30 years of serving humankind

Imraan Choonara PHOTO: Earl Haupt

The Africa Muslims Agency (AMA) commemorated 30 years of empowering and educating people locally and internationally on Saturday.In celebration, the organisation held a gala event in Cape Town.Started by the late Mahomed Farid Choonara in 1987, the AMA has grown to become one of the largest aid organisations in Africa. Its Cape Town office is based in Belgravia Road, Athlone. Choonara’s son, Imraan Choonara, now directs the organisation.

“We operate all over Africa. We currently have over 160 schools in Africa which have been built and run in 29 countries in Africa with more than 4000 full-time staff members, as well three universities in Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania,” he says.

He says thanks to South African donors, they have been able to dig 1000 water wells in the country to help alleviate the need for water.

“This is the worst drought we are experiencing in decades. It always fascinates me that something as simple as water is a problem. With all our intelligence and after everything we’ve created, we can’t bring water. It is incredible actually how we can’t put together water,” says Choonara.

“I was in Camps Bay one day and watching a storm in the ocean and I was thinking to myself that it was incredible how it was happening out in the ocean, but not here where we needed it. Fascinating – as human beings, if it becomes too much, we can’t store it and if it is too little, we can’t make it.”

More than 60 000 orphans have been sponsored by the AMA, with thousands of bursaries and scholarships given to orphans throughout Africa.

But the numbers need to tell a story, says Choonara.

“I think that sometimes we forget that we say numbers like it is just numbers, but we don’t personalise the numbers,” he says.

He adds that although the AMA has a bursary fund, it does not mean that it is primarily a bursary institution.

“When you are a humanitarian organisation, you don’t have much of a choice when someone comes to you with a humanitarian issue to respond in some way and because we have access to donors,” he says.

“I am not the magic. You are not the magic when you donate something. We are just conduits for someone to be able to get some value out of their lives, but generations have been changed because of the ­donations.”

He says that although there are thousands of students who get sponsored, he needs to highlight one or two examples to give people an indication of the human ­impact.

“If you do not see a human impact, then what is the point? It is just numbers and we forget the emotion behind it.

“For me, it is always the passion and the emotion that if we don’t know why we are doing it, then what is the point of doing it? If it is just to boost our own egos, it is pointless, because ultimately that is not why we exist as human beings.

“We did not exist to satisfy our own needs. If that was the case, you were not needed and I was not needed, because there are 7bn others who could be doing the same thing. We have a responsibility, otherwise why am I here?”