The sheer scope of ecological, political and human rights injustices that plague the world may seem insurmountable, especially from the perspective of a single student. But CAS senior Zain Memon doesn’t see it that way.
a huge potential with students because we are the new generation,” Memon said.
For Memon, that potential lays in students’ ability to spread information about social justice that can inspire far-reaching movements.
“Just telling people that there has been a severe drought and [that] children don’t have access to water,” Memon said. “That image just reaches into people, and automatically there is a humanistic connection that develops.”
This September, along with his friend Fatima Kamran, 19, Memon co-chaired Fast-a-Thon — a charity dinner hosted by the Islamic Student Association. Memon turned the one-night event into a month-long campaign to spread the word about water shortages in East Africa.
“I realized that some of my most cherished memories at NYU included volunteering and helping out in previous Fast-A-Thons,” Memon said. “And as a chair of this year’s campaign, I wanted to take this event to another level, where incoming students and volunteers could also feel the same connection when they looked back to their years at NYU.”
The campaign included hosting bake sales and setting up a table in the lobby of the Kimmel Center for University Life. With the help of 23 co-sponsors and 75 volunteers, all organized by Memon, word of the event spread through campus and on the web. Students began changing their profile pictures and tweeting statuses to remind their peers about the event.
The day of the event, the 270 students in attendance took a break from their daily routine and abstained from eating meals. They then took the extra money and donated it to Fast-A-Thon, raising almost $30,000 in just one day.
The donations will go toward building three wells and will give 9,000 people access to clean water. But beyond all this, Memon believes the event will bring more benefits.
“Everything is linked,” Memon said. “It is a cycle, information and raising awareness and that translates into a more solidified response for the country.”
This first drop, this single event, has inspired a wave. Today, two months after the event, Memon still receives emails from students around the country, asking for advice about how to successfully organize events.
“I just emailed a bunch of co-sponsors before the event, not thinking they would respond … and a majority of them didn’t,” Memon said. “But after Fast-A-Thon, we have developed those relationships because people saw how powerful our charity fundraising event was, and now they’re eager to help.”
The event itself was just the beginning. As a longtime member of the ISA, Memon is using the success of the event to open up a dialogue about Islam’s place in the United States. Earlier this month, the ISA has already planned and hosted a new event, the “Islamic Center at NYU Emergency Fundraiser: Gaza Crisis Goal,” a forum for Palestinian and Israeli students.
“[The ISA’s] main goal is to create representation for Muslims at NYU,” Memon said. “For Americans living far from their homelands, I think it is essential [that] we interweave ideas with other groups because that’s what is developing our identity.”
This interweaving of community, charity and religion is crucial to Memon’s work. While many people see religion as divisive by nature, Memon argues that it is another way to motivate people toward social change.
“[Religious groups] have a reach within their religious communities, and then the people within the communities can bring the information outside,” Memon said. “It’s like a convergence of spheres.”
In the future, Memon hopes to become an anesthesiologist and wants to take his sense of charity on a global level. Calling Dr. Khaled Hosseini from “The Kite Runner” his role model, Memon dreams of one day writing a book about his experiences in global charity.
“It’s hard to explain the happiness I feel when I see NYU students, who would not normally interact with each other, taking initiatives together as family to raise awareness for the drought in East Africa,” Memon said. “I want people to remember NYU students as individuals who worked tirelessly, quietly and peacefully towards the betterment of others.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 13th print edition. Charles Mahoney is a senior editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org