Sometimes, it only takes one person to stand up and canvass for the vulnerable collective; one voice for a community of people who sadly, don’t have their own. The deaf population of more than a million people in South Africa are often overlooked, lost in a wave of aid-seeking societies with more severe impediments. Safiyyah Sarang aims to change that, offering her professional and emotional support to the hearing-impaired, by being that one voice that speaks loud enough for them in a world of clamour.
Raised in Ferreirastown, an inner-city suburb in Johannesburg, Safiyyah learnt independence from a young age. Very empathetic by nature, she was let down a great deal, however, this taught her to take responsibility and be intrinsically motivated. Growing up in a middle-class working family provided her with the discipline to work hard and strive for the things she desired. “It’s funny, the things I strived for were things money cannot buy. Today I understand that being independent and having to work hard for what I wanted has only built character,” she reveals, “being independent has forced me to be street-smart as well. This helps me reach the youth. I was not very sheltered growing up and I’m grateful for that in certain aspects, because it makes me relatable to the children and adolescents I teach”.
Safiyyah achieved her Honours in BEd Inclusive Education from the University of Johannesburg, and currently resides as an educator at St Vincent School for the Deaf. Her campaign to bring awareness to the plight of deaf children is commendable, and she uses her time spent outside the academic arena to volunteer at different charitable organisations and projects.
This driven and enthusiastic English teacher describes herself as a passionate, diverse, optimistic, outspoken and dynamic Muslimah, striving to educate, empower and inspire the youth.
Her upbringing up in a religiously-minded community (Kholvad House) demonstrated to Safiyyah that Islam was more than just a set of beliefs. “It is who I am”, she says. “If someone hurt me, I was consoled by the fact that Allah would take care of me. And this has shaped the way I’ve view everything.”
Safiyyah has found great appeal in learning and understanding more about the selfless lives of the Sahaba (RA) (companions of the Prophet Muhammed [PBUH]), and she’s drawn to how they were commended by the Creator for their compassion and asceticism.
Her mornings begin early with prayers, and she commences with the intention to do the best she can to be beneficial to every living thing she encounters during the day. Safiyyah then heads off to work by 7:30 to teach English in sign language to deaf learners, ranging from 12-21 years in age. At 14:30, she makes her way home to pray and start the second part of the day; tutoring learners from the community.
She also makes time to attend meetings for upcoming volunteer work and does planning and campaigning; sharing motivational, inspirational or Islamic knowledge through social media in order to make a difference and assist the youth. Her fulfilling days usually end by 11pm, after sharing what she’s learnt and trying to uplift her family.
The youngest of two siblings, Safiyyah’s aspiration to get involved in humanitarian work was cultivated from adolescence, “I’ve always been drawn towards helping others. My desire to educate and empower has inspired me to help those who have no means to assistance first. Also, Islam has been one of my greatest motivators with regard to helping those in need,” she expresses.
The self-motivated educator has been involved in a number of humanitarian projects:
- Thandilwazi Saturday school project – Saturday school for underprivileged learners
Nelson Mandela day with the University of Johannesburg
MSA (Muslim Students Association) at the University of Johannesburg (for a brief time)
Core volunteer team member for Islamic Relief SA on projects such as Orphan Iftaar, Eid shopping for the orphans and collection drives for Syria and Palestine.
Islamic Relief Charity Week walk for unity (2018)
Food for the Soul events
Al Buruj volunteer work for international speaker events
Teaching at a deaf school in Johannesburg and giving back to the youth of our communities
Speaking on deaf awareness at the Maleeha Layla event for children with special needs
Developing a campaign to cater to and aid the deaf community (currently in progress)
One of her most rewarding experiences was volunteering at a fun day for orphans, hosted by Islamic Relief. She seized the opportunity to engage and play with little children, which made her realise that all kids need is exactly what she’s always strived for, and those are things money can’t buy: a smile, a hug, a compassionate ear, someone to love them, and time. “I was still a university student then, and it was so rewarding to engage with them and give them moments of my life. From that day on, I was certain that this is how I wanted to live my life and I was so at ease with my choice of career,” she recollects.
Safiyyah relates that her proudest moment as a welfare worker was when a few little girls at the mass iftaar (breaking of fast) this year thanked her for smiling at them and asked her for hugs – this truly reinforced the idea that these children need more than just material things to be happy.
After recently being through a very tough personal experience, Safiyyah isn’t despondent. Instead, she thanks Allah for allowing her this difficult occurrence, as it was through her healing that she found her true purpose. Alhamdulillah. She goes on to say “even though this experience was extremely heartbreaking, it was Allah’s way of bringing me back to Him and to myself, which allowed me to regain my passion for humanitarian and charity work.”
Safiyyah lives by the motto: “It’s better to know and act like you don’t, than to not know and act like you do”.
Two phenomenal women whom she admires and looks up to are Ustada Yasmin Mogahed (in terms of education and Islam) and her cousin, Rukshana Mohammed Dindar (in terms of family and lifestyle).
Her favourite Quranic verse: “But Allah is your protector, and He is the best of helpers” Surah Al Imran (3:150).
This powerful composition has put her heart at ease every single time she’s been tested and every time someone has hurt her; knowing that Allah will help her through.
Surah Ar Rahman reminds her to be grateful for every favour that’s been bestowed on her.
She outlines success as having made a difference in people’s lives, and being known as someone who has inspired the youth to do better in their lives. To that, she adds that prosperity is having the means to provide for her parents and having a family of her own.
Safiyyah’s social concerns are at the forefront of her plans for the future:
- Her short-term goal is to become more involved in youth empowerment and being a spokesperson for young females.
Her mid-term goal is to have the Deaf Campaign up and running, and to invite more deaf people into the fold of Islam.
Her long-term goal is to establish an orphanage/home with a madressah and school for the deaf and needy.
Safiyyah offers her insight to others involved in social and philanthropic work: “Give everything you can; it doesn’t only have to be monetary, focus on the youth and educate them so that they may educate others in the future.”
She is most grateful for having peace of mind, her health and Islam.
Her number one life lesson is to always to put her Creator first. She states, with much wisdom, “I’ve learnt that I should never sacrifice myself just to please others. I’m learning to be true to myself, love myself, and acknowledge my own value and self-worth, in order to protect my energy and remain positive.”
Safiyyah believes that initiatives like Proudly Muslims of SA aid in acknowledging people who make a difference, and in turn encourages and motivates others to do the same. She further mentions that by making our community aware of the good that’s taking place around them, they may be influenced to participate; hence this helps in uniting us as an ummah.
If today were her last, she would leave with this advice: “Become educated and then educate the youth so that future generations can continue to spread deen (religion) and goodness.” She would also recite the kalimah (Islamic declaration of beliefs).
Safiyyah wants to be remembered for inspiring the youth, standing up for her beliefs, helping society become aware of the deaf community and assisting people in bettering their lives.
Speaking in a language of kindness and compassion doesn’t require words, as Safiyyah Sarang has graciously displayed. She fills a void of silence with love, warmth, understanding and humanness. We will be encouraging and cheering her on as she sets new precedents for the deaf community.