Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Trip To Sirsi - Abbas Jaffer

February 10 was a very happy day, a satisfying day. CAI donor funded girls school at Phanderi Sadaat in UP, India was officially inaugurated. A year plus in the making, it is a beautiful modern building that will insha’Allah be an harbinger of a brighter future for the poor girls that will benefit from a quality education.

After few prior aborted attempts, Abbas Jaffer, a CAI Trustee, finally made it to India for the formality. I insist all that accompany me write about their experiences; here is Abbas’s. View photos of school opening here. Enjoy.

After a long flight from NY, I finally arrive at Delhi airport, my first time in India. I am much impressed with the new airport as I work my way towards immigration. I stand in line but begin to wonder about the awkward imbalance; the line for Indian citizens is manned at fifteen counters but only five for us foreigners. There had to be about ten Indian nationals per counter, zipping through, while we were about fifty. My line had a mix of all nationalities patiently waiting, watching bored immigration officers for Indian nationals looking at us, occasionally yawning. After thirty minutes of waiting, I decide to switch lines and fortunately get a line that's moving faster; I zip through and out. I now understand what Yusufali means regarding certain frustrating norms about India that I take for granted in the United States.

Yusufali and Aliakberbhai Ratansi of Al Imaan Foundation who have flown in earlier from Mumbai greet me outside. We settle ourselves in our vehicle and prepare for a six-hour drive to Sirsi. As we get out of the airport, we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic; it's Delhi rush hour. Yikes! As soon as we get to the outskirts of the city, the traffic lightens up and we speed up. There are two immediate abnormities with drivers; they spit pan juice and honk liberally. Interestingly, there are signs behind most trucks that commands Please Horn; this has to be cultural?

After several hours of driving, we make our way to a rest stop, our driver taking a shortcut, driving against traffic for a about half a mile, giving me the creeps. We pray and have a snack. I immediately notice this is a Hindu owned joint but have accommodations for Muslims, I feel there is no difference, they are all Indians. We have masala chai and piping hot pakoras. It’s true; India is an explosion of senses - taste, colors and smells.

We continue driving for few more hours and arrive at CAI supported Bahman English School in Sirsi; CAI has now given this once run down school a new lease on life, completely renovating it to the best, most modern school in all of Muraghabad, winning accolades and awards from the State government. Enrollment has increased from 280 to 1,500 students and is positive cash flow. One third of very poor students study almost free, one third are on scholarships and the rest pay premium fees. We drive up next door to AL Zahra Boys home, a beautiful orphanage constructed by CAI, to a warm welcome from the orphans. I am much impressed; start clicking away immediately.

I retire in a modern room inside the orphanage, made just for guests like me. After salaat next morning, I listen to the boys recite morning duas as they return from salaat at a nearby masjid. After a hearty, healthy, power breakfast, we drive two hours to Phandheri Girls School; crowds wait to garland and welcome us. A rifle is fired in the air in welcome, scaring the pants out of me; an experience I will never forget. We make our way to a welcome stage; several speeches from Yusufali and Akberbhai on importance of girls education follow. We cut ribbons and the school is officially open.

We work our way to a partly CAI sponsored mosque opening in distant Azadnagar after Magreeb where we are guests of honor; more garlands but no gunshots. Whew! We are shown to the stage; after several speeches, some amazing naats and a calorie busting dinner, we make our way back. It’s almost midnight when we return at the complex. Aliakberbhai and Yusufali are still full of energy, making next day’s arrangements and catching up with local staff on activities and administrative issues; I hit the sack.

Next morning, I am invited to address Bahman school assembly next door. Yikes! I have nothing prepared; I wing it, telling 1,500 odd eager students the importance of education, importance of self confidence and be able to be whatever with the education opportunities gifted by kind hearted donors worldwide. I talk about the importance of respecting one another, especially elders, importance of good akhlaq. I later tour the school with Yusufali and am much impressed, mashaa’Allah. We inspect the construction of additional seven in addition to fourteen prior classrooms sponsored by CAI. Yusufali is less than happy with few maintenance issues and makes his displeasure forcefully known... uncomfortable, but necessary.

Next stop is the Sakeena Girls Home, an orphanage, again sponsored by CAI donors, about two miles away. As we arrive at the door of the orphanage, fourteen smiling faces anticipate, anxiously waiting to meet us; I start recording right away to catch the moments. I am so impressed at how well the interior is kept up. It is a very emotional moment; I remember my own Zahra; how we want everything for them as parents. I feel really good, knowing CAI and her donors are doing an amazing job in maintaining the faculty and wellbeing of the orphans.

As we leave, Aliakberbhai gets a call about a Sadaat family in the area that has urgent needs. We inspect the need and CAI approves the repair of a home immediately; another hovel is approved instantly. It's impressive to see them in action in real time as they try to help and support these destitute families.

Back at the complex, I try and relax and contemplate about my two days here while Yusufali and Aliakberbhai plan funding arrangements for the school and other many projects; it's like a marathon! I start preparing for my long journey home and start packing. I can't help thinking how fortunate I am to have experienced what I did these past few days.

I am quite reflective on my long return flight home to New York; think about my experiences, wonder about lives that CAI donors have touched, changed. I think my overwhelming emotions, to be able to serve fellow human beings and the exhilaration I got; I can't wait to go another trip.


Abbas Jaffer - NY

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