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Sunday, February 20, 2005

FROM THE PULPIT - Donating Blood

By Fareena Alam

When I was growing up, my mother had several uncompromising rules - have a glass of milk with a banana twice a day, oil your hair every week (something I never really got used to) and believe it or not, donate blood regularly. You see, Mom was often entrusted with the guardianship of patients, and their troubled families, many of whom would travel from impoverished parts of Bangladesh to seek treatment in the world renowned hospitals of our then home-city, Singapore.
Im Bengali and that usually means that through some genetic miracle, I am related to every other Bengali on this planet. However remote this relation is, I assure you my people always find a connection. As a result, foreign patients and their families often found themselves being delivered home-cooked deshi food by my mother, to be eaten at bedside. On occasion, my parents would invite visiting families to stay at our home, helping them to save on exorbitant hotel bills. I have vivid memories of being compelled to share my own bedroom with an elderly dialysis patient whose health necessitated that my bedroom be turned into a mini dialysis centre.
Looking after the welfare of people my mother had taken under her wing was difficult because for the longest time, it was her mission, not mine. I was just a kid who wanted to be left alone. I didnt want to take the bus to the hospital with bags of food. I didnt want to smell like a twice-daily-dettol-sanitised kidney centre. I didnt want to get up at seven am everyday to help my mother prepare breakfast for all these people. Blood donation, changed the way I felt about all of the above.
I gave blood for the first time in my late teens. A Bangladeshi father had flown in with his dying child who had a rare blood disease. On his last pennies, the father couldnt afford to pay for a bag of blood, which due to the incredible national shortage cost about £25. The only way to help him was for donors to donate blood at the hospital and then signed a form bequeathing the gift to that particular patient. My mother, who was described as Singapores Florence Nightingale in an essay written by a patient who has since passed away, got the whole family, and all our friends trooping off to the blood donation centre, hoping to save the life of this little boy. Alhamdulillah, he lived.
Somewhere along the line, as I began to learn more about my faith and the example set by the Prophet, peace be upon him, and my priorities became clearer. I realised, those years working under my mothers command were priceless. The dogged determination and imagination with which she made others care about those in need had, what I now see as an immensely spiritual dimension. I have no doubt that all the big and small blessings I enjoy can be attributed to Allahs reward for the good deeds of my parents.
I have rarely had to donate for a specific patient, so I donate for the general blood bank now. The needle scars on my arms are something I have always been proud of. Not only is blood always in short supply, the process is proven to be medically beneficial for the donor because it encourages your body to gear up and produce new, fresh blood.
I recently met an imam from Cameroon. In 1990, both his mother and aunt died because they didnt receive blood transfusions in time - no one would give blood except to members of their own family. Since then he has been on a mission. He set up the first voluntary blood register in Cameroon, establishing offices across the country. He organises for the blood to be tested regularly for HIV and pays for students to be taken by bus, in journeys taking up to four hours, to give blood at regional hospitals. He has been working with people of all faiths to expand the blood register so that anyone who needs blood will have safe donors. He is now raising funds to build Cameroons first independent blood centre. We will be carrying his amazing story in Q-News in the New Year. But, he told me with great sadness that the least amount of help and support for his project has come from Muslims - they are the worst at coming forward to donate blood.
In the United Kingdom, the National Blood Service has recently launched a campaign aimed at ethnic and religious minorities. Whilst only 6% of the eligible population in the UK currently gives blood the vast majority of these volunteer blood donors are white. With Ramadan behind us and the blessed time of Hajj on its way, Muslims know something about giving. Our Prophet, peace be upon him, was the most generous of people and our faith is based on being merciful to others. This year, resolve to do something amazing and save the life of another by giving blood. The National Blood Service has blood donation centres in every part of the country. Visit them at www.blood.co.uk where you can easily find the clinic nearest to you or call 0845 7 711 711. In this time of giving, there is no better gift.



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