Muslim-Jewish Evening Raises $$ For Pakistanis

By Cristina Costantini for The New Haven Independent

Farhan and Shahida Soomro became American citizens on Friday. Originally from the Sindh Province in Pakistan, they have lived in the U.S. for ten years. Two days after becoming Americans, they held an event with their friends Ron Miller and his wife Cathie Miller to raise money and awareness about the floods which have ravaged their province in Pakistan. “It’s been a busy weekend!” said Shahida Soomro.

The event—“An Evening to Support Pakistani Flood Relief at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven”—was held Sunday night at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven on Audubon.

The Soomro family is Muslim; the Miller family, of Westville, is Jewish. The idea for the event, a “Jewish-Muslim collaboration,” came about over a dinner with old friends, Cathie Miller said. The Millers then sought the support of the Social Action Committees of the Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven and the Congregation Mishkan Israel of Hamden, which were instrumental in the organization of the event.

After guests Sunday night enjoyed a wide spread of ethnic foods, Farhan Soomro opened the presentation by relaying the severity of the crisis. While the Soomro family was not present during the flooding, they have stayed in constant contact with their relatives in the region. With a fifth of Pakistan underwater, 20 million people displaced, and two million homes destroyed, Soomro explained, farmers have lost two seasons of crops and the Pakistani government cannot meet the food and shelter demands the disaster has triggered.

The event raised about $3,000.

Timothy Rogers, the director of charitable gifts for Save the Children in Westport described to guests where their donations would go. “We have been in Pakistan for 31 years now,” said Rogers. “What are we doing in Pakistan now? We’re providing emergency medical care, we’re distributing tents, shelter kits, food, and other supplies, we’re distributing water purification tablets, and bed nets.”

According to Cathie Miller, Save the Children was chosen as the charity for the event because over 90 percent of money donated goes to direct relief, and the Soomros have heard anecdotal evidence from their relatives and friends in the Sindh province that Save the Children has been effective in the region.

Rogers raised questions about the lack of American response and media coverage to the tragedy. Americans have given disproportionally less than other developed nations in the world. Although Save the Children has sent about $46 million to help alleviate suffering in Pakistan, the American public’s contribution makes up only $2.3 million of this total. Norwegian citizens, a country with a much smaller population, has already donated over $4 million in assistance funds through Save the Children. Rogers posited that donations might be down because of “donor fatigue due to recent tragedies” or because of a lack of media coverage. Ron Miller linked the trend to Islamophobia.

“I think even though we don’t want to say it, Americans have a hard time understanding and appreciating Muslims,” Miller said. “And one of the reasons that, myself as a Jew, and I’ve talked with various synagogues which they are present here today, is the importance for both Jews and Muslims and Muslims and Americans to come to grips with who we are, what our cultures are and what our values are. One of our reasons for doing this, was in our small way, a Muslim family, and a Jewish family, over dinner decided to try to do something to show that that gulf doesn’t exist between us and our Muslim colleagues.”

One audience member admitted her initial hesitations about donating to the cause. “My knee-jerk reaction, when I heard about this event, was how do I know my money isn’t going to go to the Taliban? Of course this was ignorant, and I really think the reason we don’t talk about this flood is that our government is struggling with Pakistan,” she said.

A Pakistani member of the audience responded to her comments, suggesting that crisis alleviation in the area is one of the best ways to win a war of ideas: “The Pakistani people realize that Save the Children is coming from the American people. Winning the hearts and minds is the key thing, our policy makers have allocated $30 million to public diplomacy work in Pakistan. It should be a no-brainer that if we use our resources to help get their homes together that this will be much more effective.”

“This is a great opportunity for us to change and affect the hearts and the minds of the Pakistani people,” he concluded.

The event drew around 50 guests.

Donations are still being accepted. Checks can be made out to “Save the Children” with a memo note: “Pakistani Flood.” In order to count as a part of the Greater New Haven response to this disaster the check must be sent to The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, 70 Audubon Str., New Haven 06510 Attn: Lee Cruz. All donations will be sent to Save the Children within the week.

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