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Asian Express March 2009 –

1st Edition (By Nicola Tibbakks)

FAMILY MAN’S CHARITY

IMPROVES LIVES IN CHAKSWARI

LOCAL HERO

In 2006, local businessman Mohammed Haroon set up a
charity to help people in Chakswari region of Pakistan. Mohammed’s ties with the area began when he was born in Mirpur in 1947, 20 years before the historic town was submerged when the Mangla Dam was constructed across the Jhelum River. More than 110,000 citizens were displaced from the area as a result of the dam – some of these were given work permits for Britain by the Government of Pakistan.

When he was 22, Mohammed moved to Birmingham and studied for a postgraduate
diploma in accountancy at Aston University. He then moved to Bradford and then
to Leeds around 15 years ago – the home of his in-laws and the city where his
grandfather and father first settled when they moved to the UK. In 1972, he
returned to Mirpur and it was an incident that occurred on his visit that
encouraged him to set up his charity. Mohammed said: “I saw a local man from
where I lived, a tailor, out side a doctor’s surgery in Mirpur holding his baby
son, who was around one year old. I asked him what was wrong and he told me his
son was sick and he couldn’t afford the doctor’s fees or the prescription. He
said the doctor told him ‘go home’ your son may be okay or he may not. Just
look after him at home. He knew I was a student and had moved to the UK. He
asked me to look at his son so I checked his pulse and said ‘he will be fine’.
I was worried then and didn’t want to give false hope so I went in to see the
doctor.” The doctor told him the baby was dehydrated and needed a drip and
air-conditioned room. Mohammed paid the fees and prescription and then took the
man and his baby to the hotel next door.

“We gave the baby the medicine he needed and the next day he was fine.”
Mohammed added, “That was the catalyst for setting up Uspar.” After returning
to the UK, Mohammed worked in accountancy, but the thought of setting up a
charity was always at the back of his mind. Four years ago, he studied for a
degree in law at Leeds Metropolitan University and worked as a taxi driver to
fund the course. “When I studied accountancy, I was very interested in law,”
Mohammed said. “When I decided that I was definitely going to set up a charity,
I wanted some legal knowledge to help me.” Mohammed set up Uspar in 2006 with
his wife and in this short space of time they have made a world of difference
to schools in Chakswari.

The charity has raised funds to provide the boys’ high school with 200
examination chairs which means local students no longer need to travel 30 miles
to sit exams. Four new toilets have been provided as well as equipment for the
physics laboratory. At Chakswari Girls’ College, classrooms have been repaired
and new one built. One of Mohammed’s proudest achievements was setting up a
sports week at the boy’s college – the first for 17 years. Equipment was
provided and activities included football and badminton.

The father of four said although other charities are helping in the area,
Uspar’s main aim is to improve the current facilities. “Many other charities
like building new facilities like hospitals. There is already a hospital in the
area, which just needs some improvement. We want to improve the existing
institutions.” Mohammed said future projects for Uspar include a school bus
service as 70 per cent of teachers live 30 miles away in Mirpur and setting up
an adequate water supply for the Rural Health Centre, but these are dependent
on sufficient funds being raised.

He said: “we have applied for grants and have collection boxes throughout Leeds
and Bradford. We also held a charity dinner but that didn’t go too well as most
people just wanted the food, not to donate to a good cause.”

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