Holding Hands

When young minds meet and want to take an initiative an idea is born. And like that Athrout-a helping hand, came into being. Saima Bhat reports

Athrout volunteers distributing relief in Dlagate

Some young minds of Nawakadal area in downtown Srinagar wanted to do something to help the needy. They started a charitable organization Athrout and tried to go beyond the tokenism of local mohalla committees.

They had just entered their teenage, some of them were not even born, when an armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir. Still, they were aware that the number of widows and impoverished was increasing. They wished to contribute to society. The five or six of them gathered in the Darasgah (where Quran is taught) of the local Masjid, to come up with some idea. They wanted to save lives. “One who saves a single life is as if he saved the whole humanity”: they were taught at the Darasgah.

Athrout was started in 2006. Initially, they used to contribute money themselves as all of them were in some employment. The chairman, an Imam in the Masjid recalls that in 2006 he was giving an Eid sermon exhorting the people to pay the Sadkai-Fitr (Eid donation). “The people showed interest and paid their pending Sadkai-Fitr,” Imam of the masjid Bashir Ahmad Nadwi said. The money was distributed among the poor.

The members’ contribution continued to grow as many others joined in.

“Other people were showing interest and we found that many people were in need in our society because years of conflict had pushed many families into poverty,” he said, adding, “Some families could not even afford a single meal, how can they pay for medicine”.

They started counselling the elders, and youngsters, about religious binding on Muslims to pay their Zakaat and the Prophet’s (SAW) practice and teachings about helping the needy.

Imam Bashir Ahmad, a scholar from Nadwat-ul-uloom Islamic University, Lucknow is a businessman and all of the elder members of Athrout are working in private and government sectors. But they spare time in the evenings and on Sundays for social work.

Abdul Majeed, the accountant of Athrout, says, “When we started providing help to people, we received cases of kidney failures, cancer patients and other serious ailments and we realized how such ‘deadly’ diseases have become a burden on those families who cannot afford costly medicines and then we started a clinic where we are providing free consultations and free medicines”.

They hold free clinics on Sundays where volunteer doctors- physicians, a pediatrician and gynaecologists, see patients without charging any fee. Some medical representatives are also associated with Athrout.

The organization mostly works in – providing basic necessities to the poor families on monthly basis, providing school fee and other educational paraphernalia to needy students, helping very poor parents in getting their daughters married and providing healthcare to those who can’t afford it.

The organisation provides grocery and other households to 40 families every month in-kind besides sponsoring around 25 poor students. Apart from marrying off eight poor girls in 2010 CE, Athrot helped 7,000 patients in different ways and distributed medicines worth more than 15 lakh rupees, free of cost. It has also provided hand carts with vegetables and fruits to some people to help them earn a living.

Athrout has 25 permanent members. While the eldest member is in his fifties, the youngest is just 13 years old.

Initially, only the members made the contributions but later they accepted donations from other people. A family had donated an ambulance after their father’s health improved after taking Athrout’s medicine. But the ambulance was stolen before the month of Ramadhan.

Abdul Majeed says, “All the members were sad and the younger members were even weeping when a person came in Masjid and inquired about why the boys were weeping. We told him about the ambulance and he promised to donate a new ambulance from Zakaat”. After two months the thief was caught by the police and stolen ambulance was returned. Athrout has two ambulances and are now planning to arrange medical camps in rural areas.

There are too many people who need help, Imam Bashir says, and it is our duty to get them help in a dignified manner.

“A widow and her two daughters were living in abject penury in the absence of a breadwinner. They have just one room and a washroom which neither had a door nor hot water. One of our members informed us and we took a donor along who helped the family,” says Imam Bashir. The members ask their friends and their friends’ friends… almost anybody is known to them for help. The organization requests local shopkeepers, some of whom are their members, to keep collection boxes in their shops. This is in addition to the monthly contribution of the members. Athrout accepts Zakat, Sadkai-Fitr, donations and hides of sacrificial lambs.

The yearly budget of the organization is between 3 to 3.5 lakh rupees from which those 40 families and 25 students are supported on a monthly basis. However, when they get any case of the needy patient or more needy family they refer them to their donors.

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