Paving a Path to Independence

Mr. Imad Afanah lives in a camp in Qalandia, Palestine, with narrow streets and small houses built close together. There are about 20 tight steps to get to the front door of his two-room home — two rooms total, not two bedrooms. Paving a Path to Independence means different things for different people.

Mr. Imad, who is in his mid-30s, is married and has a son and daughter. He fell in a construction accident when he was 18 years old, paralyzing himself, but he wasn’t bitter. He sat on his bed in the main room, welcoming Zakat Foundation of America members into his home.He was smiling as he expressed his gratitude to Zakat Foundation of America for helping him and coming to see him.

Medical supplies are limited in The Association of Social Rehabilitation in Qalandia. People ask for anything they can get, but unlike the majority, Mr. Imad wanted to return an item to Zakat Foundation of America: his wheelchair.

The wheelchair had served him well, but he recently had the good fortune to obtain a newer, motorized wheelchair, so his old one could be put to better use with another person who needed it. His concern was less with the equipment he had and more with being dependent on others. He couldn’t leave his house without someone taking him down the 20 narrow steps in front of the entrance, and he said he knew he was burdening his family members and friends.

“I wanted to build an elevator in my house,” he said. Mr. Imad’s son was born just months after the construction accident, and he would take Mr. Imad up and down the stairs in his heavy wheelchair.

Mr. Imad asked people if they would help him build an elevator, but everyone told him it’s impossible.

“There’s nothing we can do,” they said. “How can you build an elevator in your house? There’s no way.”

So he went out and bought the materials he needed to build his own elevator. Zakat Foundation of America representative Ms. Majeda Nabhan asked him how he did it.

“So you have an elevator now in the house?” she asked. He said he does, and he was happy.

Ms. Nabhan asked to see it, and so he asked his wife to show it. It looked like he converted a window into an exit similar to a fire escape. He built a doorway and a platform with fencing, and there was a motor to move the platform up and down. All he had to do is go into it with his wheelchair and it would take him up and down whenever he wanted.

His only request from Zakat Foundation of America was batteries for his motorized wheelchair so this was his “Paving a Path to Independence”.

“I’ve been where people do ask for a lot of things and they’re thankful, but they still keep asking for a lot. But he didn’t,” Ms. Nabhan said.

She said she never would have thought he could build the elevator, especially after the house was already built. Normally, architects would have to put a lift like Mr. Imad’s in the plans before construction even begins. But sometimes great minds just need resources.

Every human being can flourish if given the right opportunities, as Mr. Imad showed through his ingenuity and resolve. Through its education, healthcare and development programs, Zakat Foundation of America is committed to making sure resourceful and enterprising individuals like Mr. Imad receive what they need not just to live comfortably, but to realize their innate human potential, even if daily life presents many challenges. It is by helping people to help themselves that such challenges are overcome, and that a better world is built step by step.