Skip to content

Dublin Youth and Local Mosque Lead Efforts to Support Newest Arrivals to the Tri-Valley

February 23, 2022

Benevolence (n) – “a disposition to do good, an act of kindness” Merriam-Webster

At times, words are insufficient to paint a complete portrait. It is often more rewarding to experience something to truly understand it. While COVID-19 has impacted every corner of the globe over the past two years, geo-political events have added another layer of resonance to many that have already suffered enough. When the United States declared a complete withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, it signaled the end of 20 years or war. It also triggered an extremely complex evacuation of refugees and personnel by August 31, 2021, before the Taliban would take control of the country. Many of those seeking to relocate included contractors and Afghani citizens and their families that assisted the U.S. military with intelligence and translation support. The plan was to immediately evacuate up to 65,000 individuals and up to approximately 95,000 in sum by the end of 2022. These evacuees were to be temporarily housed at eight U.S. military bases and then be resettled in up to 46 states. At its inception, California and Texas would receive the highest number of evacuees.

Let us return to the Tri-Valley. The Muslim Community Center East Bay (MCCEB) was “born” in 2006 by a small group of Muslims. This initial effort led to ultimately purchasing its home in a large space within the Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton. Today, the structure consists of prayer, conference, and banquet halls along with multiple classrooms. By their own vision statement, they wish to offer spiritual, educational, and charitable services to the community. But this is far from a mission – it is a way of both living and giving. One of the mosque elders told us that one of the programs that MCC has been supporting is an on-going “Pantry” that supplies staple food items, household goods and diapers. In past years, families were welcome to drop in but the COVID pandemic converted some of their services to touchless delivery. At present, the program supports 300 families and over 2,000 individuals. New refugees are systematically assigned to social services to arrange housing and to assist in provide basic home goods. However, the sudden large influx of new arrivals necessitated local groups to supplement these efforts. MCC leadership realized that they had the bandwidth and people power to facilitate this undertaking. In response, they organized and dedicated a monthly bazaar to provide food, clothing, community resources and job support to those that would simply need to register in advance. The result was a dignified and results-oriented effort that commenced in at the end of 2021. The Omicron variant temporarily stalled the January event, but the next bazaar has been scheduled for February 27th – reserved for families that have pre-registered.

Zayan Kajani, a 5th grader and resident of Dublin with the Chromebooks he purchased from his GoFundMe campaign. Photo by: Shazia Kajani

We were introduced to a Dublin-based family that are members of this organization.  Zayan Kajani is a fifth-grade student at the Dorris-Eaton School in San Ramon. His mother, Shazia, invited us to experience a Pantry donation event on a Saturday morning last fall. What we witnessed was simply amazing. The energy and compassion in the building was palpable. Families were able to select new clothing items, children were provided with supervision while playing with their friends and adults received job guidance. Zayan was kind enough to offer his thoughts on his contributions and what the experience has meant to him.

OneDublin.org: Beyond your schooling and personal interests, how has your faith guided you to become a positive community contributor?

Zayan Kajani: “Throughout my entire life I have been taught to always be generous no matter what I have. I know I am very fortunate to live the way I do.  But I have also been taught to know that this privilege comes with responsibility.  I must also help those who are not as lucky as me.  I always try to donate or give as much as possible.  Since birth I have been giving in small portions.  Some of my oldest memories are of my mom and dad giving my sister and I money to drop in a donation box at our mosque or asking us to give people who helped around the house some money on a special occasion. My parents always insisted we give with our own hands.  I even remember every year at school we would join all our classmates during the holidays in giving gifts and letters of appreciation to our teachers and administrative staff, but my mom would always make sure my sister and I would stay afterwards and find the custodian and even track down the ladies who would bring lunch to our school.  Those workers also put in so much to make our lives comfortable but often they were forgotten.

I grew to like giving more than getting. As I have grown older, I have understood that giving is a part of my duties as a good practicing Muslim.   I can help someone by giving them money or things or I can give my time and help. We are even taught that smiling is a form of charity.  Helping anyone regardless of who they are, what they believe, or what they look like. There are so many ways to practice this, and the best part is even my good intentions are rewarded.”

OneDublin.org: Please explain how the ongoing work of the MCCEB – including the Refugee Bazaar has impacted your outlook on the world outside of Dublin.

Kajani: “We often learn about bad things that people do or have done that makes you think that the world is full of bad.  For me I see so many people that work so hard to help people they don’t even know.  They give strangers a chance in life.  This has given me a different view of the world.  I am so inspired.   I feel there is a sense of good in the world. I am always surrounded by people who are well off but seeing people at such low points in their life like the Afghani refugees makes me realize how many people are in tough situations. I know people say there are so many people in need, but it never gets in your head until you see it first-hand.  And to see a refugee smiling even though they have lost it all.  I cannot even imagine how strong they must have to be and how they must feel.

Imagine having to lose everything you owned, leave behind family members, the home you grew up in.  One family told us that when they first left their homes, they were told they could bring a suitcase of belongings.  But when they got to the airport in Kabul, they were told that they would have to downsize to a carryon or backpack because the aircraft couldn’t hold that much weight and then right before they were about to board the plane, they told them that only a Ziploc would be allowed because they wanted to fit in as many people as possible.  When you actually hear stories like this, you begin to see the world differently. That first bazaar really gave me an urge to help and make a difference.”

OneDublin.org: After recognizing the overwhelming value of providing Chromebooks to new arrivals, take us through your thought process on how you were ultimately able to plan, secure and fundraise for 100 devices to distribute. 

Kajani: “Personally, I really like supporting educational projects.  My first big fundraiser took place last year during COVID.  We were going to school online and as a class were complaining about zoom school and my fourth-grade teacher decided to educate us.  She told us how just miles away, in what you could say was our neighborhood, there were actually students who did not even have internet access, school supplies and were even without lunch since their school closed down.

As soon as I heard about this I just couldn’t stop thinking about those kids.  I wanted to help. My teacher connected me to her friend who taught at that school in Antioch.  I wanted to help, and I did. My mom said she would help me too and we made a GoFundMe page and I set a goal to raise $1,000.  I was allowed to email family and friends only. I even followed up with phone calls to share my passion and tell them about this need. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time at the dollar store and other places trying to figure out how I could get the most with my donations.   I got well over my goal and ended up raising over $2,700 and helping 465 students receive basic school supplies. My mom drove me there and I got to meet the principal, the teachers and I actually handed out so many of those bags of supplies with my own hands.  That joy of giving and helping on such a large scale was so great.  It overjoyed me.   From then on, I look wherever I can for ways to help.  This is how I was led to the Chromebooks.

On Saturday mornings I have helped at the food pantry at the Muslim Community Center in Pleasanton.  During COVID, I have seen how the number of families that are in need have grown.  We used to just make 60 packets of food for families but then with COVID those numbers started to go up and then when the Afghani refugees started coming to our area the pantry was helping about 300 families.  Last November, I volunteered to help at the first free bazaar that was being set up for refugees to allow them to get personal belongings like clothing, shoes, blankets, dishes, etc.   I was assigned to the checkout area that day.  At that station, someone would give them new underclothes, socks and blankets and also gift cards for any items they needed but couldn’t find at the bazaar.  We serviced 40 families at that bazaar, but I remember we only had 10 Chromebooks.  Each family that didn’t get a Chromebook was so disappointed.  When I went home that evening, I told my mom that I really wished there were more Chromebooks to give out.  A Chromebook for them meant they could use it to do homework, watch a show, look for a job, and even connect with far away family and friends.  I asked her if she would help me set up another GoFundMe page.  Just like before the first thing that came to mind was to ask my mom for help and both of us masterminded the majority of the planning. First, we made, designed, and I wrote out my story and again emailed it to friends and family.   I wanted to raise enough for 50 Chromebooks for our next monthly bazaar in December.  My mom thought that I was setting too high of a goal and wanted me to stick to a reasonable goal like 10 Chromebooks.  I kept insisting that I wanted to aim for 50.  I convinced my mom to set our goal to $5,000.  We quickly were able to raise over $5,000 but then something I could never have imagined, happened.  I got a very generous match. A family with four sons reached out and matched every dollar I raised.  I was so excited, I couldn’t even sleep.  All along I just knew I would be able to meet the goal, but it was a lot of work on my part even after I had raised the funds.  I spent most of my holidays looking through Black Friday sales and sale ads to get the best deals on Chromebooks.  We spent a lot of time purchasing many Chromebooks.  Many of the good deals would limit only two per purchase.  However, everyone in the community was so supportive and proud of me.  The organizers at MCC had me personally hand out the Chromebooks to each family at our December bazaar.  Each family received a Chromebook then and it was all worth it at the end.”

OneDublin.org:  A February Bazaar will occur at the end of this month. Kindly explain how the community may best contribute to this worthy effort. Precisely, what are the items that would provide the greatest benefit?

Kajani: “The best way to help is to give…anything.   As I say to anyone donating to my campaign, “Give whatever you can, it doesn’t matter if it is big or small.”  The service or item you are providing is miniscule compared to the thought of trying to help somebody in need. Our January bazaar was canceled due to Omicron, but our next Bazaar is on Sunday, February 27th.  We are expecting 60 refugee families that day. Each family is referred to MCC from a relief organization and invited to the bazaar. Volunteers drive them to us that day as many of them don’t have cars.  We considered using public transportation but realized it would be so difficult for them to carry all those bags on BART or a bus. I am going to be handing out Chromebooks that day as well.  I think I should have just enough. Even with such generous donations and success there is still more need.  We have to limit it one Chromebook per family even if it is a family of eight.  If you feel you would like to donate here is a list of 10 items that are always in need. Please mail or drop off any of the items below to MCC East Bay in Pleasanton, CA.  Ideally, if you are able to bring it to MCC by Saturday Feb 26th, that would be great. But even if you are not able to make it in time, we can use any of these items [see list below] in our ongoing monthly bazaars.”

Suggested donation items (any items will be welcome):

  • Chromebooks – new
  • Toys -new
  • Car Seats – new
  • Booster Chairs – new
  • Strollers – new
  • Bags of Rice – new and unopened
  • Dishes/Mugs -new only
  • Cooking sets – pots and pans – new only
  • Blankets -new
  • Bicycles – new or gently used

So, herein is an opportunity for kindness or grace. We would like to thank the Kajani family for providing an opportunity to experience this benevolent environment. As a fifth-grader, Zayan provided the voice for an entire movement that is happening within our own community. OneDublin.org followers are invited to improve the lives of our new neighbors by contributing to the cause. The next donation event will occur on Saturday, February 26th from 9:00AM – 1:00PM. The MCC (https://mcceastbay.org/) is located at 5724 West Las Positas Blvd., #300 – Pleasanton, CA.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: