Al-Imdaad FoundationAL-IMDAAD FOUNDATION
27 Apr 2011

"BLOG by Qari Ziyaad Patel from the Libyan-Tunisian border"

Milestone for AIF BLOG by Qari Ziyaad Patel from the Libyan-Tunisian border - As we approached Djerba Airport in Tunisia, an airport that has become a focal point of humanitarian events, I felt a rush of adrenalin. We had to get to Choucha as soon as possible so as to kick-start our humanitarian programmes. Thousands of refugees had already began arriving at the Ras Jedir border crossing and were in dire need of food, clean water and shelter. Every humanitarian response requires a great deal of swiftness as time is of the essence and every second counts. We did not know what to expect in a country (Tunisia) which has been the mother of all revolutions sweeping across the region. Was the situation still going to be hostile? Will we experience any more protests? Will this hinder our humanitarian responsibilities in any way? These are some of the questions that began racing through my mind. Although every humanitarian mission is unique, AIF has chalked out its very own strategies to deal with such dire situations. The journey from Djerba to Ben Guerdine was a scenic one, with many olive trees spreading across the horizon. How ironic, we were in a country that had just experienced widespread rebellion amidst a sea of olive trees which generally signify peace. From all my travels, I must admit, the Tunisians were amongst the friendliest and warmest I have met. They've truly captivated my heart. Many Tunisians also indicated to us that South Africans are privileged to enjoy an abundance of freedoms. We thank our senior statesmen who paved the way of peace and unity for us. Our first stop was the Choucha Refugee Camp which was on the border of Tunisia and Libya - part of the Sahara Desert. The sunsets in the desert were beautiful and breathtaking. Being located in the desert, the nights were extremely cold. We first informed the UN authorities of our presence and principled purposes. After some brief paperwork, we immediately began our very own assessment of the situation. We also had the opportunity to interact with other NGO's and the refugees themselves. Refugees hailed from Bangladesh, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, Egypt, Palestine and Ghana. We heard first-hand heart wrenching stories of escape and survival from Libya. Palestinians and Somalians were classed as People of Concern (PoC) as they have reservations returning to their homelands. Apolitical We are purely a humanitarian organisation and truly apolitical. We play no role whatsoever in any political game. Our only duty was to render humanitarian services and relief aid to these poor, needy and destitute victims who left Libya with little or no belongings. In fact, some crossed the border with just the clothing on their backs. Something that really touched a chord in our hearts. From our assessment, hot food and clean drinking water were the two main commodities needed. We were allocated a space on the western end of the Choucha Refugee Camp from where our relief aid and services were to be rendered. AIF personnel with the help of the Tunisian military helped erect the AIF base-camp. This was going to be the home of AIF for the next few weeks and a beacon of light for many refugees who were totally disorientated and scared. As part of AIF's protocols, the South African flag is always flown high at all of its distributions and humanitarian operations thereby firmly establishing a strong South African presence. The huge South African flag flown at the Choucha Refugee Camp really made a bold impression amidst a sea of tents surrounding it. Our team had put together a timetable of humanitarian activities and this information was disseminated to the refugees. On a daily basis, hot meals were prepared and served to the refugees. In addition, high protein biscuits, clean water, milk, French bread and cheese were also distributed to the refugees. Good food has always been a priority for us at AIF and the refugees were truly thankful. The rice dish served was welcomed and appreciated by the huge Bangladeshi refugee population. The climax of all distributions is to experience the smiles of gratitude on the faces of those in need. My heart felt satisfied knowing that we were making a positive difference in the lives of these affected people. Feeling this type of satisfaction is rare. We continuously thanked Allah Ta'ala for his blessing upon us and for giving us the opportunity to be a means of happiness for so many fellow human beings. UNHCR UNHCR officials also visited us from time to time as we all had a common goal - assisting the refugees to the best of our abilities. The AIF team also participated in various meetings held by the UN. AIF personnel also visited the family section of the Choucha refugee Camp and handed out hygiene pack vouchers to the needy women in the camp. More often than not, we find that the needs of women and children in disasters are unintentionally forgotten but they too have certain specific needs that need to be attended to. We also learnt that female refugees and victims prefer interacting with a female. This allows them to be more comfortable within their space. Specific times were allocated to female recipients to make their way to the AIF base-camp in order to receive their much needed hygiene packs. I must admit, I was truly taken aback by the hospitality displayed by the Tunisian people. We had many Tunisian individuals who volunteered their time with AIF and assisted us to great lengths. As the fighting in Libya rages on, the humanitarian world will continue to do its best managing the inevitable effects of this tragedy. One quality that has really made a profound statement in my life is - gratitude. We need to thank Almighty Allah for his plentiful bounties bestowed upon us. Not too far away, others are not that fortunate. But with organisation such as the AIF, all I can say is that every sunset brings a sunrise... Qari Ziyaad Patel is the International Projects Co-ordinator for the Al-Imdaad Foundation which can be visited at www.alimdaad.com. VOC