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By: Pamela Dimitrova/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Just recently CNN revealed the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2019 – these are men and women that are changing the world by helping families affected by the tragedy, cleaning up the environment, protecting neglected animals, and so much more. They were nominated by CNN to receive a ten thousand dollar cash prize with the Hero of the Year to receive one hundred thousand dollars. One of the nominees is Najah Bazzy, an Arab-American who changed the lives of thousands of women and children in the Detroit Metropolitan Area.
Najah learned to navigate through attitudes and beliefs that were conflicting very early in life. Born in a neighborhood that was predominantly Arab and Muslim – Dearborn, Michigan – she refers to herself as ‘a new thing‘ – a by-product of a merger between being Arab, American, and Muslim all at once. She believes these are not mutually exclusive identities, even in a post 9/11 America.
They are, which is now having the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States, back then was a hub of immigrants. In an interview, Najah says: “It was the people from Poland, Italy, Macedonia, Mexico, and others that we learned about their traditions and their different faiths. That’s why I love diversity so much. Neighbors sat on the front porch and they shared food while their children would go from house to house visit other children and play. The amount of care that people had for each other was tremendous, and this is where I learned to love my neighbor.”
However, she also felt a different attitude towards Muslims after the September 11 attacks. “I’ve had death threats. I’ve had to have protection placed on me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling,” she shares. “To know that you can put out love, and other people judge that love saddens me. I want to make every breath count, so I can’t fear those who choose hate. I can only control the love I have in my heart and choose that love.”
Najah is the founder of Zaman International, a non-profit organization, which has the mission to facilitate change and advance the lives of marginalized women and children of different backgrounds in the Detroit area; she has been doing it by enabling them to meet essential needs common to all humankind. The group’s 40,000-square-foot warehouse offers for free aisles of food, rows of clothes, and furniture to those in need.
The history of the organization is truly inspirational. In 1996, when a three-month-old infant was with a terminal diagnosis, Najah Bazzy, a Transcultural Clinical Nurse Specialist, provided clinical, spiritual and cultural support to his parents who were new arrivals to the United States. She helped them face the reality that no treatment would save their child.
After visiting the family at their home, Najah was shocked by their living conditions. Instead of a refrigerator, the family used a picnic cooler to house their limited food supply and baby formula. Instead of a stove, a portable propane stove was used for cooking. The infant’s bed was a laundry basket piled high with towels, and the infant only had the hospital’s receiving blanket to keep him warm. When the infant passed away and the family was unable to pay for a funeral, Najah raised funds from the community to provide him with a proper burial. This was the beginning of Plots for Tots, Zaman’s signature program which provides dignified burial support for families that have lost a fetus or infant.
Witnessing this family’s sorrowful experience and shocking living conditions, Najah was inspired and determined to harness the community’s efforts to help struggling families. She asked community members to donate furniture, food, clothing, and household goods. The support and need for such efforts quickly increased, encouraging Zaman to formalize as an organization committed to using community support to address community needs.
In 2018, Zaman distributed 170,400 pounds of food, collected 886,950 pounds of clothing, provided over 7,750 hours of job skills and literacy instruction to more than 90 women, and gave 268 winter coats and 895 school supply-filled backpacks to local children. Meanwhile, it partnered with 444 community partners on a range of initiatives and funded overseas relief projects, bringing safe water and humanitarian relief to more than 431,900 people.
Now that Zaman’s mission has been shared with the world, Bazzy is encouraging interested readers to help by donating through the CNN Heroes program, for which a CrowdRise donation page has been set up.
“What I’m most proud of this year is that Zaman is 94 cents on the dollar (which has been audited financially), she said, and it goes to programs,” she said about the percentage of donation dollars used to help fund its operations to serve those in need.
“We really encourage people to go to the website and to donate any amount that they can, anything helps.”