The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him taught us, “God will help a person as long as they are helping others” – generosity is always a win-win. But if we’re being honest, the one who serves the other really wins more! Throughout our tradition, we are constantly given reminders and lessons that fly in the face of so much of the consumerist, dog-eat-dog world that surrounds us. The beautiful irony is that the more we serve and fulfil other’s needs, the more we expend ourselves for other people, the more we will find ourselves served.
The living legend, singer/songwriter and one our proud ambassadors, Yusuf Islam, beautifully addresses this in a song lyric that I hold close to my heart: ‘if you want to help your fellow man, you better start with what’s in your hand’ – If we all contribute a small change, we can collectively make a big difference, this is the very ethos of Penny Appeal. We began with a hope and prayer and what started as a tiny office pet project is now a global movement impacting millions of lives in over 30 countries across the world.
Growing up in a very working-class community, to a single mother struggling to support her family, I know first-hand how far a small hand of kindness can reach. For me, it began with two of my college teachers, Tony and Ron, seeing my passion for technology and channelling it by arranging an internship for me at my local ITV studios. They went out of their way to help me not knowing that they would set me on a path that would change my life and millions more across the world. All it takes is for someone to push you, to expand your horizons, to help you see a little bit further than before.
Thus, it is with great pleasure that I relish opportunities to engage young people in the hope of sharing a little of the experience I’ve accrued over the years. Dixons Academy in Bradford has had a chequered past with many of the pupils there hailing from disadvantaged backgrounds and so I was honoured to take part in their leadership workshops facilitated by the Baroness Warsi Foundation.
When asked who had heard of Penny Appeal, almost all of the children put their hands up. I told them about the first time I visited a village and Pakistan and met people living in dire poverty. I asked them to reflect on how much we are blessed in the UK and how I had promised to do something to help the people I had met. The reality of my Pakistan trip only hit me when I got home. I pulled up at a petrol station to fill my car and the meter stopped at £90. Before my trip, this wouldn’t bother me in the slightest but I then remembered a young man I met in the village, Ali. With his monthly school teacher salary of just £30 Ali looks after an extended family of 10 people. What it cost to fill up my car could have supported Ali’s family for three whole months. Recalling the story to the children sent shivers down my spine. That £30 is Ali’s monthly lifeline and Penny Appeal started all those years ago to help just one person.
I showed them a picture of Ali and his family and reminded them that big things have small beginnings and they were just at the beginning of their journeys. The enthusiasm and questions I received after my presentation were heart-warming, with one girl even asking, so compassionately about how Ali and his family were now. It was clear to me that these children have bright futures ahead of them and it was touching for me to be that person who could open their horizons a little more, just like my college teachers had done for me.
It’s said that a rising tide lifts all the boats at sea. A capitalist mindset would have the ships compete to see who could be highest, but the only way that’s possible is in turbulent waters with crashing waves. Instead, let’s take a leaf out of our Prophet’s book. Let’s seek to raise the tide, serve those around us and lift everyone up. What are you waiting for?