SEVENTY-FIVE years is a grand number in the history of any organisation and marks the culmination of all its accomplishments over time.
This number looms large for Hospital Welfare and Muslim Educational Movement (HWMEM), which emerged in 1942, when the world was at war.
The Union of South Africa, as the country was then called, joined the British Commonwealth forces in World War II battles in North Africa against Nazi Germany.
The South African military personnel included Muslims, some of whom were convalescing patients at Somerset Hospital, in Cape Town. A few concerned local Muslims assisted with the dietary needs of these patients.
Their assistance was also extended to Muslim families in respect of burial and mortuary services. It is through the former initiative that the hospital welfare part of the organisation emerged.
Another initiative of Muslims, under the yoke of the oppressive apartheid government, emerged. According to executive members of HWMEM today, the Muslims in 1969 collaborated with contemporary liberation movements, namely the ANC and the PAC with a view to establishing an education fund.
HWMEM today affirms that this initiative was driven by a commitment to ‘education before liberation’, a striking paradox to the recalcitrant slogan that advocated the opposite in the school boycotts of the 1980s.
This was followed by the establishment of the Education Bursary portfolio of HWMEM to assist students at tertiary institutions.
HWMEM also played an important role in resisting the racially based permit system in the seventies and early eighties. The collaboration between HWMEM and the universities exposed these institutions to the risk of losing their state subsidies.The first disbursement to deserving students was in the amount of R720.
Seventy-five years is a testament of an organisation’s perseverance in difficult times, where there is competing demand for limited resources. And the executives of HWMEM prefer to frame it as a commemoration as the connotations of celebration evoke opulence and excess.
Their ethos is a commitment to frugality, keeping operational costs low and maximising efficiency and delivery. This is reflected in their modest offices and the growth in their financial support in education.
In addition, for over seven decades, 99 per cent of the members of the organisation have been and still are volunteers.
Another key value is their commitment to supporting a diversity of beneficiaries, ensuring that this is reflected in the demographics of their students. And this includes religious diversity.
All the stalwarts of HWMEM are worthy of celebration and many of the current members were mentored and guided by them.
Financial assistance to students pursuing tertiary education amounts to R24millon to approximately 4500 needy students over seven decades. In 2017 alone, HWMEM disbursed R2,1 million to 170 students at a number of higher learning institutions in South Africa.
As a part of the education portfolio, HWMEM also administers a school for the visually impaired, namely Madrassa-tul Khayr. This is a free Quran learning programme for the blind and partially sighted. The school has a roll of fifteen, mainly adult learners.
HWMEM continues to attend to the dietary needs of Muslim patients in hospital. This involves regular inspections and the certification of kitchens as halaal. The organisation has oversight of the provision of halaal food at over 23 state and selected private hospitals in the Western Cape.
Another service that is sustained through its historical legacy is the mortuary and burial service of HWMEM. This includes assistance to families with socio-legal, burial arrangements as well as pauper burials.
The increase in the number of refugees and immigrants from other African countries to Cape Town has seen this service become more essential.
The social welfare and outreach programme of HWMEM includes the disbursement of zakaahby means of feeding schemes, food parcels and annual Ramadaan programmes. The organisation has also assessed and assisted numerous needy families in the community who qualify for zakaah.
Social welfare support extends to orphanages and old age homes. HWMEM also runs a wheelchair distribution programme to disabled members in the community in need of wheelchairs.
Looking ahead, HWMEM plans to grow and diversify its investment in all its programmes. For example, financial assistance to students is not only earmarked for an increase but additional support in the form of workshops on career guidance is envisaged.
It is worth noting that HWMEM also plans to introduce social responsibility projects for its bursary beneficiaries with a view to inculcate social welfare awareness and the need to assist others in the community.
In light of this vision, the call to traditional donors as well as new donors for support is clear. HWMEM is ready to make a bigger impact over the next seventy-five years.
Article courtesy of Muslim Views.