Despite COVID-19 pausing many student organization activities, Paani, a nonprofit that focuses on providing sustainable clean water systems and medical supplies in Pakistan, has raised over $250,000 for COVID-19 relief efforts and building wells for regions in Pakistan.
In response to COVID-19, Paani created a fundraiser in the month of Ramadan with a starter goal of $100,000 to support vulnerable communities in Pakistan through providing food and water through wells.
LSA sophomore Shayaan Aqil, creative director for Paani, explained the purpose of the fundraiser.
“It was important for us to do whatever we could for disadvantaged families in Pakistan during the COVID-19 crisis, so our fundraising consisted of 50 percent going towards wells,” Aqil said. “The other 50 percent went toward COVID-19 relief, so through that, we distributed it to food packs and medical equipment.”
Exceeding their goal, Paani was able to raise more than $250,000 through reaching out to individual donors, local businesses and social media influencers. The money they raised was able to send over one million meals and helped build 500 more wells in Pakistan. With the help of World Medical Relief Inc. in Southfield, the nonprofit was also able to donate over $500,000 worth of medical supplies for the Pakistan Liver and Kidney Institute.
LSA senior Taha Syed, director of operations for Paani, described how he felt when his organization raised that much money.
“It was honestly a surprise,” Syed said. “We’re very, very happy that in a troubling time for everyone, we were really able to build a community that helped give back to the most vulnerable.”
LSA junior Sukaina Himmati, a member of the Paani leadership team, said one main challenge they had with the fundraiser was coordinating with one another.
“I don’t think we had challenges other than making sure everyone was on the same page,” Himmati said. “It was just a matter of making sure everyone was updated on what was going on.”
One major well project the nonprofit is currently working on is a solar-energy reverse osmosis water plant that is being built in a village outside of Multan, Pakistan. The goal of this project is to filter the water that has been contaminated with high levels of arsenic and replace it with clean and drinkable water.
Syed explained how the reverse osmosis water plant can benefit the people living in the village.
“It’s going to help about 8,000 people in that village get access to clean water, many of whom live in a very poor lifestyle, so hopefully, this helps to better the situation (and) it allows them to grow better crops and saves them from getting terrible diseases,” Syed said.
Paani also partnered up with the Muslim Student Association to fundraise more than $2,000 for Eid clothing and shoes in rural Sindh in Pakistan.
LSA senior Areesha Shahab, director of outreach of Paani, explained the importance of the Eid fundraiser.
“It was a really memorable experience for everyone — the Muslim Student Association and Paani — because it’s very hard to go about your day-to-day life knowing that there are people across the country, in this country, as well as other places around the world, that want to be able to celebrate Ramadan and want to be able to celebrate Eid,” Shahab said. “They just don’t have the resources or any of the ways to go about getting the funds for new clothes or food or daily things that we take for granted.”
With the success of fundraising over $250,000, many members of Paani expressed their excitement about what the nonprofit can do in the future to help Pakistan.
University alum, Arhum Arshad, one of the co-founders of Paani, retold the story of how the nonprofit started in 2017.
“It’s a pretty funny story, we were sitting in The Union,” Arshad said. “It was five of us, and we were talking about … you know how when people say when you’re older, you’re going to give back to your community? We were like ‘Okay, why don’t we just do it right now?’ We go to one of the top universities, and all five of us are Pakistani-Americans, and a big thing that Pakistan deals with is the water crisis.”
Shahab said she wants to use her passion for education to spread awareness of Paani’s mission, not only across campus, but outside the University community as well.
“I’m very passionate about educating people more and more because I feel like there’s not really a limit to how much you can make people aware of these issues regarding sanitation and water crises on campus,” Shahab said. “I feel like there are multiple people on campus or even outside of campus, who just don’t know what’s going on in Pakistan, and I just want to keep spreading that mission.”
As co-founder, Arshad spoke of what he and his board members envisioned for Paani when they started the nonprofit.
“We wanted to become self-reliant,” Arshad said. “Now we can focus on other projects that we’re more passionate about. We’re looking into building schools, working with orphans … that’s what we envisioned, that any project we want to execute in Pakistan, we can do it.”
With Paani’s mission in mind, Syed emphasized why so many members are passionate about and resonate with the purpose of Paani.
“For us, many of the people that are part of Paani are the children of immigrants who came from Pakistan … and we still have that attachment to our homeland,” Syed said. “We have these resources, we go to good schools, and we have to use our platform and our position to help elevate our people back home that have nothing, and so for us, it’s meaningful in that sense, giving back to where you came from, never forgetting your roots and fighting for the most vulnerable populations.”
Daily Staff Reporter Ann Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been edited to correct the number of wells PAANI was able to fund.