Friday, October 02, 2009

COMMENT: Good intentions are no substitute for expertise ...

A group of organisations in Australia and New Zealand were sending a delegation to the Pacific islands-nation of Samoa to conduct an inter-faith ecological program. Since then, parts of Samoa have been struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami which has killed perhaps over 100 people and flattened entire villages.

Here is an excerpt from their promotional Facebook page for the original Samoa adventure.

Interfaith With a Difference
A 5-Day MIZAAN Ecology Rihla to the South Pacific!

Join Imam Afroz Ali in this unique experience of good fun and good deed all in one! Be one of only 20 people for a 5-day journey to the beautiful Pacific Islands of Western Samoa and participate in a unique Ecology initiative of Al-Ghazzali Centre.

This Rihla will open your hearts to many realities; from environmental degradation and its effect on Pacific islanders, simplicity of living as opposed to our consumer-extremism, to why acting on the principles of your faith is the best guidance for humanity. Be part of a unique journey that does not stop in Samoa.

Now that group is still going but for different reasons. Here is an excerpt from a new promotional Facebook page.

1000 for 1000 Survivor Kit
Emergency Relief Support for Samoa ...

Al-Ghazzali Centre is responding to the post-Tsunami Disaster Relief Work in the island of Upolu, Western Samoa, by packaging emergency Survivor Food Packs specifically designed for:

• Essentials packed for 1 family per week*
• Food and water packed for 3 times a day for the family
• 1000 Australians helping 1000 Samoans with 2 weeks!

Imam Afroz Ali of al-Ghazzali Centre (Australia) and sidi Aarif Rasheed of Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust (RMDT, New Zealand) are taking a delegation of 10 people to the island of Upolu from Friday 2nd October – Tuesday 6th October for humanitarian aid and reconnaissance for the most effective and prompt ways to provide relief assistance on the ground in Samoa. This delegation initially had planned to visit Samoa to undertake ecological regeneration work as an interfaith initiative, where Muslim Australians and New Zealanders would assist Christian villages to regenerate mangroves marine habitat which is part of the major Pacific Stream- a program supported by the United Nations Development Program. Due to the latest natural disaster in Samoa, the objectives have been re-focussed to humanitarian efforts despite the difficult circumstances the delegation is sure to experience upon arrival ...

This emergency relief work needs your full support. To source, pack and dispatch the Survivor Food Kits to Samoa by ship within approximately 10 days is significantly costly exercise. With sponsorships, much of shipping logistical is already covered. Your financial donations will be most important in sourcing the food and the essentials. 1000 Australians can easily assist 1000 Samoans for as little AU$90 per family. 1 Australian family donating $90 supporting 1 Samoan family in distress.

Your donation is needed immediately- make it happen!

In Australia, donate your AU$90 to:

Al-Ghazzali Centre
BSB: 032024
Acc: 401251
Ref: Samoa

It sounds like a great initiative. A bunch of people carrying aid packets that will keep people nourished for around a month. Delivering these packets in Samoa where the aid is most needed.

But then this delegation consists of the same people who were part of a camping trip which would conduct an inter-faith ecological project. One would think that the skills required to conduct an ecological project are quite different to those involved in surveying a natural disaster zone and determining how best to deliver aid.

I wonder whether any members of the delegation have experience in disaster relief. I also wonder whether they will liaise with existing aid agencies such as the Red Cross and Caritas who are already on the ground. And I wonder why people should donate to the Al-Ghazzali Centre to carry out such a project using inexperienced personnel when the same money could be given to more experienced aid organisations. Further, how many extra resources will be taken up by members of this delegation staying at the disaster zone, and for what net benefit to survivors?

Good intentions in disaster relief and aid are great but they are no substitute for experience and professionalism. Still, we wish the delegation well in their endeavours.

UPDATE I: I notice that some persons leaving comments here are suggesting that the Samoa trip is just a publicity stunt. There are a number of reasons to reject this suggestion:

a. The delegation were going to Samoa anyway and their trip was not triggered by the natural disasters there.

b. The organisations' publicity is limited, as far as I can see, to Facebook and perhaps some e-mails.

c. The organisations involved could have generated much more media publicity for this trip had they wished to.

d. In terms of Muslim community goodwill, there would have been more incentive for the organisations to travel to Padang and other parts of Sumatra which have been afflicted by earthquakes.

I have little reason to doubt the sincerity of the people involved, even if I doubt their good sense.

UPDATE II: If this report from a Samoan newspaper is any indication, the group is working with and under the direction of local people.

UPDATE III: Donations in New Zealand can be made to ...

Name: Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust Inc.
Number: 12 3043 0365388 00
Charities Commission Reference: RAS22987
CONTACT: Subaie Ishaque - 021 0628 156

I'm not sure which bank the RMDT deals with. I'm also not sure who is collecting aid in Australia or whether they are legally authorised to do so. Perhaps someone could ring Muslim Aid Australia and find out.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Anonymous said...

Good intentions and competence are to be found in inverse proportion in this fellow: I have an email from him that is simply stunning [or is the shocking?]! Did not like my pointing out his Bad Moon onhis website, tho I would not be the first person to notice it.

Anonymous said...

Well-intentioned amateurs are known to cause problems in the wake of disaters - after all, they are using food, shelter, transport and medical attention - you really have to justify consuming those resources during a time of acute crisis. And the relief delivered is often inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

(cont) - if you have particular skills and experience, then your presence is more than justified. But if not, then the outcome is unlikely to match your intentions, during a time of crisis.

Ibrahim said...

I'm sure there isn't much skill needed to distribute food packages around to victims of this disaster. Well, not for the average person anyway.

I think you need to do a little bit more homework before criticizing the beneficial work of others, Irfan. Do you know how things are operating there?

It's easy to sit and criticise, but with your logic, waiting for 'experienced and professional' people to do the work there is ludicrous. With the magnitude of this disaster, the more hands the better. At least the basic necessities will be distributed to the victims and such work is what is being done by the group that has attended.

Anonymous said...

Ibrahim, the delegation isn't just handing out packages to people whose sole issue is hunger and shelter. By their own words, they are engaging in "humanitarian aid and reconnaissance for the most effective and prompt ways to provide relief assistance on the ground in Samoa".

They are going to a place they have never been to and have no intimate knowledge of and are taking up precious resources trying to do a task that is desperately needed and that they aren't able to properly do.

"With the magnitude of this disaster, the more hands the better." Great. Let's send over a couple of tabligh jamaat groups there and have an ijtima there.

Why don't we send them off to Padang? After all, it's only a case of lifting heavy pieces of rock and concrete. I mean, anyone can do that.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure there isn't much skill needed to distribute food packages around to victims of this disaster."

And there is even less skill involved in overstating this task and describing it as "humanitarian aid and reconnaissance for the most effective and prompt ways to provide relief assistance on the ground".

But then, this isn't the first time Mr Ali has exagerrated who he is and what he does.

Ridhwan Hannan said...

Salaam All,

Im sure the people of Samoa are really enjoying reading your (Irfan et al) attemps at undermining peoples efforts in helping them out in a time of need and tradegy.

The Prophet peace and blessings be upon him said. " A believer never gets satisfied doing good until he reaches Jannah [Tirmidhi].

May Allah protect us all from the diseases of the heart, physically and spiritually.

Was Salaam,

Anonymous said...

Salam RH,

I am sure the people of Samoa are happy having to feed and shelter 10 or so more people armed with little or no experience in disaster relief and just a handful of rucksacks.

I'm sure all the relief workers there will also be very pleased.

Why didn't they just cancel the trip and raise funds here like they did for Pakistan? I'm sure we'd all have dug deep. Or why not pair with existing aid organisations?

The Prophet (saw) said that charity is best given in secret so that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand has given.

al-dhabih said...

In my humble opinion, the fellow concerned would not be capable of tying his own bootlaces, much less being useful in a disaster zone: some of us have had real time experience, & training, and yet we hesitate to consider ourselves to be that expert. Various bodies and Govts. are proficient in such matters, good intentions may be interpreted as good publicity in this case. Does he have a First Aid Certificate? Probably not.

al=dhabih said...

Does that fellow have so much as a First Aid Certificate? Probably not, wa allahu a3lam.

Kal said...

The problem is that everyone here is working on speculation. Find out the facts before making comments and criticisms. Your eternal fate rests upon how you use your tongue so think carefully before you do so.

Wassalaam, Kal

Anonymous said...


What "bad moon" are you talking about and you should make that email public if you really think it shows this guy for what he is.

al-dhabih said...

Anonymous: a copy has been sent to arelevant authority: 'bad moon rising' is a term referring to an astronomically incorrect image of the moon, in relation to the time of day, month, & geography.

Anonymous said...

Al-Dhabih: Excuse my ignorance on the topic/situation.

Are you implying he made an error in relaying accurate scientific data and refused to correct it when pointed out; or worse yet, deliberately presented erroneous data for any reason?

al-dhabih said...

Indeed: he defended his position as correct, tho I am not the only one to notice the error. It is not a brave matter in itself, but his attitude overpowered his aptitude. He was offended & offensive. See The University of Singapore's Site in ' Bad Moon Rising' for a second opinion.