“When I was 17, I did work experience with my aunt in Islamabad, at the United Nations (UN). The work environment was inspiring and interesting. At the UN, my eyes were opened to development projects. Although I was born and brought up in Pakistan and had grown up seeing pockets of poverty around me, I had never really given it much thought. When I eventually finished secondary school, I persuaded my parents to allow me to put university on hold so I could do an internship with the UN. My intention was to complete the internship and then start my university degree.
Our family circumstances changed dramatically as my father passed away over the course of my internship and shortly after, I also lost my mother too. It was a tough time for my siblings and I, but we banded together. The holiday work experience turned into a full time job that I needed, to support my three younger siblings. For a period, my younger sister and I were the sole breadwinners. We were independent and determined to manage on our own. That was a tough period for me. My siblings became my responsibility and I learned how one’s spiritual and intellectual survival instincts can be so closely connected to helping others. If I think about it now, it was like a puzzle and all the pieces fell into place.
I eventually studied economics and international relations at university and got married. We moved to Bahrain ten years ago and I have fallen in love with this place. The relaxed pace of life here reminds me of Islamabad. It’s easy to live an entitled existence in the Middle East. The trips to Pakistan help keep us grounded.
In 2012, I began attending Islamic scripture classes and one of the things my mentor suggested was that we come up with ways in which we could help the community. In 2015, ladies from our class began by making food donations which we placed in the ‘Feed the Need’ fridges around town.
Thinking we could do more, I pooled together monetary donations from classmates and friends. As a family activity, we began delivering about 30-40 biryani meals to workers in Budaiya each Saturday. The food we had was never enough. Then, as more people started chipping in, our weekly distributions grew. This was how the Saturday Biryani Party (SBP) began.
Our family’s Saturday routine has changed since SBP started, especially as we always try to ensure that at least one member of our household participates in the weekly food distribution. My husband is regularly in attendance and will make time for it – even if we have a flight to catch that same afternoon! There are also a couple of dedicated volunteers who give their support, time and energy each week, which is invaluable.
Alhamdulilah (praise and thanks to God) with community support and recent regular sponsorship from a local Bahraini company, the project continues to go strong. During Ramadan, the SBP is going out to labour camps to distribute iftar meals. The nice thing is that the people can get involved in any capacity, whether it’s actively volunteering or making a donation, each and every contribution is appreciated.
Volunteering for the SBP has made my children more mindful and aware of their blessings. I am pleased to report that they are not as wasteful as they used to be! Above all, they are respectful of all people, from all walks of life. Our belief is that Sadaqa (charity) is for everyone. I love our tagline: “Biryani has no religion” because it’s true, it doesn’t.”