It began with a simple Facebook event.
Little did Umar Agha, CC ’11, know that he would ultimately raise over $150,000 and 100 tons of food for rural victims of the floods that ravaged Pakistan this summer.
Two months ago, Agha, who checks his Facebook perhaps once a week, was interning for the Rural Support Programmes Network—a Pakistani non-governmental organization—and learning about how people who had been internally displaced by the war on terror were resettling into their former communities.
“After I heard the floods had destroyed a village I had visited [earlier in the summer], I started to picture how all of the smiling kids I had met, so glad to be home after all of those years as IDPs [internally displaced persons], had died or been displaced all over again,” Agha said.
His conscience, he said, would not allow him to ignore their plight.
Agha created a Facebook event—the first he ever made—inviting friends and family to participate in a donation drive for RSPN, before many Pakistanis even understood the magnitude of the damage.
Over three days, activity on the event’s wall increased dramatically. By the third day, hundreds of people were exchanging information and inquiring about ways to help, he said.
Though Agha still won’t accept his mother’s friend request, she wrote on the event’s wall to ask where to make out checks. Strangers wanted to know where to send mattresses and bags of rice.
Others wanted to promote their own events and share articles.
“I had no idea it would take off like this,” Agha said. “It just became a sort of hub for people.”
Soon, Agha was spending days and nights coordinating “family packs” of food and medical supplies to sustain families of six for two weeks. He sent the packs to communities in the most rural parts of Pakistan—villages where people don’t know what Facebook is and have never received aid from the Red Cross or World Health Organization.
One of Agha’s closest friends, Taimur Malik, CC ’11, helped him pack shipments of supplies into eight-ton trucks in 115-degree weather.
“His front lawn looked like a relief camp. It was overflowing with bags and crates of goods,” Malik said, adding that Agha is truly an unsung hero. “I saw Umar working on this around the clock with a 102-degree fever.”
Agha even helped deliver goods to a village once, but said he felt haunted by the magnitude of the disaster.
“Everything I did just feels like a drop in the ocean,” he said. “I’d spend all day packing a truck [of goods] for 300 families and then read that 17 million people were affected and in need.”
Agha said he was able to raise and coordinate so much by following what may seem like an unconventional form of philanthropy—the coordination of social media.
“There’s sort of this romanticized version of doing charity where you go into the field and put up cool Facebook pictures of yourself playing with little kids ... but I was able to get so much more done and help so many more people just by staying at home and reaching out to potential donors,” he said.