Malika, 14, and her father Faraz Yousufzai have just returned to the UK after joining a team of volunteers from across the country to visit Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
The trip is part of Muslim Aid's International Volunteer Programme, Boots On, which sends British volunteers to countries including Lebanon, Myanmar, Jordan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to support the disadvantaged and displaced.
Malika’s trip resulted in a total of 11,000 food parcels being delivered to families living in camps. The volunteers packed containers in warehouses before visiting the camps and meeting the families living there.
Faraz and Malika raised £8,000 for Boots On before they left for Lebanon. Malika, who attends St. Paul's Catholic School for Girls in Edgbaston, gave three school assemblies in the run-up to the trip, did cake sales, a dinner event and with her Dad reached out to friends and family on social media to raise awareness and invite them to support this project.
Malika has been waiting to meet refugees and displaced people face to face ever since she was 10 years old, when her father, Faraz, took her to a fundraising event in Birmingham.
"There was a speech, and guests were asked for donations of £10,000," remembers Faraz. "I did not feel I was in a position to give this, but Malika whispered 'Papa, put your hand up' to me, then reminded me of a saying of the Prophet Muhammad about nobody's wealth decreasing because they give charity. So, I found myself putting my hand up."
When Malika's older brother Isa was 14, Faraz took him to visit refugees in Jordan. "I felt quite jealous when Isa met the refugees," Malika remembers. "So, this year now I'm 14, it was my turn.”
“I've been to charity events for years, seen films of refugees, but being in the camps and seeing for myself the level of poverty really hit me how hard these people’s lives were and how different it is to how I live. Whole families were living in one tent – it was very shocking to see …and very sad.
“The tents were very crowded together and there was no other shelter or trees. There was usually just one open area where we did the food distribution. The ground was hard and often got very muddy.”
“I was the youngest in the volunteer group and it was good to be together. We talked about what we were seeing and supported each other.”
Malika, Faraz and the Boots On team gave out food parcels to families at Sahall Akkar, Safreen, Al Maysah, Tal Mayan and Al Inmaa.
“It felt good to do the food distributions and to talk to all the people in the camps. I met a girl my age, Iman – she has the same name as my elder sister. She was one of nine siblings and they were refugees from Syria.
“Seeing the children was the most painful bit. It really choked me up. They were so small and innocent and hearing their stories it made you realise how much they had been through. But still, they were smiley and full of energy.
“I would definitely get involved with Muslim Aid’s Boots On programme again. I think everyone should visit a refugee camp once in their lifetime. That’s how we can appreciate and fully understand what’s happening on the other side of the world.”
Lebanon is now home to over 1.5 million internationally displaced people (IDPs). Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon tend to suffer from long-term illness and injury due to the conflict and ongoing poverty. Medical aid is difficult to access and expensive, and a lack of funding means refugees are asked to pay for treatment, which is often simply impossible. Food aid is limited and mothers and babies suffer the worst effects of malnutrition. In winter the harsh cold leaves many people exposed and vulnerable, at the threat of hypothermia.
Sadak Mirza, Boots On project leader said "Many people feel the pull to help those in need far away, but feel helpless. Muslim Aid's Boots On programme gives them the opportunity to put their best foot forward and do something constructive that's not just about donating. We want to begin a movement of volunteer-led aid and improvement to the lives of those in need. "