Riding For Rohingya

With a brand new office established in Manhattan, Zakat Foundation of America plans to expand its humanitarian scope by sponsoring a series of programs and services in the New York City metropolitan area, home to more than half a million Muslim-Americans.

This initiative originally started last summer when ZF sponsored a Ramadan iftar in coordination with Mayor de Blasio’s office. Chirlane McCray, the first lady of New York City, also expressed her support for ZF’s commitment to mental health programs currently being managed by Khalil Center.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray host an Iftar meal at Gracie Mansion to break the fast for Ramadan on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

ZF was also one of the sponsors for the Tour de Bronx, New York’s largest annual free cycling event that attracts more than 6,000 participants.  

Famod Konneh was one of the riders. Konneh has completed the tour multiple times on behalf of various humanitarian causes. This time, his team decided to raise awareness about the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Konneh grew up in Liberia, a small West African nation, before moving to New York City. Today, he works as the Bronx Borough Director for the mayor’s office. As Konneh explains, they are the liaison between city hall and the community. His community affairs unit is well aware not only of local issues, but also what’s happening around the world.

Riding for Rohingya team at the Tour de Bronx (2017)

“The team did a great job,” said Konneh in an interview over the phone. “People were excited we were doing this and wanted to join us. I think that excitement brought a lot of accomplishment to us as a team. No one had seen anything of that magnitude for raising awareness.”

When it came time for a team sponsorship, Konneh reached out to a colleague who was familiar with ZF’s work.

“I knew about Zakat Foundation before, but reconnected with them through Kemal Birtek, who had reached out about Khalil Center starting an office in New York City,” said Sarah Sayeed, a senior advisor to the community affairs unit who specializes in issues relating to the city’s Muslim community. “I also heard about Zakat’s work to help many communities including the Rohingya online.”

“Famod had an idea to use the Tour race to raise awareness of the Rohingya,” added Sayeed. “By giving riders a humanitarian cause of focus, it helps unify them and helps raise awareness about their cause with other riders and onlookers.”

“My connection to the community is my religion,” says Konneh. “We’re all Muslim and believe, regardless of our ethnic or cultural roots, we’re all brothers.”