Rutgers campus organization raises thousands of dollars for sustainable development overseas
The Rutgers chapter of Thaakat, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable development at locations in Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Ghana, works on campus to raise money for overseas communities. The organization also focuses on local community service initiatives to help underserved communities in the United States and beyond.
Founded in 2007 by New Jerseyan Uzma Bawany, the foundation seeks to encourage students and young professionals to recognize their capacity to impact those in need across the world, according to the organization's website.
The foundation now has hundreds of members in the United States and internationally, with eight college chapters, including Rutgers, The College of New Jersey, the University of Illinois and the University of California.
“The national Thaakat Foundation has three global projects,” said Zamin Kazmi, the current president of the Rutgers chapter. “A primary school in Pakistan, a primary school in Ghana, and a maternity ward in Sierra Leone.”
The individual college chapters of the foundation all fundraise individually, the School of Arts and Sciences senior said.
All the fundraised money then goes to the national foundation, which uses it for supplies, renovation projects and initiatives to improve health and education conditions at their three global sites.
“They’re mostly small villages without a lot of infrastructure or money," Kazmi said. "We try to make the sites a community center for local people, where they can come for help.”
Kazmi said the foundation distributes care packages during heat waves and encourages students to take food home with them.
The organization also focuses on helping the communities become sustainable and self-reliant, Kazmi said.
In Ghana, the Thakkat helped to found a mushroom farm so that the people would be able to sustain themselves and raise money by selling the mushrooms at the market, he said.
“Our chapter plays a vital role for our National Board,” said Ruhbaan Zubair, the Rutgers chapter secretary and School of Arts and Sciences senior. “We are one of the top three donors throughout the nation,” he said.
In terms of the amount of money raised, Kazmi said, last year was one of the best years at the Rutgers chapter — they raised between $8,000 and $10,000. In general, total yearly donations range between $5,000 and $9,000.
The Rutgers chapter raises money primarily by holding events on campus, Kazmi said.
“Everything, all our events, are funded by RUSA (the Rutgers University Student Assembly) allocations. So when we hold an event, we don’t put any of our Thaakat money into it. If you walk in and pay $5 at the door, 100 percent of that goes to our proceeds,” he said.
In fact, yesterday evening at the Busch Student Center, the Rutgers chapter held a community event called the "R Factor," a talent competition featuring various performances by students and members of the outside community, said Zia Farooq, the events coordinator and a School of Engineering senior.
Other events throughout the years include community service fairs, benefit banquets and "DJ in the Dark," a music showcase involving producers and musicians from the local community, Farooq said.
Rutgers Thaakat also co-hosts an annual event with the Pakistani Students Association (PSA) at Rutgers, a mock traditional Pakistani wedding.
“We have one member of Thaakat marry one member from PSA,” Farooq said. “Most of the time, 100 percent of those proceeds go to the Thaakat school in Pakistan.”
Between general meetings, ice cream socials and different fundraisers, Farooq said there are about six events per semester.
The next general meeting will be on April 21, for Thaakat’s "Pie-in-the-Face" event.
“Students can pay $2 for a pie, and then you can pie whoever you want on our board in the face,” Farooq said.
In addition to fundraising events, the Rutgers chapter of Thaakat also has a focus on domestic community service, an initiative which was started by Kazmi during his junior year. Now, board members are required to attend at least three community service events per semester, Kazmi said.
“Our main goal here domestically is community service. And internationally, our goal is to provide for our global projects,” Kazmi said.
Although fundraising is the main goal, Kazmi said it is not their number one priority.
“People are only here for four years, so if they come to our events, they may pay $5, but Thaakat Foundation really needs longevity. So I try to focus more on educating people about these issues,” he said.
Kazmi said that although there are only three sites, they are constantly expanding.
“Our first project that we ever founded (at Rutgers) was the basic school in Pakistan. Our school is in Karachi, Pakistan, in a village called Kachra Kundi," he said.
The people have used the landfill to survive by collecting and selling metals, and living in tents made from discarded sheets, he said.
"In the Pakistani Language, Urdu, this literally means 'trash bin,'” he said. “This village is where all the trash from the main city of Karachi goes. It’s a landfill, but people have formed a village on top of that landfill."
Rutgers Thaakat’s most recent donations paid for medications at the maternity ward in Sierra Leone, Kazmi said.
When the founder posted a list of medication and named a price for them, the Kazmi said he was able to respond by simply asking when the check needed to be sent, because Rutgers Thakkat had already raised the money during the fall.
This meant the organization was able to provide the money instantly, he said.
"In Urdu, thaakat translates to 'strength'," Kazmi said. “Thaakat has allowed me to use my resources here in New Jersey to enact change 8,000 miles away. We may never meet the people we aim to help, but I feel an obligation to them. I often take for granted the opportunity to do things like attend school. To make up for that, Thaakat Foundation has allowed (us) to offer that opportunity to someone else.”
Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in public policy. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.