What can you, a teenager who doesn’t have a lot of money or resources, do to help the poor and needy? More than you think! Most young adults are blessed with the creativity and intelligence to find ways to help others despite limited resources. Here are some tips that can perhaps start the creative process:
1. Give a portion of your allowance each week to a poor and needy person or a cause that supports them
How much is your allowance or your salary from your part-time job? Not much, you might say. The great thing about giving though is that in about 99 percent of cases, you are not restricted to how much you can give to help the poor and needy. That means for instance, instead of dishing out a dollar a day for a can of soda from the vending machine at school or work, maybe you can save this money two days of the week. Then give this money to the Zakat and Sadaqa committee of your mosque, a poor person you know in your neighborhood, a local soup kitchen or to a worthy cause abroad.
2. Encourage your parents to pay Zakat
Zakat is something too many Muslims neglect. If you are eligible to give Zakat, you must pay. If you aren’t eligible, ask your parents about Zakat and if they pay, how and to whom. If they do not give Zakat, respectfully and politely emphasize to them the importance of this necessary pillar of Islam and encourage them to start paying it. Use wisdom and beautiful preaching.
3. Encourage a family Sadaqa (charity) project
Get the whole family to pitch in at least once a month to a worthy cause by organizing a family Sadaqa project. Call a family meeting (if you’ve never had one of these, this is a great time to start) and discuss your idea. Then come to an agreement on how everyone can help the poor. It could be contributing a set amount a week as a group with Dad giving the money to the Masjid after Friday prayers or setting up a box somewhere in the house where family members can privately donate. You all decide.
4. Talk about it in your youth group
What are the first steps in finding solutions to problems? Du`aa’ (supplication) then brainstorming and discussion. At your next youth group meeting, put the difficulties of the poor and needy in your community on the agenda. Simply discuss and brainstorm. You don’t have to come up with a plan all at once. But discussing this will start the process and keep it in people’s minds. If you don’t have a youth group, get your friends together. Instead of having the usual hang out time one day, substitute this with a formal meeting. Now you have a youth group that can do this exercise.
5. Visit a poor part of town
How many big cities have “poor quarters”? Almost every single one. Sometimes, we need to see the reality of poverty right in front of us to really believe it’s there, especially if we live in a financially well-off part of a city. Go with your youth group to visit these areas. You don’t have to necessarily bring money or food for them (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea). Talk to the people, if they are willing to be approached, about living conditions and how they ended up there. Prepare yourself for an eye-opening experience.
6. Do a class presentation on poverty
Stumped about what to do for a school assignment? Why not talk about the plight of the poor in your community. Do your research thoroughly. Get statistics on poverty, real stories from books and perhaps even video- or audio taped interviews of the poor and homeless. Show the human face of poverty. Follow the presentation up with a class collection for the poor.
7. Don’t just collect money
There are plenty of basic necessities that people have to meet. Some people can’t afford new shoes. So hold a shoe drive (some teens have already done this). Others cannot afford clothing. Hold a clothing drive. Collect the material, arrange for cars, vans or trucks to transport it to where it’s needed, then make sure the material is properly distributed.
8. Write about poverty in your school paper
Have you got a knack for writing? Then write about poverty in your school newspaper. Educate your student body not just with words, but photos too, if possible. If you’ve visited a poor part of the city (see tips above), then you have plenty of material and personal material to write about.
9. Write about Zakat and Sadaqa in your Masjid newsletter
Does your Masjid have a newsletter? If so, dedicate the next issue to the topic of Zakat and Sadaqa and how they help the poor and the needy. You can interview an Imam to get the basics straight. You can also include various charitable causes readers can give their money to locally to help the poor and needy. If you don’t have a Muslim youth newsletter, maybe this can be your premiere edition.
10. Put the information on a website
If you put the above-mentioned newsletter or at least some of the articles online, you ‘ll probably have more young people reading it than if you limited the information to print only.
11. Collect money in your group
After your next group meeting, pass around a box to collect donations for the poor and needy. Better yet, make this a weekly practice. Make one person responsible for collecting the money and sending it off after consulting everyone on which cause it should be sent for.
12. Organize a youth seminar on poverty
Get a youth-friendly imam or speaker to come and talk about how Islam has successfully fought against poverty in the past and can continue to do so in the present. Then, after his lecture, hold a workshop with participants and come up with 21 ideas of how the audience and Muslim teens in general can help fight poverty.