Faith In International Relief Work

Haroon Kash from Islamic Relief tells how his faith has influenced the development and relief work h

It is difficult to say why I first became involved in aid work. It is something that I rarely think about unless someone asks me about it. I think that part of the reason may be because my origins are in the ‘less developed’ world. I have seen the other side of life, the life without glamour or any of the things we take for granted here in the UK. As a Muslim I also bring a faith perspective to my work, and I continually reflect on the privileges that this life has given me.

Most people are never exposed to the sufferings of the rest of the world. But I believe that once people experience it and relate to it, they always want to do more. This is what happened to me.

My first overseas assignment with Islamic Relief was in Kosovo, six months after the end of the conflict. It was in the middle of an extremely harsh winter and my role was to assess the needs of the community. This meant I had the opportunity to speak with all sections of the local population – victims, fighters, leaders and children. Each person had experienced suffering in a different way, and each was touched by the destruction that had torn whole communities apart.

This was also the first time that I had seen how religion can be used as a tool to divide people, turning people who had once been friends into enemies of each other. But despite this, on the ground various aid agencies of different faiths were working together. They were demonstrating the positive side of all faiths – the humanitarian side.

While religion may not consciously drive my every day work, after nine years with Islamic Relief it would be foolish to say it has no influence over why I continue to do what I do. For me the bottom line is that Islamic principles and humanitarian principles are one and the same. The added value is that Islamic Relief adopts Islamic values in its approach to delivering humanitarian principles. But the most important thing is that the beneficiaries receive the assistance that they need and that we make an impact, however small, on their lives.

I worked in Banda Aceh after the tsunami and was in Pakistan after the earthquake. These emergency situations are the times when my faith becomes really important. The total devastation and the mass loss of life is always going to affect even the most seasoned aid worker, and can strain your ability to do your job to the best of your ability. I find that in these situations being strong in my faith allows me to overcome these emotions and to focus on my work. I have never questioned why this is so, but take comfort and strength from it nonetheless.

Haroon Kash is Regional Programme Coordinator for Asia at Islamic Relief and has 12 years experience of working in international development. He worked in Bangladesh after Cyclone Sidr and was Islamic Relief’s Head of Mission in Indonesia after the tsunami.
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.