The Samaritans who use Facebook as a helping hand

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Since social media like Facebook ‘connects all’, a group of professionals in Kashmir are utilizing the same feature to raise funds for the distressed section of society. By spreading smiles on distraught faces, these young lots have already become Kashmir’s Real Life Heroes.

By Marila Latif

Given how marriage as a sacred institution has now become a trade of sorts lately forced a struggling bachelor and breadwinner of his family to avail a bank loan for his younger sister’s wedding. But Aasif Rashid, a low-rung Tourism department employee knew that it would take him more than 7 years to repay the borrowed amount. It meant, he thought, the seven-long years of agony and anxiety. And the very realization was leaving him numb with troubled thoughts.

Such characters caught in compulsions for satisfying the societal ‘norms’ often suffer in silence. And for the fear of disdain, their problem remains unaddressed.

But in case of young Aasif, who would grow pale and distressed after availing loan, a timely help saved the day for him.

He came across a group of Samaritans who are doing social welfare works on social media, apart from carrying their own professional tasks with sense of pride and responsibility.

In Picture- Ijtaba Shafi

“When I met Aasif, he expressed his inability to repay the loan,” says Dr. Ijtaba Shafi. “His situation demanded a quick action, so I wrote down his case and appealed people to help him on Facebook.”

Within 72 hours, the doctor was able to collect Rs 1.10 lakh.

“After paying his debts,” Dr. Ijtaba continues, “I told Aasif, albeit curiously: ‘You’re so young, then why do you’ve white beard?’ He replied, ‘Dr seab, wenheaz gach pani kruhun’ (Dear doctor, from now on, my white beard will itself turn into black.) Those words shook me, but also made me happy, because the sullen man was now smiling.”

Dr. Ijtaba Shafi works in the directorate of health department, Srinagar. In his free time, he works as a social media activist, who raises funds for the requisite victims through Facebook.

“We are a group of likeminded people who resolutely want to serve the needy,” the doctor says. “We live in a conflict zone where people are economically and emotionally drained out. In such situation, our motive remains to help our distressed people.”

From last 8 years, Dr. Ijtaba had been very active on Facebook as an outspoken and opinionated person. He uses the same connection to reach out to the people for the larger cause.

His welfare activism follows a simple method. Once the case is shared on Facebook, the need of verification and control over the information remains accountable and transparent, because whosoever contributes money goes straight into the bank accounts of deserved individuals.

Besides special cases, the group is also working for situational victims of Kashmir.

During 2016 uprising, Ijtaba and other group members raised Rs 17 lakh for pellet victims. That crowd-funding had come at a time when New York Times would describe the enforced darkness in Kashmir as ‘an epidemic of dead eyes’. The mounting duck-hunting gun assault on dissidents had mobilized many sections of the society, both online as well as offline.

In-Picture – Yasir Rasool

“Then pellet victims desperately needed some expensive medicines and kits,” says Yasir Rasool, a group member. “So, we chipped in the crisis situation, with our little effort.”

Since then, the group has touched many lives.

Recently, one Fayaz Ahmad from Kupwara approached the group and informed them that his wife’s heart valve surgery costs him Rs 1.25 lakh. The man had been drifting from one mosque to another to raise money. But despite forced to beggary by his cruel circumstances, he could only manage Rs 20,000.

“When he approached us, we verified his case,” Yasir says. “He was crying and showed all the document of his wife. Then I called a cardiologist friend who work in the Khyber Hospital, Srinagar and appealed him to do the surgery on a reasonable rate. He agreed to do it on Rs 1 lakh minimum. So, we created a small online campaign and within 24 hours we received Rs 80 thousand for the patient.”

Today, the patient is all smiles for the Samaritans who, she says, were sent by God as angels for her rescue. “We are a poor family and my husband is a labour,” she says, fighting tears in gratitude. “We could’ve never afforded such expensive surgery. It’s because of their help that I’m able to live today.”

Presently, the group is busy handling another case from Bijebhera in south Kashmir. Although the patient is from a very good family, but her bone marrow transplant surgery costs her much higher than she could afford.

“We personally cross-checked different hospitals and found Ayushman Bharat Hospital right place for her,” says Hajira Batool, another Samaritan in the group of Samaritans. “After all the paperwork, we will start generating funds worth Rs 5 lakh for her surgery.”

But apart from Facebook fundraising, these young Samaritans personally contribute for community welfare on monthly basis. At the end, they distribute the amount among the handicaps, who lack any source of income.

Besides, they’re alsoworking to make distressed and needy section of the society as self-sufficient.

Dr Sharmeen Mushtaq, another group member, is using social media to empower women. She lately promoted a Budgam woman, who’s divorced in her early 30s, on social media.

But Humaira doesn’t make much of her broken marriage, and always wanted to be a self-sufficient. She has a skill to make woolen sweaters, and after Dr. Sharmeen’s online promotion, she is busy taking orders.

After Dr. Ijtaba’s wife became her first customer, she has already received 175 orders for woolen sweaters in a month from people of different localities. “After Almighty Allah, I thank all the members of this group who helped me to become a self-sufficient today,” says Humaira, beaming with success.

Amid these smiles, the group members want to touch many more lives in Kashmir.

“One can imagine our daily life agonies through painful Facebook timelines,” Dr. Ijtaba says. “In these terrible times, we should be united and help each other in all the circumstances. And rather than spreading hate, we should use social media for practical purposes because its reach is faster and feedback is immediate.”

And that’s exactly how these Samaritans are spreading smiles around.

This story first appeared in January 2019 Print Issue of The Indus Post.

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