I went to school with a quiet guy named Ali. I always knew there was something special about him. He didn’t particularly stand out, he was just a normal Muslim guy, but I do remember he would often gather everyone up when it was time to pray.
Fast forward a few years, and my schoolmate Ali was diagnosed with cancer, and became known to the world as Ali Banat, the young man who was “gifted with cancer”. OnePath Network produced a video in which Ali was interviewed by well known Sydney Daee, Mohamed Hoblos, which became a viral phenomenon. The entire world fell in love with Ali and his story, and his project, MATW Project became a household name. Sadly, we lost Ali in 2018, and his close friend Mahmoud Ismail took over as CEO, to continue the mission of the organisation.
A few months ago, my good friend and fellow MATW Project ambassador, brother Ahmed Bassal called me to invite me to come to Togo with the MATW team, and visit the various orphanages, schools, Mosques, and other projects that MATW is working on. I didn’t need time to think, I agreed almost immediately to travel to Africa and explore the work of this amazing organisation.
I can tell you honestly that nothing could have prepared me for the experience that was before me. After a gruelling 30 hours travel, Ahmed and I arrived in Togo and headed straight to Kpoga Villag – probably the most well known and most often pictured project that MATW is building. Kpoga is an orphanage and a school, with more than 600 orphans living there at any one time. On the same property is a Mosque for the kids, widow housing, which houses some of the staff of the facility, and they are also building a university there. As we drove in to Kpoga, hundreds of kids rushed to greet us, chanting and singing, and they couldn’t wait to hold our hands and hug us. It was an incredible feeling, like welcoming home a hero or something. I thought this was a one-off, just something they did on day one, but for the next week, any time the kids saw Ahmed and I, it was the same. It was one of the most touching and endearing things I’ve ever experienced.
I want to share something personal with you all… I saw this girl at the Kpoga village, she looked about 11. What caught my eye is the crown around her head. When I’m around these kids, I don’t want to show them that I feel sorry for them, being orphans. I want to lift them up, make them feel special like they’re on top of the world. But this girl was already saying to the world, “I’m a princess, I’m a queen”. It actually filled me with respect for her strength and her spirit, and the spirit of all these kids. Allah has given them strength in their hearts. I ask Allah SWT to make her a princess in Jannah in sha Allah and to bless her in this life.
We visited two more villages run by MATW, Tsive, and Zooti – which were each more impressive than the other. MATW is building complete communities inside the walls of their villages. Tsive had mango trees and a poultry farm for the locals to collect and sell eggs. Zooti housed a doctor and ambulance, that catered for the entire area.
It’s no wonder that the king of Zooti himself (a revert, who converted to Islam 6 years ago) is in full support of MATW and assist in the spread of MATW projects and Dawa in any way he can.
I can’t count how many tears I cried on this trip, because of the tenderness of the orphans, the grave condition of the locals, the kindness and generosity I experienced, and the gratitude to Allah SWT for blessing me in my life in Sydney, and also blessing me by bringing me here to see this very different world. Each day I went through the full spectrum of emotions, form the highs to the lows, and slept soundly each night after hot, long days, privileged to be doing work for Allah SWT.
Wallahi I have nothing but love and respect for these people – I’m crying here because my heart aches for them and because I love them. After this video, we spent a long day distributing rice and bread and lollies for the kids. Me and Ahmed Bassal even gave our hats and sunglasses away. We would give anything to make them happy. This moment will be with me for life – and I want to share it with you so that you can imagine what you would feel like if you saw what I saw.
I am so honored, humbled, and privileged to be representing you all on this trip. You have given a trust, an Amana to MATW Project, and I thank you all for trusting us to see this through and feed the needy. I saw people cry as they tried to find the words to thank us. I saw people break down from happiness, now that they have food. I will never forget this day – thank you all and thank you Allah – please accept from us and make us sincere, Ameen
Visiting MATW villages has changed me. I have a new appreciation for everything, and I have learned to consider my brothers and sister in my decisions. We are one body, as the prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him Said, and I am glad to have met my siblings in Africa.
I can’t believe how affected I am after spending just a few days in Togo – I came here as one man and I’m leaving as a different man. I will miss their sweet faces, their beautiful heartwarming smiles. I will miss them playing with my beard, their cute French songs. I made a promise to Allah SWT yesterday that I will always support MATW. Once you see the transformation in these people’s lives… actually I would say these people had little chance, and now they have a real chance. Their lives have been totally transformed, and they have also transformed me.
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