Student Orgs Fundraise Disaster Relief

Ariana Acheckzai (left) and Yasmine Merzouk (right) smile while raising money for relief efforts in Morocco and Libya. Photo by Leila Tselner/SF Foghorn

North Africa is reeling from two environmental disasters that struck in early September, beginning with a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Morocco, followed days later by destructive flooding in Libya. Thousands are dead, missing, or seeking aid in both countries. The disasters that took place on Sept. 8 and Sept. 11 have sparked aid efforts globally and locally. Three USF student clubs, the Middle East & North Africa Club (MENA), Muslim Student Association (MSA), and Arab Student Union (ASU), have joined the effort to fundraise and express solidarity for North African communities. 

The earthquake struck the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, killing at least 2,900 and injuring more than 5,500, according to CBS News. According to PBS, this is the country’s deadliest earthquake recorded in 60 years, leaving many residents without shelter and electricity. In smaller villages, such as Tafeghaghte, residents estimate more than half the population died, as reported by AP News. In Libya, flooding from Storm Daniel led to two dams collapsing, washing away a quarter of Derna, home to 90,000. Saadeddin Abdul Wakil, the health ministry undersecretary of the Government of National Unity in Tripoli, one of two rival governments in Libya, told CNN that as of Sept. 13, more than 6,000 people have died, 30,000 are displaced, and thousands are missing. 

The back-to-back nature of these environmental disasters has strained relief efforts and attempts to help the wounded in the two countries. In support, MENA, ASU, and MSA joined together on Sept. 14 and Sept. 21 to raise funds for charities and foundations that are sending aid to the two countries. 

“It was obvious for us [MENA, MSA, and ASU] to collaborate because we all have Moroccan and Libyan members in the clubs,” said junior nursing major Mahreen Chauhan, the secretary for MSA. “They were calling people to make sure people were okay over there.” 

“One of the pillars of Islam is charity,” Chauhan continued. “It’s been ingrained in me and many Muslims around the world that charity and fundraising is an important part of our lives. I would want the same people extending empathy and compassion towards me if something happened.” 

Last semester, the three clubs also hosted tabling for funds and collaborated with the psychology department to hold a vigil for the 7.8 and 7.7 magnitude earthquakes that shook Turkey in February. This semester, MENA, MSA, and ASU have independently started fundraising for Morocco and Libya. 

“I feel like they deserve their light,” said senior biology major Fiza Shaikh, the president of MSA. “It’s important to help Middle Eastern, North African or Muslim countries… all together we can reach a bigger audience, a bigger public, to help raise money and awareness.”

Once they finalize their donations, the clubs will choose two charities to help with the Morocco and Libya crisis. The plan is to split the more than $500 raised over the tabling days equally between charities. Some students are getting involved outside the club fundraising. 

“I am also planning on sending a few things to Morocco and Libya, a few supplies,” said junior Yasmine Merzouk, a member of MENA who helped host the Sept. 14 table. “There are some charities that I’m looking into that the local mosques have mentioned or are working with.” 

Junior Ramy Chebbo, the president of ASU, said, “There’s been a lot of criticism towards bringing aid to the communities in Libya and Morocco. We should just help those communities because they shouldn’t be neglected… showing support to communities in the Middle East, it’s been in the shadows.” 

Chauhan said, “This disparity gets brushed under the rug. We’re all desensitized to it, especially with any civil conflict. Most people want to focus on European countries when that happens, especially the news. So even though proceeds are going towards Morocco and Libya, the disparity is crazy.” 

Junior Hazel Velasco, who donated at the event, said, “I honestly do not feel as though I’ve heard much coverage on the crisis, maybe an Instagram post here and there.This is really the first time I’ve heard anyone talk about it or seen something outside of a few Instagram stories, but now I want to become more educated about what happened.”

Through the MENA, ASU, and MSA’s social media and presence at tabling events, they encourage students to get involved, whether through donating or something as simple as learning more about the crisis. While the three clubs have concluded these tabling events, they are hoping to organize a larger-scale event later in the year, potentially working with the University Ministry, to further fundraise for disaster relief. 

“As long as you have a mindset that you’re trying to support these people who are homeless right now, who are trying to seek help, who are trying to eat food, as long as you’re giving even one dollar that you think is worth it, that’s good,” said Chebbo. 

The clubs will host a table for Armenia on Oct. 5 on the UC second floor from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to support those who have been displaced from Artsakh. 


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