*This interview about Zakat Foundation of America Program Director Kemal Birru’s field assessment in Bangladesh was conducted by Zakat Foundation of America Writer, Abbas Haleem. Transcript lightly edited for clarity and structure.
Zakat Foundation of America Programs Director Tours the Field in Bangladesh? How is Zakat Foundation of America improving the community’s health in Bangladesh?
Kemal Birru (KB): Since they can’t afford to go to clinics and hospitals, Zakat Foundation covers those costs. This health project also has an outreach component. They go directly to the village, they go door to door, and they do a health awareness campaign. Because of this campaign, people are aware that Zakat Foundation is giving support and they’re aware that if they take their children to vaccination, it will help them.
The outreach program also provides medical service. They’re prescribed, and medicine is also provided right away. At the end of the day, I asked one of the doctors who provides this service. She is a professor and a department head, and comes on a part-time basis. She said there is a change in the pattern of the disease. In the past, there was a rash on the patients’ skin. Now, there is a high level of health improvement in those areas.
They have had a big impact. Every month, they treat 500 to 600 patients.
What kind of impact has come from providing beneficiaries with livestock?
KB: Before I went there, I saw the documents and reports that Zakat Foundation has provided 100 families with livestock, particularly with dairy cows — milking cows. When I went there, I found about 50 of them. In the village I asked them about the livestock, and it was really surprising, the impact they brought on their life. They have two generations of cows, because the first ones were given with the mother and the calf. The calves have grown, and another is born and grown up.
Most of these beneficiaries are very poor, and they are thankful. For the livestock, they earn their living by selling their labor to people who have good land. Some of them are able to send their children to school.
How has Zakat Foundation of America supported orphans in Bangladesh?
KB: In 2007, this orphanage started as a core activity of the office. They have very good accommodations. They have the beds there, study rooms, and they have mentors. They eat there, they have chefs, and they are sent to quality schools, where we pay for them. They attend their classes there. When they come back, they have an entertainment program, they have a prayer program, and they have a study program with hired mentors.
What efforts has Zakat Foundation of America made to provide fresh drinking water?
KB: We have 25 hand-pumps, or tube wells. Naturally, it has benefited them a lot because in Bangladesh, the places I saw, it looks like a waterlogged area. All over, you see water. But most of the water is not drinkable. They say they always pray to the people who sponsor the wells, because when we provide a water well or a hand pump, the name of the sponsor is posted on the water wells. They always pray. They told me: ‘We always pray to these people because they have given us water for drinking, water for even washing and wudu and everything. Otherwise we could only have gone to open ponds.’
And lastly, what kind of educational impact is Zakat Foundation of America helping to bring about in the area for the youth?
KB: There are pre-primary/ nursery classes for kids from the same slum. With and without our pre-primary class, normally since they are very poor, very small children are exposed to child labor and to some deviant behavior because they don’t care about life. But since the start of these classes, about 250 children have benefited from this program. They at least have some insight to make a decision with their families.