ON A MISSION: Razia Amini will head off to Sierra Leone with the 40ft container in October
A fundraising grandmother from Bradford will be heading off on her latest charity venture later this year after filling a mammoth 40ft container with aid for those most in need.
56-year-old Razia Amini will travel to Sierra Leone in October as she aims to provide supplies to orphaned children and poverty stricken areas in the African country.
SUPPLIES: A range of goods have been collected and purchased, including gardening equipment
After spending 10 months collecting a plethora of goods, the selfless humanitarian is ready to embark on the mission on behalf of Humanity First.
“This will be my first trip to Sierra Leone,” she said. “Following the Ebola crisis and the increased levels of poverty in the country, I think help is needed there more than anywhere else.
“I have heard accounts from people who have travelled there in recent times and about the amount of help that is needed for so many people including a lot of orphaned children. The place is in such a bad state.”
Contained within the bursting storage unit worth of supplies are 50 bicycles, 260 school chairs, 30 tables, and hundreds of camping beds.
Twenty computers, all in good working condition, have also been donated to the appeal with Razia hoping to see them put to good use for a long time.
“The intention is to set up a room, like we did in Gambia, where a minimum fee is charged and adults are taught basic computer skills,” she said.
“The money raised will go towards a charity in Sierra Leone so it is beneficial for all parties over there.”
With a bounty-load of goods still waiting to be moved from her Heaton home to the container, there is still work to be done by the one-woman crusader.
Despite funding the majority of the collections herself, Razia is now in need of support to help send the goods to Africa – a cost which will amount to £4,000.
“My appeal is really to the big business people out there,” she said. “They can change the lives of so many people by helping to send this container. If we pass the target, anything extra will go towards supporting orphanages and children in Sierra Leone.”
A team of selfless volunteers from Leeds returned from their expedition to the French refugee camps last week, with ‘a new appreciation for the little things in life’.
Twelve friends from Harehills, under the banner “Harehills Refugee Aid’, completed the 300-mile-plus trip with four van-loads of supplies on Monday 4th January.
Seeing what life was in Calais’ infamous ‘Jungle’ and Dunkirk camps, the group provided a round-the-clock service to vulnerable refugees, including women and children.
After distributing the goods brought down from the UK, the team split up to buy-out nearby grocery stores and stock up huge quantities of food, which were once again taken to the camps.
With stories of united communities amidst the devastating conditions on the ground, the group shared their story with the Asian Express newspaper.
Shishu Ali, a consultant from Leeds, was one of the group members to complete the three day visit.
He said: “When you get to the camps and actually see so many kids running around, you get a renewed sense of attachment to your own family.
“Nobody would want their children to have to grow up in these conditions. Some of them could hardly move because they were so cold.
“It made us more determined to carry out our work, and especially reach the vulnerable women and children who didn’t necessarily come out of their tents when food parcels were distributed.”
In total, the Harehills team handed out thousands of food packs and filled kitchens in both Dunkirk and Calais during their three-day trip.
Buying almost every essential they could get their hands on from local stores and big supermarkets, they continuously filled their vans to capacity, bringing goods to the refugees.
One story which sticks in Shishu’s mind involved an ‘act of random kindness’ following the call to prayer at a French mosque.
“In one shop we literally bought everything,” he said. “Outside we decided to make food parcels, yet after doing around 40 or 50 we knew it was going to take too long.
“That is when a complete stranger offered to help. After that three more joined in from the nearby mosque and we soon ended up with two large teams, packing bags, after people had finished their prayers.
“It was a random act of kindness. When it came to handing out the bags at camp, people said we had an ‘endless van of supplies’ because of the amount of goods we had managed to purchase.”
The group were praised by a number of charity groups during their time in the camps, with some commenting that they thought ‘Harehills Refugee Aid’ were a charity.
Mukid Ali has previously completed two trips to help with the aid efforts in France’s ever-growing refugee camps.
Seeing numbers increase by almost tenfold since his first visit, he also praised the local group’s dedication who ensured as many people as possible received something from their vans.
“On my first visit, there were about 300 people in the camp,” he said. “Second time I went there was 1,200 to 1,500 and last week we must have seen at least 3,000 people.
“The camp is literally full. It has expanded from a small area to stretch right out to the roadside, yet no extra facilities have been made available. There are still just two taps in the whole camp and one toilet per 150 people.”
He added: “When it came to distribution, queues were arranged at the van for men and women, yet there were still people who could not leave their tents.
“This is when we decided to take the parcels directly to women and children. Their gratitude was amazing and I was even able to reconnect with a family I met during my previous two trips.”
The group explained how thoughts of life in the UK also crossed the minds of all involved on a regular basis.
“I’m a family man and have kids myself,” Sajad Sajawal said. “To see some of the children in these camps, being forced to live in filthy condition, there are no words to describe that feeling.
“We made an extra effort to help the children and they really do make you appreciate the little things in life.
“Simply handing them an orange would be enough to put a smile on their face so we made sure every child was smiling before we left.”
Now back in Leeds, the volunteers say they are committed to continuing their community work, both locally and overseas.
Rebranding themselves as ‘Harehills Community Aid’, Sajawal added: “When we were in France, we saw people of all races, religions and backgrounds working in unity.
“Volunteers from across Europe are working together to help refugees and this humanitarian concept is what we want to continue here in Leeds.
The UN reports that 40,000 people are living in horrifying conditions in Madaya, which is surrounded by government forces.
The situation in Foah and Kefraya in the Idlib province, where 20,000 people are trapped, is said to be similarly grim.
BRINGING SUPPLIES: Convoys of lorries arriving in Syria
Lorries from the UN, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Syrian Arab Red Crescent reached Madaya on Thursday afternoon, carrying 120 tonnes of flour, as well as medical supplies, clothing and blankets.
Between 300 and 400 residents of Madaya are said to be severely malnourished. The convoy includes a nutritionist and health teams to assess the level of starvation.
The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, told reporters: “We do not want to see this as a one-off. Ultimately the real solution to this predicament, to the plight of the people besieged in these towns, is for the siege to be lifted.”
DISGRACE: The UN reports over 40,000 people are living in horrifying conditions in Madaya
French charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says a total of 28 people - including six babies - have died of starvation at a clinic it supports in Madaya since 1st December. However, Hezbollah denies there have been any deaths in the town.
On Friday, a security council meeting requested by the US, Britain and France is expected to be to discuss the plight of 400,000 Syrians living under siege in the country.
Starvation sieges have been used repeatedly by the government of Bashar al-Assad during the war. Reports suggest he hopes to win back the countryside around the capital of Damascus and in turn take it out of rebel hands.