Ahmadi Muslim Women Change the World Through Helping Others



MILPITAS, CA. – Looking from the outside in, the Western idea of Muslim women can be that the women within that culture are oppressed, with little power. But to the ladies of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque, Bait-Ul-Baseer, in Milpitas, CA., women have the power to change the world.

The women from the mosque, known as the Ladies Auxiliary of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, translate that belief into action, donating hundreds of hours of volunteer time to local charities. They have also reached out to women of other faiths through an informal group known as Women’s Interfaith Dialogue Encounter, hoping to spread a better understanding of the Muslim faith.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, about 30 women from various Silicon Valley churches and mosques gathered at Bait-Ul-Baseer for a meeting of the dialogue group. The participants were a mixture of races, ages and faiths. Some came out of curiosity about Islam. Others had been participating in the dialogue group for years.

The main focus of the meeting was to discuss the bloody attacks on May 28, 2010, by Islamist gunmen on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, Pakistan. The attacks left 96 worshippers dead on a Friday, the holiest day of the week for Muslims. Some of the members of the Milpitas temple lost family members, or had family and friends that narrowly escaped the rampage.

Ahmadis are a minority sect of the Muslim religion who have been persecuted in Pakistan, where they are considered heretics. While other Muslim sects believe they are still waiting for the Messiah, Ahmadis believe that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the savior foretold by the Quran. Ahmad founded the sect in 1889, teaching that  “jihad by the sword” had passed, and a new “jihad of the pen” was to be championed.

“The real meaning of jihad nowadays is not to kill people, it’s to win the hearts of people…through reason,” Sabuhi Siddique, Public Services Secretary of the Ladies Auxiliary explained. Jihad, she said, is about the struggle within one’s self to become a better person, including a better citizen. The Ahmadi code is, “Love for all. Hatred for none.”

Through the dialogue group, the members of the Ladies Auxiliary have worked hard to win the hearts of other local women from churches, temples and mosques. It was started as a direct response to 9/11, Siddique said. Since then the group has rotated meetings at various houses of worship in Silicon Valley. Siddique said topics range from Islam, to other religions, to “women as ambassadors of peace.”

“Women are the ones who can make or break the world,” Siddique said.

“God has created women to create peace in the home and the community.”

Outreach Secretary Saadi Ahmad said one of the main purposes of the dialogue group is to “build the bridges of peace and understanding.” She added, “we’ve made a lot of friends in the process.”

Besides meeting with other women to promote understanding of the Muslim religion, the Ladies Auxiliary has adopted two local charities, Second Harvest Food Bank and Sacred Heart Community Services. As the group’s public services leader, Siddique is in charge of organizing the volunteer work.

The group has collected and organized food for Second Harvest for about 10 years. In addition they have raised money for the food bank, winning a Platinum Award last year for their efforts.

The ladies have also been long-time volunteers at the Sacred Heart Community Center near downtown San Jose. In February the group’s members sewed 150 pillowcases.  They also collected packages of socks and underwear from families at the mosque. They could have purchased the pillowcases, but Siddique explained that buying new is expensive; the group decided it would be cheaper to buy fabric and stitch the cases themselves.

“They took the time out of their busy days to sew these beautiful linens,” Sacred Heart Volunteer Coordinator Terri West said in amazement. She said the center distributed the much-needed pillowcases to local families in about a day. “We’ve had a great relationship with (the ladies).”

Siddique herself is involved in a dizzying array of activities in the valley, including speeches to groups and serving on boards and committees, not to mention being mom to four children, ages 17 to 25.  She said she does it all with the  full support of her husband, Naseer, her children and other family members, as well as the support of her community at the mosque.

Serving others and being good citizens in whatever country they live in is given high priority status in their religion, Siddique said. That translates to action within whatever area they live in.

“We are very proud to be a part of Santa Clara County society,” she said.

Good Media Neighbors


Bonnie Hunt InterviewIn this interconnected world I do believe we are all neighbors to each other no matter where we are. But there are different categories of neighbors, like next-door neighbors, corporate neighbors, and even media neighbors.

One of the original and ultimate media neighbors is Mister Rogers, who I mentioned in the first post to this blog. Some people might not know that Fred Rogers was actually a Presbyterian minister. As a young seminarian in the 1950s, he saw the potential benefit television could have for American children. When he was ordained, it was not to a specific church, but to the ministry of children’s television.

Since then there have been many examples of people and organizations who have set out to help society through the power of television. From time to time I plan on highlighting current examples of media good neighbors, but to start off, I’m highlighting a television personality whose show was recently cancelled, Bonnie Hunt.

If you never saw Hunt’s daytime talk show (which you probably didn’t since it never did achieve high ratings), you missed a gem. For two years until May, 2010, it was a fun blend of entertainment and information, all presented with Hunt’s quick wit and charm. There were comedy bits, interviews with the famous and not-so-famous, audience participation, cooking and how-to segments, musicians, stand-up comedians, and even regular contributions from her mom, Alice, via satellite from Hunt’s hometown of Chicago. It reminded me in some ways of the daytime shows I grew up watching, like Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore.

Throughout the two-year run of the show, Hunt was always aware of the power she had to promote causes. As a former nurse, one of Hunt’s main interests is in fund raising for cancer research. During the first season of the show she gave guests a chance to raise money with the carnival game of “Ring the Bell,” with each successful strike bringing more donations. Through Ebay she operated “Bonnie’s Basement,” where anyone could buy items celebrities had signed and brought to the show.

An avid dog lover, she regularly featured a segment with dogs and cats needing to be adopted. Many of her own staff adopted some of the pets, but viewers around the country also responded by adopting the animals.

She often invited guests to come on the show who few knew, but who were doing extraordinary volunteer work, or who were raising money for worthy causes.

In the last few months of the show, Hunt promoted “New Lungs for Chuck,” after interacting with an audience member, Chuck Campbell and his family. Campbell, 46, suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and needs a lung transplant to survive. Friends of Campbell’s organized a raffle, offering a home in Florida and a high-end car as prizes. The raffle was possibly going to fall short of the goal of raising the $1 million needed for the transplant, until Hunt began talking it up on her show. Toward the end of the raffle, an anonymous donor stepped in (Hunt herself?) and said he or she would provide whatever monies the raffle did not raise. One day on the show Hunt got philosophic, wondering if the reason for her show, though short-lived, was to help just such a person as Campbell.

Although the show did not resonate with more viewers, it was a positive, uplifting corner of the daytime media neighborhood.

Who is My Neighbor?

Gulf Oil Spill from Space

NASA Photo of Gulf Oil Spill from Space

If you create a website about people acting as good neighbors, you have to ask yourself: who is my neighbor? As I look around at various events happening around the world, I can’t help but take “neighbor” in the global sense. We are all neighbors to one another, no matter where we are positioned geographically. So my neighbor isn’t just the people in the house next door, my neighbor is a factory worker in China who made part of my computer, or the laborer who stooped to pick the strawberries I at for breakfast. I can choose to become neighbors with people anywhere in the world when I donate money to charitable organizations. I have dozens of neighbors on Facebook and Twitter who I interact with on a regular basis.

Staring us in the face every day on the news is the now infamous “bad” neighbor, BP. My guess is that company executives do not have what I would call a “Neighborhood Mindset”, that when they risk drilling a well somewhere in the world, they become the neighbors of the people and environment surrounding that well. A Neighborhood Mindset is one that reflects how one’s actions might affect a next door neighbor. I will take precautions to protect not only myself, but my neighbor as well. And I would hope my neighbor would do the same.

Of course, it is not easy being a good neighbor all the time. We make mistakes and we are often so self-absorbed we don’t realize that the words we say or the actions we take are hurting others. As one of my heroes, Stuart Smalley, would say, “progress, not perfection.”

Here’s to progress toward becoming a better neighbor to all our neighbors. No matter where they live.

Food Bank and Health Clinic Sow Seeds of Good Health for Kids

San Jose pediatrician Daniel Delgado has a big problem. His young patients – all from low-income families – are overweight or obese and in danger of developing diabetes. Many don’t have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables vital for better nutrition. How to connect his patients with the foods they so desperately need?
Delgado is hoping that some of that need will be met through monthly visits  from Second Harvest Food Bank’s Produce Mobile to the East Valley Clinic of the Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center. The refrigerated truck is chock full of free, fresh produce reserved for qualified low-income families. It made its first-ever appearance at the clinic on Saturday, June 12, 2010,  and will return the second Saturday morning of each month.
“It’s the very first county clinic site where this type of collaboration is happening,” Delgado said. “It’s groundbreaking.” He said he is very pleased that the clinic can now connect healthy food to patients at the same place they receive health care.
An estimated 200 families lined up to take advantage of the truck’s bounty on the first visit, including Beatrice Romero and her 10-year-old son, Sanny. Romero came at the invitation of a doctor at the clinic.
“I think it’s very good for my children and my money,” Romero said. “It’s a help.”
As Director of the Pediatric Healthy Lifestyles Center, Delgado spent two years working with officials from Second Harvest and Santa Clara County to make his vision of providing the fruits and vegetables to the clinic’s patients. Several obstacles had to be overcome, including the untangling of some bureaucratic red tape.
Cindy McCown, Second Harvest senior director of programs and services, called their joint effort a “wonderful example of public and private partnership,” bringing together a county agency, a non-profit organization, and local churches.
The produce is donated to Second Harvest by local farmers, the California Association of Food Banks and Feeding America. In some cases the food bank pays for shipping of the produce, or they may pay farmers pennies per pound.
“This is food that would have been dumped,” McCown said at the event, pointing to dozens of boxes of various produce. As an example, she showed off nearly perfect hot house tomatoes that were blemished on their tops, making them unmarketable in stores.
Selection of produce varies by season; on the first clinic visit the selection included oranges, carrots, potatoes, bananas, nectarines and cherries. Simple to prepare recipes are provided in different languages, to give clients ideas about how to use the food.
Second Harvest has two donated trucks in the program, which was started in 2006. An estimated 32,000 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties benefit, McCown said. The trucks – brightly decorated with enticing photos of fresh food on the sides – visit a total of 49 sites, including schools, a dental clinic, a soup kitchen and churches.
Usually the agencies and organizations Second Harvest partner with have volunteers who can help oversee the produce distribution at each of the sites. But the East Valley Clinic does not have the people power, McCown said, which became a hurdle for bringing a truck there.
To overcome that issue, McCown turned to Second Harvest board member Pat Plant, who is also the Hunger Action Enabler for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The Presbytery of San Jose. Plant found five churches willing to provide 22 volunteers to work at the clinic every month.
The partnership between the clinic and Second Harvest sprouted from a severe need that Delgado and fellow doctors see daily at the clinic. More than 30 percent of the children served by the East Valley Clinic are overweight. Most have developed insulin resistance or pre-diabetes and need fresh produce for the fiber and nutrients that will prevent them from developing diabetes in the future.
“People look at an overweight person and they think they are a glutton and are eating too much,” Delgado told me. “That’s not true. There’s a huge disparity in what people eat and how they eat.”
Some of the issues facing Delgado’s patients include things like “food insecurity,” which means being insecure about access to food due to lack of money. This can lead to things like hoarding food or overeating when there is access, and buying lower cost and lower quality food. Second Harvest officials also point to “food deserts” or entire low-income sections of cities where there is little or no access to large supermarkets that carry fresh, high quality produce at lower prices.
Delgado said there are grocery stores in East San Jose, but he called the produce available “suboptimal.” He also said that families already strapped for cash will hesitate to buy fresh vegetables out of a fear that their kids won’t eat them, meaning the money will be wasted. He hopes that the access to free produce will take away that worry, “and that will improve habits,” he said.
It’s also very common that at certain times of the month, families might not have the money to purchase food. The clinic’s doctors often refer patients to Second Harvest, which provides free food to families that qualify.
For the first mobile visit, Delgado said clinic doctors invited patients from the healthy lifestyles center, the pediatric and obstetrics departments and a department that cares for diabetic pregnant women, called PEP Services, or Perinatal Evaluation and Procedures. Delgado called targeting kids and moms-to-be first a “no brainer.” He said they will invite more of the clinic’s patients as the program continues.
Despite overcoming obstacles to bringing the truck to the clinic, one more obstacle still exists. Delgado said some patients may be embarrassed or ashamed to take free food. To overcome that fear, the clinic is trying to make the event more about health than handouts.
“By tying it to the health of their children or unborn child, we’re trying to help overcome that stigma,” Delgado said.
McCown is optimistic that patients will take advantage of the free produce. She called trust a huge issue for low-income clients and thinks they will trust the doctors who are urging them to participate. She also lauded Delgado for working to make the Produce Mobile a reality at the clinic.
“Without Dr. Delgado’s vision it would not be happening.”
To find out more about how you can help, go to www.shfoodbank.org.

Won’t You be My Neighbor?


Fred RogersOK, I’ll admit it. I love Mister Rogers. I grew up watching the smiling man in the cardigan and sneakers who spoke in that slow, patient voice. I loved the Neighborhood of Make Believe, as well as Mister Rogers’ own TV neighborhood, which included field trips to crayon factories, fire stations and other places that hold a fascination for children. I really liked that when he left his house, you would see the cardboard cut-out neighborhood, which would suddenly include said factories or stations, as if any and all places Fred Rogers visited were a part of  his neighborhood, regardless of geographic realities. To Fred, everyone in the world was his neighbor, and how we treated each other became important.

Maybe that love for the man who wanted to be neighbor to all is what ultimately inspired me to want to write about people being good neighbors. That inspiration led me to create this blog, which is about just what the names says: stories about people being good neighbors, whether around the block or around the world.

Good Neighbor Stories will feature stories, links, and ideas about how to be a good neighbor wherever you are. It will also feature reviews of books, TV programs, websites, movies and other media relevant to helping others. Even more importantly, this blog is a chance for you to interact with us. What are your stories about good neighbors? Please share with us in the comment section.

Welcome to the Neighborhood! I’m glad we’re neighbors.