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Organizing a Community Blood Drive

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A single blood donation can save up to three lives!According to the Red Cross Blood Service, a single blood donation can save up to three lives. As the Qur'an reminds us, "He who saves one soul is as if he has saved all of humanity." One easy way to commemorate the message of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and share it with others is by hosting a blood drive. Here is a rough guide of how to go about organizing blood donations for your community (after consulting the community leaders and officials, of course):

Contact the Blood Bank: The first step is to get in touch with a community relations officer at the local blood bank. Find out if they can facilitate group donations and what the maximum and minimum number of blood donors allowed is. Set a date which is convenient to both the Red Cross and the local community members. The last thing you want to be doing is arranging blood donations first thing in the morning on a business day.

Location: Depending on the estimated number of blood donors, the blood bank may either arrange for a blood bus to drive out to your community centre or they may do a "closed booking" just for your group, which means that the blood bank will specially operate on a day which it is otherwise closed (i.e. on a Sunday) to accommodate for the needs of the donors.

Transport: If the blood donations have been arranged to take place at the blood bank, donors may need transport to and from the branch. The Red Cross sometimes offers taxi vouchers and shuttle services to community groups donating. Carpooling is also a good alternative to each donor individually driving to the blood bank, as dozens of cars in the usually small parking lot of blood banks is a bad idea, particularly if the branch is situated on a main road.

Special Requirements: Since female blood donors will require female nurses to take their blood in a segregated area for Hijab purposes, and male nurses are required for male donors, be sure to notify the blood bank well in advance, as they usually roster nurses on for these special group donations weeks in advance. If a donor does not speak English well enough, it is necessary to request a professional interpreter to be present on the day, who may be provided by the blood bank.

Familiarity with the Blood Donation Process: The blood donation procedure usually starts with filling out a contact details form which can be filled in prior to the day, ideally when new donors are signing up. You should be given a "donors schedule" with appointment times for your group. It's best to fill the schedule in with the most reliable people donating first thing in the morning, while allocating the younger donors (or people who like to sleep in) with appointment times later in the day. Once donors arrive at the blood bank, they will be asked to fill in another form about health-related questions, and then an interview will take place in private between a nurse and the potential blood donor. After everything is discussed, a quick "finger prick" is given to donors to ensure hemoglobin levels are within a healthy range, followed by blood pressure being measured. The blood donation only lasts for 5-10 minutes, with about 470 mL of blood being donated on average.

Volunteers: Recruit volunteers who will help promote the event and also be available to assist on the day. If the community has a youth group, it's always a bonus to involve the younger generation with these kinds of activities, because they readily volunteer for such events, and it will encourage the youth to donate as well. Volunteers will need to be made familiar with the blood donation process so that they may explain it to potential donors.

Promotion: After finalizing and confirming the logistics of the group donation and making sure the blood donation team and all volunteers are familiar with the entire process, it's time to promote the event! Getting the religious leader to announce the event before or after a speech, posters being hung up, emails being sent to the entire community, pamphlets being distributed at the Sunday school, and stalls being set up in the Islamic center(s) are all ways of promoting the event and getting people to sign up over a short period of time. Remember to have contact details on posters and handouts to help speed up the recruitment process. Another useful tool to recruit female donors is to ask a few women to start spreading the event by word of mouth, and before you know it, everyone will be talking about the group blood donation. Expect there to be potential donors from the minute promotions are initiated, so have all the sign-up forms and informational handouts on hand.

Emotional Appeal: As the blood donations are to coincide with the day of Imam Hussain's martyrdom or Arba'een (or any other particular commemoration or celebration, for that matter), it's tactful to approach potential donors in an emotionally appealing way while promoting the event. For example, "As Imam Hussain stood alone on the plains of Karbala with the bodies of his sons, brothers, and friends surrounding him, he called out, 'Is there any helper to help us?' This Arbaeen, we wish to answer Imam Hussain's call by sacrificing our blood in order to help save humanity."

Appointment Times and Reminders: Start notifying donors of their allocated appointment times with a brief outline of the blood donation process by email, over the phone, or by text message. It's important to start sending them their appointment times at least one week prior to the day, with a reminder being sent out at least a day before the donation. Punctuality is essential! Reminding donors of their appointment times in person is not a good idea, as they may entirely forget on the day or may end up running late, which will delay the entire group. Remember that this is not just your responsibility as the coordinator to guarantee people arrive on time; it is also the community's reputation at stake, which, to a certain extent, you will be responsible for.

Also remind the donors to bring along all necessary forms of identification and to eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and red meat in the days leading up to the blood donation. They need to drink plenty of water the night before and on the day to ensure fluid levels are not running low; otherwise, they may not be able to donate.

After the Blood Donations: After people donate blood, have a volunteer give them something to eat and drink and tell them what a great job they have done.  After all, they have helped saved lives and deserve all the appreciation and reward they can get. Just as the blood donors are very special people, so are the nurses and managers of the blood bank, as they have helped the community contribute towards such a great cause taking place alongside the commemoration of Imam Hussain. Be sure to thank them, take a few photos to put up on the community website, and send the blood bank links and photocopies to anything published in the media.

Giving blood on the 10th of Muharam or on Arbaeen alongside public processions is a trend that has been increasing in popularity among Shia communities in the West. Not only does donating blood in large groups attract positive media attention for the Muslim world, but the symbolic meaning of sacrificing our own blood for the cause of humanity certainly does reflect the teachings and values which Imam Hussain hoped to imbue in the minds of the followers of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them).

Author of this article: Zara Syed
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