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Diary of a humanitarian: The Beautiful Sacrifice

In this Unscripted Special we hear the story of the descendants of a noble people who offered asylum to the companions of the Prophet (SAW)!

A message out of nowhere

Ping. In the clear night the phone is always loud.

In my experience it could be anything. At this time of year, it’s often someone enquiring how to calculate Zakat, to pay it during Ramadan. But when it’s this late, it could just as well be a report of a disaster or emergency affecting the people we support, or their fragile ecosystem. I hold my breath until I’ve checked it.

The message is in the form of a muffled, crackly voice note, sent from the other side of the world by a person who sounds like they enjoy normal human communication better than the quirks of technology. I don’t mind, and don’t look at the time on the clock. I’m available to talk about the forgotten Eritrean refugees at any time of the day or night, as are my entire team. This is our life, and we dedicate and re-dedicate ourselves to it daily.

On this day, it was something different, and altogether more powerful. This story is nourishment for all of us who worry and care about others in need, and work for the good of humanity.

A precious connection

Support for the forgotten Eritrean refugees comes in many forms. In my work I see both sides of the humanitarian crisis – on the one hand, I see people suffering in terrible conditions; on the other hand, I also see people eager to help in any way they can.

The message I received was from a woman who had lost her mother two years earlier. The crackly voice note was only a few seconds long, but it was enough to move me to tears. I have sought her permission to share what she said.

Along with the note was a picture of a pair of old gold rings. They had belonged to the woman’s late mother, and the earliest memory she had of them exceeded 40 years. As an Eritrean refugee now living in Saudi Arabia, the rings represented a precious connection with a long-distant heritage. The woman who sent the message is not wealthy, and in fact the two pieces of jewellery were the only thing of real value her household possessed.

The woman had kept the rings safe all these years for the sentimental connection they had with her mother, and to pass down to her own daughter as a gift and a family heirloom. This treasure was more than gold: it was a treasure of memories, emotions and feelings experienced by a family of migrant refugees finding their feet in a new land.

The real value

The rings represented a potential source of income for the family in future, especially in the current uncertain circumstances of the Covid-19 coronavirus, and the delicate status of migrant communities living in host countries.

But then the woman had a thought. If she was potentially willing to sacrifice the rings for an urgent need, then why not do just that? What about her forgotten Eritrean sisters and brothers still trapped in refugee camps across the sea? Was their need not urgent?

In a very simple and frank manner, the woman told me that her mother’s rings no longer existed. They had been melted down and sold on for the value of their gold. The woman had sent them to her daughter in Sudan with the message: Sell these and give the money to Ethar Relief, and pray for the ones who wore these rings.

Simple sacrifice

The woman’s voice note was not to seek approval or praise – it was just to tell me that the action had been done, and the money was being delivered. Her voice then becomes happy and content in her message to me. The rings which have brought her joy and good memories will now go on to benefit those who need urgent help.

This is the test of love. The love for what is really beautiful, and lasts forever. She loved another’s need more than the most precious thing in her possession.

I was lost for words for a long time after receiving that message. I pray that we learn something from this woman’s beautiful example and reflect it in our actions. The few days that have passed since then have been easy and light for my team and I. How could it not be, when such inspiration and motivation is sent to you through the air?

Please help others. Please remember the forgotten.

To contribute, pay Zakat, or to find out more visit Ethar Relief or call +44 121 309 0230.


About Sultan Omar

Sultan Omar is the Founder and CEO of Ethar Relief, a UK-registered charity established to help refugees, displaced and disadvantaged people in the Horn of Africa. He is a former refugee from Eritrea, liberated from a refugee camp in East Sudan.

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