Relying on generosity, once again

SCHENECTADY — at the end of Friday prayers, Tariq Niazi, president of the Islamic Center of the Capital District, made a pitch that he’s had to make all too often lately.

He asked for humanitarian donations for a natural disaster in Pakistan from the Muslim faithful who traveled to the Lansing Road mosque during the holy month of Ramadan.

For the second Friday in a row, Niazi requested that people give generously to assist victims of the recent catastrophic floods in Pakistan, the worst in 80 years, which claimed at least 1,600 lives and left millions homeless across a vast region of the country.

For the past six years, Niazi has frequently urged the few hundred people who regularly attend the mosque to give and give some more for a $4 million community center that’s nearing completion on their property. two years ago, they raised $50,000 for earthquake victims in Kashmir. Many wrote checks earlier this year for Haiti earthquake relief efforts. They also supported victims of other natural disasters half a world away.

Niazi treads a delicate path between focusing on international outreach efforts while continuing to attend to their own internal operations.

“We live totally on donations ourselves and always have our own needs to think about,” Niazi said. “But we have a very generous community and whenever there is a crisis, our people respond and rise to the occasion.”

Members of both the local Pakistani and Chinese communities, who are raising money for victims of last week’s mudslide in northwest China that killed more than 1,000 people, are struggling with donor fatigue and a lingering recession locally while their homelands and other poor countries around the world are in desperate need of their assistance.

So far, nobody locally has come forward to report that any of their own family members or relatives were killed or lost their homes in the recent disasters in Pakistan and China, but some locally grew up near the affected areas and feel a deep kinship and responsibility for those less fortunate abroad with whom they share a national identity.

“It’s getting tough to ask for money again because it’ll be the third time in two years we’ve made a major effort to raise funds for disaster relief,” said Lining He, president of the Chinese Community Center of the Capital District in Latham. The 600 families who belong to his organization helped raise $170,000 for victims of a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province that killed more than 12,000 people. In addition, they raised more than $10,000 for Taiwan typhoon relief last year and they also sent money to assist Haiti’s victims.

“It’s getting harder and harder to raise money for one disaster after another,” He said. “People here have the will to continue to give, but everybody has a budget limit at some point.”

He plans to approach local leaders of the Pakistani community to see if they’d like to collaborate with the Chinese Community Center at a Sept. 18 cultural dinner they’re planning.

“I think it could be a meaningful cultural exchange, bring new people together and maybe help both of our groups raise more money for disaster relief,” He said.

The Chinese organization had tried to build an endowment for disaster relief so they’d have money in reserve to make upcoming contributions, but they’ve only managed to put away about $10,000 in the fund because of other pressing budget needs.

There are an estimated 8,000 Chinese-Americans living across the Capital Region and perhaps 10,000 Pakistani-Americans. He believes combining their forces would ease some of the weariness both groups are feeling regarding disaster relief fundraising.

“I think it might be a good idea to do a fundraising event together with the Chinese Community Center and we’ll definitely have discussions about it with them,” said Moeen Khan, president of the Pakistani Association of the New York Capital District. It’s a loosely organized social group of about 135 members.

Haider Khwaja, a past president of the Pakistani Association, will use his Saturday radio program focused on a commemoration of Pakistan’s independence on WRPI (91.5 FM) to solicit donations for the Prime Minister’s Flood Relief Fund through Pakistan’s consulate in New York City. Khwaja met with consulate officials, who are coordinating efforts to raise money and gather emergency relief supplies.

“The magnitude of the flooding disaster is enormous and we’re only beginning to realize its impact,” Khwaja said. “The Pakistani people in this region will contribute when called upon. They’ve always been generous.”

Reach Paul Grondahl at 454-5623 or by e-mail at pgrondahl@timesunion.com.

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