By Al-Qalam Reporter
Shahnaaz Paruk, the CEO of Penny Appeal SA, has been honoured for her service to humanity when she was presented with the Minara Chamber of Commerce Business Recognition Awards held at Durban’s Elangeni Hotel recently.
Paruk’s journey to serving the most destitute in South Africa and beyond began in 2006. Today, she’s the inspirational woman behind Penny Appeal South Africa, a non-governmental organisation that she has been leading as the Chief Executive Officer, for five years.
Penny Appeal was first set up globally in 2009 to provide poverty relief across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa by offering water solutions, organising mass feedings, supporting orphan care, and providing emergency food and medical aid. She has previously served in roles at Islamic Relief South Africa and the SA National Zakah Fund.
“This recognition is a humbling reminder of the selfless work being done by countless individuals in the sector. It is not an achievement that I am solely responsible for, but rather a testament to the power of collaboration, kindness, and empathy that exists within our community. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute and be of service to a greater cause, for the greater good,” said Paruk.
She said if anything, the award was also just a reminder for her to do better and try harder.
“Very often people don’t realise that as aid workers, we sometimes become too absorbed in what’s happening around us because we are in it all the time. We become despondent and lose hope. There’s no sugar-coating any of the stuff we see and have to deal with. So, if anything, it just renewed that energy that was being depleted recently. Receiving the award is something that I underestimated, not just for me but even for my team. I said to my team that behind every leader is a good team. It’s been a long journey for the organisation and my team, but we have been able to achieve a lot,” said Paruk.
She said while the recognition brings joy and gratitude, she also struggles to acknowledge the award, knowing full well that her brothers and sisters in Gaza are facing unprecedented horrors never before seen at such a magnitude in our time.
“It is a heartbreaking reminder of the urgent need for peace, equality, and compassion in our world, and right here at home in South Africa. Now more than ever, we find our faith in humanity being tested – and I grapple with the thoughts of not doing enough. Ultimately, it is a stark reminder that everything is in the hands of our Creator,” said Paruk.
She said while she has a grateful heart for her achievement, she turns her thoughts and prayers to those who are being robbed of their dignity and lives and those who don’t know if they will see the dawn.
“I ask my Creator to grant peace and ease to our beloved Palestine, and those afflicted elsewhere in the world. May we never lose sight of our duty to humanity, and may we be forever thankful for our blessings. Here’s to honouring the truth that true reward does not lie with accolades, but in the communities, we uplift, lives we touch and transform, and the ultimate reward is in seeking the blessings and pleasure of our Creator, to whom all praise and gratitude is due,” said Paruk.
Currently, Penny Appeal is committed to providing aid to the people of Gaza.
“We have been distributing aid, hot meals, and food packs. We have been trying to provide food and medical supplies. Literally, anything that we can get our hands on. We’ve had to work with larger entities because currently the only entity allowed to take aid through is the Red Crescent.
It meant us being able to partner with them which I think is a huge achievement because it shows our dedication to being able to get aid to them as soon as we could. So, aid has been coming through. It’s slow but it is coming through,” said Paruk.
She said the next step is that they currently have people who are visiting Egypt.“They got there this week, and the plan is to streamline procurement because what’s also happening is that there is a huge demand on the black market and with that, comes an exorbitant price. So, we want to be able to procure a warehouse where we can do procurement on a larger scale and then send it through the necessary channels setting up a more permanent structure to be able to ensure continuity of aid and adapt as it goes on. The situation is unprecedented. Our commitment is there and will continue to be there as the South African office.”