Fundraiser Zayna flies out to help

Zayna smiling with Tanzanian children Zayna Shaikh's volunteered to take everything from cows and chickens to beehives and fishing nets to a Tanzanian coastal community

University students are lazy layabouts. It's a lazy, often unfair, cliche - but never one I had much personal basis for rebutting. But the Asian Network's Zayna Shaikh is a bit different.

Over the past two years the 21-year-old has raised more than £13,000 for charity, using her holiday leave to help various projects in both Tanzania and Jordan.

This is alongside working three days a week as an assistant producer at the BBC, as well as studying history and politics at the University of Wolverhampton.

Two years ago, Shaikh and two friends jumped at the opportunity to sign up for a volunteering project in Tanzania with charity Islamic Help.

Pipe dream

The only problem was that a £5000 fundraising target per person meant that it still seemed a bit of a pipe dream.

'We literally just signed up on a whim. We never thought that we'd be able to raise the money.'

But the pessimism was misplaced. Within eight months they'd raised £15,000 between them, receiving donations through sponsored walks and fundraising events.

And so in June 2012 Shaikh found herself on a plane to Tanzania for a ten-day trip to help with the projects she'd fundraised for, which focused on people living in poverty in the coastal town of Pangani.

From providing cows and chickens to beehives and fishing nets, Shaikh's team aimed to give locals not only material goods but the means to sustain themselves on a longer-term basis.

'The people were really hospitable to us,' she says. 'Some of them even said: 'Why do you care about us? Why have you come here when you can carry on living in the UK and it's not going to affect you?''

Zayna Shaikh with Tanzanian woman The Tanzanians wondered why Zayna cared

But it does affect her, says Shaikh, who feels a 'moral duty' to help those in need. And it wasn't long before she was back on the fundraising trail in the UK, raising a further £8000 before returning to Tanzania last summer.

200 trees

This time Shaikh and her team established a new environmental sustainability committee to monitor and regulate the felling and burning of trees, which are often sold for charcoal.

'We also planted 200 trees and tried to get the locals involved as much as possible,' says Shaikh, adding that the children's enthusiasm for taking responsibility for their environment bodes well for the future.

But Shaikh's immediate focus is completing university in May - although that's not necessarily without interruptions.

Just as she was settling down into the new term this month, she was whisked off to Jordan by the charity at short notice, in order to deliver 200 boxes full of necessities - such as blankets, socks, and toiletries - to Syrian refugee families.

'The charity [asked me] to go out there, represent them and deliver the aid. So I was literally told on Tuesday, I flew out on Sunday, and I came back on Thursday.'

Zayna Shaikh helping Syrian woman with box Zayna flew to Jordan with blankets and socks
Philippines next

'It was truly heartbreaking listening to some of the stories. Living here [in the UK] we have so much and are blessed so much, maybe we don't realise the truth of the world. It puts my little problems - like my car not starting - into perspective.'

Although Shaikh admits that she'd love to go for longer periods of time to the places she visits, she says she has to take her holiday leave strategically.

'I need to balance going on these deployments [with] my work, because I do love what I do at the BBC Asian Network.'

But Shaikh's - perhaps unsurprisingly now - not resting on her laurels. She's already planning to go to the Philippines in September to help with the post-typhoon reconstruction, as well as revisiting the places she's already been.

Some people will never relax.


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