One day, as he dropped off an order at one of the cafe’s multiple locations, he struck up a conversation with the store’s manager. He explained the problems with the water supply back in his village and wondered if it might be OK to put out a donation jar next to the cash register as a way to ask customers to give any extra change they could spare to help the people of Kolomiseed. The manager thought it was a great idea. In fact, Awad soon had a donation jar set up at every Kerbey Lane location. Each week, he’d swing by and pick up the money that the cafe customers generously donated, which usually added up to a few hundred dollars at a time. Then, one week, Awad got a call from one store manager who said that he might consider getting a bigger jar – like a five-gallon jug since he was getting so many donations for his cause. So he did (though Kerbey Lane Cafe no longer allows donation jars in their stores, they do have an active Corporate Responsibility program, donation requests can be made by visiting kerbeylanecafe.com/donations).
On one visit to a cafe to pick up that week’s donations, Awad learned that a passerby on the street had dashed in and stolen the donation jar. Fortunately, one of the customers in the cafe chased the man down and brought the jar back to the restaurant just as Awad was arriving to pick it up. It was then that one of the customers asked Awad what he was raising the money for. So Awad shared his story about the water supply. The customer then asked how much money he had collected that week. After a quick tally, Awad told him it was about $150. “What is the total amount you are trying to raise?” the customer asked. When Awad told him that it would cost $42,000 to construct a new water system for his village, the customer pulled out his phone and, after punching in a few figures into his calculator app, explained: “Why, Awad, it will take you 20 years to raise that much!”
When Awad replied that he had no choice, the customer made him a better offer. “He told me he belonged to the South Austin Rotary Club and he invited me to come to their next meeting and talk about the project,” says Awad. After he went and spoke, the rotary club agreed to match any funds that Awad raised. And, about two years later, after Awad had raised about $12,000, the club not only matched that amount, they got their parent organization, Rotary International, to match it yet again – which all added up to the Awad the $42,000 needed. Those funds were then used to dig a well, construct a water tower and tank, and a distribution system that now pipes water to all the homes in the community. “My village has now been drinking clean water for about 15 years thanks to the generosity of Kerbey Lane Cafe and the Rotary Club,” says Awad.
But Awad didn’t stop there. In the years since, he has used most of the proceeds from his business to help build a school and a health clinic back in Kolomiseed. He has also created a non-profit organization called Mother Maryam Foundation, in honor of his mother, Hajja Maryam Saeed, to help do a wide variety of projects in the village such as raising money to buy medicine and school supplies, installing solar panels, and building a flood control dike. A priority this year is to raise enough money to buy the village a supply of mosquito nets as a way to help curb the number of malarial deaths back in Kolomiseed. At about $6 apiece, each net can have an enormous impact. “Malaria is the No. 1 killer of children,” he says.
Awad, who still lives in Austin with his wife and just recently retired from teaching, says that he makes the pilgrimage back to Kolomiseed every year for a multi-week visit both as a way to bring new supplies and to reconnect with his members and the community. He has also started a scholarship fund to help the young people of his village go to school and to imagine a bright future of themselves. “Our goal is to give the kids there some hope,” says Awad.