LONDON: A British Muslim 11-year-old boy who marked his first Ramadan last year by cooking while fasting to raise money for charity has returned with a whole entourage.
Zaavier Khan, from Chingford, in east London, began his campaign alone to collect £5,000 ($6,503) for UK food parcels and this year he is touring restaurants and homes and cooking with a 15-member squad that calls itself the Ramadan Kids.
Khan told Arab News: “During the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, children were stuck inside, and they got really depressed because they couldn’t go out, they couldn’t meet anyone, and see anyone. Because of that, children’s mental health has risen by 50 percent, which is why we’re trying to help them.”
The children, whose ages range from five to 12, aim to raise £10,000 for UK-based mental health and bereavement charity Supporting Humanity during the Muslim holy month to support children’s mental health.
Khan’s mother said she initiated the campaign last year because she wanted to mark her son’s first Ramadan in a significant way and not only to practice abstaining from eating but also charitable contributions.
Having not intended to do it again, Tahreem Noor said her son had approached her a few months ago and asked if they were going to repeat the gesture this year, as he had fun and raised money for charity.
“That is exactly what I wanted. I want to raise my son into a humanitarian who raises money for causes that are of dire neglect and need some attention, at the same time as incorporating his traditional, cultural, and religious values into it,” she added.
This time Noor wanted to have a “ripple effect” and get more children involved in supporting local causes, so reached out to a charity that she was already involved with.
“We want to teach the children that charity begins at home, Islamically speaking, according to hadith (traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), we are told first feed the poor in your family, then feed your neighbor, then your village, your city, your country.
“So, grow as your resources and your money grows, and I want them to appreciate that they can make a small change in their community,” she said.
Noor pointed out that Supporting Humanity was highlighting an increase in mental health issues impacting children, while also raising much-needed funds.
“Children’s mental health has gone up drastically in the last two years, to the point that one in six children, according to research, are now expected to have prolonged mental health problems, which is a big number,” she said, adding that some children even finished high school virtually and never got to experience it.
She noted that the British National Health Service could not facilitate these children, that there was not enough help for parents to understand children’s mental health issues, and there was a shortage of assistance given to children with mental health problems.
The funds will go toward organizing a series of workshops and field trips with trained professionals to help children in the community address mental health issues and teach them mechanisms on how to work and live with anxiety, addictions, or problems they may have experienced in the last few years, Noor added.
The children, not all of whom are fasting due to their young age, are being taught how to cook recipes by a chef and then cooking at home for their families and posting on social media to raise awareness.
Last year, Nitesh Shetty, executive chef at Saffron Street, taught Khan to make healthy dishes for Ramadan, including chicken tikka wrap, watermelon quinoa salad, and date and vanilla milkshakes. This year, the decision was made to introduce fun recipes that the children could enjoy making, such as nanza, an Indian version of pizza that uses naan bread as the base and has a spice kick.
Shetty said: “When we started the discussion, I was told that children’s mental health has increased by 50 percent in the last two years, and I’ve got two kids as well, so it was really good to be a part of a good cause.”