one-minute video of Noor singing. We had a production company to do the film, following which we posted it on our social media platforms.
“This is not only important to create awareness but also to show the country the achievements of these talented children.
“Whenever we are given the chance to help with social development, it doesn’t stop with one initiative. We will follow up and help with the process,” adds Rajiv’s associate Ayman Hamza.
To watch the whole video, you can head straight to the Facebook page @OmanEshraqa.
While large establishments such as Khimji Ramdas are helping giving back to the people, some expats are also chipping in to fund the activities of school-going children.
Earlier this year, the Indian School Darsait (ISD) Alumni Association sponsored the school tuition fees of 10 students. The students were picked based on their academic excellence and financial background.
Hala Jamal, President of Indian School Darsait Alumni says: “We sponsored the school fees of 10 students from financially weak families. We scrutinised their documents before sponsoring and we selected those students who are good in studies. There are many cases we know but not everyone’s story is highlighted.”
“At the end of the day, if we can touch the lives of at least one individual, we know we have succeeded,” Ayman tells us.
“That’s what we – and a lot of people – who are involved in charities and other such initiatives are trying to do. We just hope that some day, more people will come together and work on making the lives of each other a better one.”
*Name changed to keep anonymity