Uplifting society through development and partnerships
“It is difficult to imagine that today, in 21st century South Africa, there are schools that have to function without electricity,” says Dr Mahmoud Youssef Baker, director of Albaraka Bank and chairperson of the Iqraa Trust, a Durban-based nongovernmental organisation (NGO).
“Saphumula Senior Secondary School, which is located in Umbumbulu, in rural KwaZulu-Natal, is one such school. Since its establishment the school, which serves more than 800 learners, has not had any electricity.”
However, this changed last September, with the introduction of a hybrid system at the school, designed and implemented by the Technology Innovation Agency and the KZN Industrial Energy Efficient Training and Resource Centre, based at the Durban University of Technology.
This pioneering project — which uses solar and wind power to generate electricity, providing power to light up the classrooms, as well as the computers and other teaching equipment — cost R320 000 to design and implement. The funding was provided by Iqraa Trust and Albaraka Bank.
The background to the formation of Iqraa Trust is an interesting one: Islam, which aims to establish an economic system free of exploitation, prohibits its adherents from charging interest on loans; rather, the system is based on partnership.
Iqraa Trust acts as the charitable arm of Albaraka Bank and gets its financial resources from its own investments and from Albaraka.
The trust’s modus operandi is unusual, in that it is largely focused on building the capacity of organisations to implement projects that achieve its objectives, as opposed to merely implementing projects itself. “This includes the establishment of partnerships with other humanitarian organisations,” says Baker.
“Over the years, Iqraa Trust has financially supported more than 700 humanitarian organisations, providing programmes and projects designed to alleviate the effects of poverty, unemployment, HIV, crime and many other social problems.”
Education is one of the key areas Iqraa focuses on and nearly 2 500 students have benefited from an interest-free study loan programme. Science laboratories have been donated to rural and disadvantaged schools and computer centres have been established in several others.
“In my opinion, education is the hope of this country,” said Baker. “It will open wide horizons to people here. Once they are educated or have skills they’ll be able to help themselves. Our slogan is ‘helping people to help themselves’— in other words, we are trying to give people a positive future rather than money to do so. You need to ensure they have access to education and skills so that they can deal with poverty and unemployment themselves.”
When Iqraa Trust noted that results in science among black learners were poor because many schools in the disadvantaged and rural areas lacked a basic science laboratory, it set aside a sum of R500 000 to purchase and donate 84 “mini labs” to rural and disadvantaged schools. “The ‘mini-lab’ is portable and contains the necessary equipment to cover the main areas of general science,” says Baker.
“They are suitable for use by learners from grade seven to grade 12.” Science teachers are given a three-day intensive training course to learn how to use the mini-labs. The department of education supplies the consumable stock to run the labs.
Baker also deems access to computer laboratories as being crucial to acquiring a solid education. To this end, the trust has funded the construction of computer centres at 13 under-resourced schools. “Computer centres enable learners to gain an understanding of information technology, using the internet and networking,” says Baker. “They empower learners with computer skills and also help sustain their interest in information technology as they progress to higher levels of education. We are aiming to meet the aspirations of young men and women who are keen to enter the technology age.”
Many South African youths cannot afford tertiary education. In order to facilitate them doing so, in 1999, Iqraa Trust introduced a study loan scheme and a scholarship programme for qualifying students intending to pursue studies at universities and technical colleges. “Students are given the opportunity to study at a tertiary level by being provided with interest-free study loans and scholarships by Iqraa Trust,” says Baker. “Repayment on the student loans is on an interest-free basis. Since is inception more than 2 500 students have been assisted for the duration of their studies by way of these programmes.”
Iqraa Trust has also entered into a partnership with the eThekwini Municipality to launch an Educational Support Programme which provides assistance to poor students who require financial assistance for tertiary studies. The programme is also aimed at assisting students wanting to acquire skills in the technical and vocational fields. Over a three-year period, the trust has allocated R1.2-million towards this programme.
The programme is unique in that it addresses the needs of the students on a holistic basis, providing funding for their studies while simultaneously providing for their other needs such as shelter, food and clothing.
While education is undeniably one of Iqraa Trust’s main focuses, the organisation is also involved in various other forms of socioeconomic development, including health. For example, in 2007 it provided R600 000 for the establishment of KZN’s first community renal dialysis centre, in partnership with the Islamic Medical Association and Nu Shifa Hospital.
“The centre provides much-needed relief for renal dialysis patients who cannot access treatment from state facilities and who cannot afford private treatment,” says Baker. “Iqraa Trust donates R300 000 on a yearly basis towards the operational costs of the centre.”
Durban and Coastal Mental Health has also benefitted from a grant of R300 000 for the establishment of a daycare centre in a township called Mpumalanga, where severely mentally handicapped children will receive special care and stimulation in an environment conducive to their needs.
Iqraa also donated R100 000 towards the upgrading and repair of Natal Settlers Memorial Home, which caters for the physically and mentally challenged, the very frail, individuals suffering from cerebral palsy as well as the destitute. Iqraa Trust’s grant was used towards upgrading the home’s laundry facility.
Partnership is very much part of the trust’s ethos. “Alone we can do something, but we can do much more and more effectively through dedicated partnerships with other organisations,” says Baker.