LOCAL PROFILE: Saba Malik

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King & Saba Malik

Saba Malik moved to Erdington some two years ago with her husband Adeel Bajwa and three children. In normal circumstances she would be working as a secondary school science teacher. During lockdown, she took to volunteering to help the vulnerable in our community.

Saba is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith – a movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, formed officially in Punjab in 1889 – and does community work through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association (AMWA) in Erdington. Ahmadiyya Muslims are a unique and worldwide religious movement outside of the more well-known Sunni or Shia faiths, with 144 ‘branches’ across the UK alone.

Initially, the AMWA didn’t cope well with the monotony of lockdown: “they are used to having about 20 people over every weekend,” says Saba. Better at cooking potatoes rather than being couch potatoes, Saba galvanized the team of about 25 women into cooking up hot meals for vulnerable people around Birmingham, but especially in the Erdington Community. “Why not?”, explains Saba, “this is using skills, resources, something they can do, so we got in contact with those ladies and they’re more than happy – we got a bit of a rota going now.”

The AMWA joined up with Birmingham Community Solidarity group, which was set up very quickly in response to the announcement of lockdown on March 23rd – the group acts as sign posting for people with free time wanting to help those in need, with Saba becoming a key part in their delivery work in North Birmingham.

Always humble, she notes that “there’s amazing charities out there and organisations. We have a really good COVID-19 response as well in Erdington with the food deliveries.”

Helping those in need is a family affair for the Malik-Bajwas. Saba has created more than 50 protective masks at home using her sewing machine, and explains how her son, Yousuf, “wanted to learn to sow after he saw me on the machine for two days – and I thought, ‘good these are the things you learn!… I’m grateful we can share this with our children.”

But the Malik-Bajwa’s family approach didn’t stop there. “The littlest one has got a fan base of her own,” explains Saba – referring to Ayla, her youngest daughter, who has been writing letters and creating artwork for those people receiving regular food packages.

She can’t write completely! When I give deliveries, she comes with me. She just makes cards. She’ll write ‘I love you’ to whoever it is, and draw a picture, she puts it in an envelope, goes into the study, finds an envelope herself and decorates it.”

These simple acts of kindness can go a long way. As a proud mother, Saba recounts that “there are some who are completely on their own and they’re isolating, and it really makes their day. It breaks my heart when they tell me that they stare at her cards all day and it makes them feel happy, or they’ve got them on their fridge. If it makes them feel happy it’s good. I tell her ‘it’s so nice that you’re sharing your talent. It’s the cycle of wellbeing.”

But whilst volunteering efforts can be noble, they aren’t always appreciated. Not at first, anyway, as Saba recalls a situation where one of the women she met became suspicious of her appearance – noticeably the headscarf she was wearing at the time.

You know you are right,” explains Saba, “because one of the women I met first…. she spoke to me after and said ‘when you turned up… I don’t wanna be offensive, I don’t wanna get anything wrong. But you had this a scarf on your head, you had this mask on your face… and I just thought, who is this person who’s come to me’?”

Headscarf,” Saba laughed, politely correcting the mistake. And after talking some more, the woman admitted: “I never felt like I’ve ever discriminated, but without realising that’s what I felt when I saw you… she felt bad about it after, and we’re really good friends now. But that’s how you break down barriers sometimes, and it works both ways.”

But it’s not all about the hearts and minds when it comes to community action, someone has to do the paperwork – and admin queen Saba Malik keeps a keen record of all that the ladies group do. To date the Birmingham North branch of Ahmadiyya Muslims have distributed 200 meals, delivered 340 PPE masks, and are in constant contact with families across the constituency: “who have been 100% supported through donations and cooked food.”  

Now the lockdown pressures easing, Saba reflects on her time over the past couple of months. “It’s been long weeks of lockdown. I don’t want to open my diary,” she jokes. Always comparing her family to those less fortunate, Saba continues, “we’re just incredibly grateful it’s not been as challenging for us.”

Volunteer efforts, like Saba’s and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, have been integral to helping people cope during the coronavirus pandemic – with faith and community groups working together to help their friends and neighbours. This phenomenal show of strength and community action has alleviated the anguish of lockdown for thousands across Erdington, much of which is unseen and unreported.

But the message that runs though many of the groups who are out there serving the community, is inclusivity – regardless of faith, age, status, or standing, now is the time to help. And as the web address and strap line for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association declares, ‘Love for all, hatred for none.’

Words Saba Malik underlines, clearly and confidently, when asked about the people her group want to reach out to and help: “…any religion, it’s irrelevant.”

To find out more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, visit www.loveforallhatredfornone.org/

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NEWS: India Garden Restaurant gifts food parcels to over 60’s across Erdington

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

India Garden is a restaurant that prides itself on serving classic Indian dishes, specialties, and desserts.

Located at 992 Tyburn Road, India Garden Restaurant has been involved in catering for over 35 years – suppling large Council venues and supermarket chains, as well as operating their popular Erdington based restaurant.

But as the scare of COVID-19 was first hitting the country, the family run business began helping neighbours who were struggling to buy goods from supermarkets – using their own stock, alongside established links with their suppliers.

Now India Garden are delivering free food parcels to over 60’s in Erdington – packed with essential goods including hand sanitizer and loo rolls, as well as a hot meal from their own kitchens.

We’ve been here (in Erdington) for a long time and it’s the locals that have supported the business,” tells Shaan Deen, India Garden’s Operations Manager, “and we thought we’ve got to do something.

So, we thought, 60 plus, anybody, free of charge… we’re just going to give them food parcels with essential items – a hot meal, curry, rice, bread, and then all the hand sanitizers, loo rolls, baked beans… and whatever else we can. So that’s what we did.”

India Garden began telling existing customers about their ‘coronavirus campaign’ over the phone, but news of their good will soon gained a lot of attention on social media.

We threw it onto Facebook and it just blew up from there,” continues Shaan, “people started tagging, and we started getting lots of enquires. Genuinely they wanted to donate; I can give ₤100, I can give ₤50. And we said we don’t want your money, but we need the manpower – if you can come and help us deliver, then give us a shout.”

India Garden now have 72 volunteers helping them deliver care packages to around 211 people, with teams going out five days a week.

It wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers, from the local area,” continues Shaan. “People were saying ‘we only live up the road – we live in Castle Vale; we live on Paget Road…. And before we knew it, we’d gathered a lot of volunteers. I want to highlight that; the volunteers play a big part. They’re good people.”

The restaurant have also launched their ‘Tag a Hero’ campaign, encouraging social media followers to tag NHS workers – winning frontline staff a free, sumptuous, Indian meal, delivered to their door.

To find out more about India Garden Restaurant, who are still open for takeaway orders, visit www.indiagardenrestaurant.co.uk

Or visit the India Garden Facebook page, where you can ‘tag a hero’ and help NHS frontline workers win a free meal www.facebook.com/IndiaGardenBirmingham

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