Born-and-bred in Bradford, Ridwana Wallace is using her expertise to raise much-needed funds for families still in Afghanistan and for those who have fled the country due to the Taliban takeover of the country and settling into Britain.
Formerly a secondary school religious studies teacher for thirteen years, Mrs Wallace-Laher chose to switch up her career by entering the charity sector in 2015, working in the senior management team at Penny Appeal in Wakefield, before moving to Zaimah in April of this year.
Zaimah is a British Muslim international humanitarian charity with headquarters in London and an office in Bradford that aims to provide relief from poverty and sickness all over the world, especially for those affected by natural disasters, wars, and other conflicts, as well as through the provision of financial assistance, including medicines, hospitals, shelters, and food.
Mrs Wallace-Laher said: “Zaimah has been around since 2012 but it was dormant for a couple of years. We have only recently started picking back up again. Just before Ramadan is when it really started to spark, and it is when I got on board as the director of fundraising.
“I began to start familiarising myself with local community groups here in Bradford as well as fundraising for grassroot projects and international projects such as working with orphans and orphanages in India, Pakistan, Palestine, Uganda or Bangladesh.”
Mrs Wallace-Laher, who works from the Bradford office, her hometown, said: “I am excited about our footprint in Bradford because we want to do more charity work closer to home. We have to love thy neighbour which is why establishing roots in our local communities is important.”
Additionally, a “big part of what we do is fund aid to people in emergencies”, says Mrs Wallace-Laher. These emergencies range from helping Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, people in Palestine, famine victims in Yemen, and now people living in Taliban-seized towns and villages in Afghanistan or those who have escaped the country.
In April 2021, the president of the United States Joe Biden announced that all American troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan by 11 September of this year. This decision comes after an administrative review of U.S options in Afghanistan, with peace talks failing to advance and as seen, the Taliban remaining a powerful force, despite two decades of U.S presence in the country.
20,000 Afghans will be welcomed into Britain, but it is important not to forget the people remaining in Afghanistan.
The decision by President Biden to retract all troops in Afghanistan, starting in late July, saw the advancement of the Taliban across the country, with Taliban fighters taking the capital, Kabul, on Sunday 15 August 2021, after the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country.
Following the taking of Kabul, Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson announced 20,000 people fleeing the violence in Afghanistan will be welcomed into the country. It has been said that women, children, and people of religious minorities will be prioritized.
The scheme is similar in size and scope to one for Syrians under which 20,000 people have been resettled since 2014, prioritising survivors of torture, people with serious medical conditions and women with children.
Mrs Wallace-Laher said: “Our work in Afghanistan is two-fold. It is about helping those people who are unable to leave the country get access to the help that they need and help those who have fled the country.
“It is important that those still in Afghanistan are not forgotten about. Zaimah are working with a trusted partner in Kabul who are working on the ground to deliver aid.”
Zaimah works and supports other organisations to provide food, clothing, volunteers, and anything else that people in a crisis may need. “If refugees need help filling forms and other such things, we can provide English speaking volunteers who can help”, says Mrs Wallace-Laher.
“Some of the kids in Bradford have not been exposed to charity work before which is why I worked with them so they can develop new skills they can take with them in the future.Charity work has always been important to Mrs Wallace-Laher, long before she transitioned into working in the third sector. She said: “I was a teacher for thirteen years and a head of year. My role was not just to teach the curriculum but to give the students a different taste of life.
“Contacting loads of different charities and organisations for the sixth formers, I then got heavily involved with charity work myself and after twelve years of working in education, I thought ‘I need a bit of change’ and that I liked helping people, so I took the plunge, and the rest has been history really.
“I loved my job at the previous charity I worked at, but since it was an already big and established charity, I was confined to my role as head of fundraising. At Zaimah, I get to do a bit of everything – fundraising, working on the digital side, delivering the services, for example, and I love it.”
Still wanting to work with young people Mrs Wallace-Laher said: “I want to get more young people involved with the charity. There are so many roles within the third sector that they can get involved with. There are opportunities to work as an intern on specific projects, marketing, or the digital side of the charity, which will provide them with good experience for their careers.”
Since the revival of the charity in spring, people have been generous with their donations. Mrs Wallace-Laher said: “A lot of people have lost loved ones this year due to the Coronavirus, so we are finding that families are wanting to donate to projects such as the water well appeal, to continue on their names and legacy.” Through donations from as little as £1 a day, Zaimah builds hand pumps, and deep-water wells across Asia and Africa in marginalised communities.
Mrs Wallace-Laher is also working on projects that will be announced in the upcoming months and will be working with schools to deliver assemblies teaching the importance of charity work and how to get involved.
To donate to Zaimah’s Afghanistan appeal, visit here.