by Abiya Ahmed
In today’s modern society, where people are trapped in a world of commercialism and consumerism, an organization that exists purely to serve humanity comes across as a breath of fresh air. Since 1999, Hidaya Foundation has been providing that fresh air through numerous charitable projects conducted in economically depressed areas of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, several countries in West Africa, and in North America.
Hidaya Foundation was founded by Waseem Baloch in Santa Clara, California. An engineer by profession, Baloch started writing the bylaws of the organization in 1990, and after certain circumstantial delays, registered it in the US and Pakistan in 1999. However, he had conceived of such an idea as early as 1972, when, as a teenager riding with his uncle on the streets of Karachi, he saw several people driven out of their homes due to monsoon rains.
“All the huts and shanty towns were destroyed, and I was in the car looking at other children sitting on the street with a few pots and pans, and they had lost everything,” he recalled, “and for several miles, I rode with my uncle and witnessed the destruction. It impacted me so much that I wasn’t able to sleep that night. I remember I found myself crying, and making dua to Allah (SWT) to use me to serve His creation.”
According to Baloch, Hidaya Foundation’s main priority is education, especially women’s education. “But we realized that when people don’t even have one proper meal, how can they worry about education? Hence we support social welfare and health care as well.”
Consequently, Hidaya Foundation’s programs are of three types: education, social welfare, and health care. Sub-projects within each category include sponsoring students and schools in deprived regions, distributing Zakat to widows, orphans and elderly, supporting marriages of destitute girls, the One Million Meals project, being on location as soon as disaster strikes, and providing medical support for underprivileged patients and hospitals. Additionally, Hidaya Foundation also carries out a Container Shipment Project, which involves collecting books, computers, medical supplies, clothes, shoes, toys, and other household items for shipment to impoverished areas. “In the 11 weeks after the earthquake in Pakistan, Hidaya Foundation sent 24 forty-foot containers full of blankets, winter clothing and tents to Pakistan, collected from throughout the USA,” Baloch said.
Does he think the community is doing enough to serve charitable causes? Without a moment’s hesitation, Baloch replied, “When Muslims in the past paid their Zakat, there were no poor left. Looking at the worldwide situation now, I feel that all Muslims are not paying their Zakat. So no, I don’t think the community is doing enough.”
He believes awareness plays a key role in this regard, noting that instead of just playing on people’s emotions, Hidaya Foundation attempts to educate people through its flyers [how to calculate Zakat, why one should pay Zakat and Sadaqah (charity), etc.]. Before Ramadan, Hidaya Foundation will make available on its website a free comprehensive booklet on calculating Zakat, compiled from several sources, which will address modern financial situations that a Muslim has (401K plans, stocks, stock options, etc.) when calculating Zakat.
The organization has come a long way since Baloch started working on it from a desk at his home in 1997. The year Hidaya Foundation completed its registration, it raised $111,626. Baloch noted that in 2005, “Hidaya Foundation crossed $4.4 million, so Allah has placed tremendous barakah [blessings] in our work and helped us bring the organization to this level in such a short period of time.”
In late 2002, Baloch gave up his engineering profession to work full-time for Hidaya Foundation. Very matter-of-factly he noted, “I thought if I could give my energy and knowledge to corporate America, why not to Hidaya and hence to those who are more deserving of it?” As a result, funds increased tenfold.
According to Hidaya Foundation’s Treasurer Mohamed Shafik, who is also on the Board of Directors, “Waseem Baloch has been able to tap resources around him and get a small but a right set of people, with whom he has been able to pull off such good work.” He added that the key is to be able to “align resources with time and activities to make things click.”
Aamir Malik, who handles IT and advertisements for Hidaya Foundation, has been volunteering for the past five years and has witnessed its growth. He attributes this to a number of factors. “Donations have increased,” he said, “because Hidaya Foundation has been able to make an impact as it is quick to respond to calamities. Hidaya Foundation always backs up its work by updating the public about what its doing,” he said. All of this, according to him, elicits donor confidence and assurance, which ultimately translates into a rise in donations.
What does he foresee for the future? “I see a lot of potential in the judicious growth of the organization,” Malik said, adding that Hidaya Foundation is also maintaining an international presence by hiring employees overseas, which he thinks will play a vital role in its future. Shafik concurred, noting that he hopes to see Hidaya Foundation “strengthen its infrastructure, and replicate its operating processes in different parts of the world.”
It is exactly in this direction that Hidaya Foundation is progressing. Currently Baloch and his team are documenting all standard operating procedures its employees worldwide. Hidaya Foundation is also developing a Disaster Preparedness Team whereby people will be trained for effective responses in case of a disaster.
“We just make dua to Allah (SWT) to accept our work, to enable us to provide more services to humanity, and to take Hidaya Foundation to the next level, and the next,” concluded Baloch.