When Fatima (not her real name) heard her name being announced on Radio Islam that she had been offered a full Islamic Zakaat Fund scholarship to study at the International University of Africa in Sudan, she was so much overjoyed that she offered two rakaat prayer, expressing her gratitude to Allah for the offer.
She thought of her setting her foot on the plane, a chance of meeting new people, new culture, learning a new language and above all, walking through the corridors of the university in a foreign country – a feat never achieved by anybody in her whole lineage. The two months waiting period looked like eternity.
Her parents kept on bragging about their child’s success to every ear that dared to turn their side.
Fast track the period to fifteen months later, Fatima is short of regretting (at least she is able to learn in a very good environment). The bitter pill that was living in Sudan is now hard to swallow.
The cost of living in Sudan has taken its toll.
Similarly, Ismail (not his real name) has no kind words to the authorities that be. He wonders whether the untold miserly that he is going through in this foreign country is the ultimate sacrifice that he has to make in life.
“Call it a curse,” he remarks.
But why can’t the parents and relatives who made much noise in the community on the scholarship come to their children’s rescue?
Studying in Sudan
The Islamic Zakaat Fund is a Muslim Non-Governmental Organisation that among other things offers full scholarships to needy students in Malawi to study at various international universities. Currently, there are about 300 students benefiting from this program in Uganda, Zanzibar and Sudan. There are 118 students in Sudan alone.
To sponsor a student in Sudan IZF spends about 208,310 Sudanese Pounds per year for each student. The money caters for registration, medical, stationery, books, pocket money and school trips expenses.
During the random interviews conducted by the Malawi Muslims Website with the students who are currently studying in Sudan, the major problem is that the monthly stipend given to them is far way too low compared to the high cost of living in Sudan. Each student is given 100 Sudanese Pounds (about 18 US Dollars = MK 3,000), which is collected from Munazzamat Dawa al Islamia Headquarters in Sudan. In 2010, 100 Pounds was equivalent to 30 US Dollars. The cost of living has skyrocketted.
According to the students, the money is not enough to meet their immediate needs in a foreign country. A tablet of soap costs about 10 Sudanese Pounds and in a country where temperatures ranges between 50 to 60 degrees celcius, they need to take a bath at least 3 or 4 times a day. Now talk of other life necessities; life becomes unbearable.
Malawi Muslims Website estimates that each student would require not less than 400 Sudanese Pounds to meet their immediate needs per month and the 100 Pounds is a indeed not adequate.
They all look out to IZF to increase their allowances to make life and their studies bearable and ironically they leave out their parents and relatives in the equation.
Reaction from IZF
Muhammad Kumbombwe is the Administrator at the Islamic Zakaat Fund. According to Kumbomwe, IZF understands the circumstances in which the students in Sudan are in that’s why when they received such querries in 2010, the IZF Director Muhammad Osman travelled all the way to the school to discuss with the students. That meeting, despite the IZF’s budgetary constraints, resolved to allocate separate funding for all other expenses that is paid every semester, except for 100 Sudanes Pouds pocket money which is given to the students on the monthly basis.
“People should understand that we rely on Zakaat contributions from the community and if such contributions are not forthcoming, it is difficult to commit anything new to the students. So we spend according to our budget,” explained Kumbombwe.
“As I am talking to you now,” added Kumbombwe, “the IZF Director is right there in Sudan and is planning to meet the Student Union’s leadership on the same matter. And yes, we do admit that their monthly stipend might not be enough…”
But what is the role of parents and relatives in this whole set up?
Can’t parents come in and suppliment what IZF is doing towards their children’s education, which in any way will benefit them in future?
Why do they abandon their IZF sponsored students like in the case of those who are in Sudan?
During the investigation, Malawi Muslims Website observed that most of the children who are awarded these scholarships come from very poor backgrounds and they only rely on IZF for their children’s education.
And when put across a question on what could be the parents’ obligation towards their education, one of the students remarked:
“In my opinion, I think our parents could have a moral obligation to suplement IZF’ efforts towards our studies only if the IZF told us before we came here… IZF told us they’re going to pay (for all our expenses and) that promise has to be fulfilled because we relied upon it.”
Asked why the students do not reason with their parents to appreciate IZF’s efforts and contribute towards their children’s allowances considering IZF’s limited resources, another student responded that it will be difficult to do so because they come from poor families and they automatically know that the parents cannot raise any money:
“I can’t say anything home because they’ll automatically do nothing, and instead we will add some pain and sorrow into their hearts. Tears will never stop falling from their eyes. So to avoid that, we just maintain silence. If we find some airtime credit and call them, we say everything is fine.
“For some who come from better families, they reasoned with their parents (and are sending it) monthly, which only assist (the particular boy or girl).”
Indeed, some of the parents who were interviewed by Malawi Muslims Website whose children are studying in Sudan expressed ignorance of hearing about such problems, insisting that all is well as far as their children’s stay in Sudan is concerned.
Can’t members of the indegenous Islamic community in Malawi despite being vocal against the operations of IZF, contribute towards these children’s education?
Kumbombwe has an experience to tell:
“You could see very well to-do and respected people within the indegenous community coming to IZF and you would hope that they are coming to pay zakaat, but nay, all they do is to try to bulldoze their way through so that their children should be awared IZF scholarships through the back door.”
Asked if his office communicate to parents on the need to offer added financial support to the students, Kumbombwe admitted that his office only deals with the children who are told to brief their parents.
“Other parents (do easily understand), they come here and enquire on how they can send pocket money to their children in Sudan and we do assist them accordingly.” added Kumbomwe.
It is however possible that due to over-excitement, some students never relay such critical information to their parents.
Unless IZF invites the parents and explain the funding hiccups that the organisation faces with them, it will be difficult under the circumstances to convince other parents to support their cause. IZF is therefore morally obliged to meet the immediate needs of the students in Sudan although that does not exonerate the parents’ obligation towards their children’s education.
A million Dollar Question?
Are you one of the beneficiaries of the IZF school sponsorship?
What are you currently doing to help the organisation?