The Moonlight Trust charity was founded by Noushin Raja in memory of her brother. It helps people around the world and has helped her become a role model, writes Ismail Mulla.
Noushin Raja is not your typical CEO of a charity and neither is the work that she and her organisation does.
She established Moonlight Trust in 2010 under difficult circumstances and today it is doing charity work across the world.
Her efforts helping refugees in Calais, Turkey and Greece have caught the attention of Lord Alf Dubs and it has turned her into a role model for young Muslim women.
Prior to entering the charity sector, her expertise was in digital marketing and helping businesses connect effectively with their audiences.
However, as Moonlight Trust has snowballed, she had to drop her business so that she could focus on the charity.
Ms Raja said: “I had to let go of my other career because this meant more to me. It’s just grown and grown.
“It probably is the most cost effective charity in terms of the amount of work we do. For Ramadan we’ve delivered £15,000 of food packs in Greece, in Pakistan and to the Calais refugee camp.
“We’ve spent about £7,000 in response to Covid-19 in Dewsbury alone, where we’re providing food packs for the elderly and disabled.”
Moonlight Trust has delivered £100,000 worth of support to refugees in Greece alone. The charity has done this with no full-time employees.
It is this effective because of Ms Raja is tech-savvy with her online campaigns, attracting businesses and shadow ministers to the causes Moonlight Trust supports.
She said: “If you’ve got the IT skills it helps you. That’s what attracted the media, shadow ministers and local businesses.
“I knew how to use social media platforms because I was delivering training to other people.
“My skills haven’t really gone to waste. I may have given up the business but I’m still making use of those skills.”
The charity wasn’t established on a whim by Ms Raja. She originally set up in the memory of her younger brother Amaar, who was robbed and killed in Dewsbury in 2008. His nickname was ‘Moon’ and that is where the charity gets its name from.
“I spoke to an imam and he said there’s two things that you can do now in his memory – one is to pray and the other is charity,” Ms Raja said. The case was well-documented and in the initial days of the Moonlight Trust, it was a defining talking point. But that is no longer the case as the charity has now done so much.
Ms Raja lost her identity for a long time but feels that she has got it back with the work that she has done through Moonlight Trust.
She is also fast becoming an inspiration to many young women from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Ms Raja often visits schools to talk to young girls about the work she does. On one of her most recent trips, she gave a talk to 300 students at Batley Girls’ High School. When Ms Raja returned home she realised she had 200 messages on Instagram from students.
She said: “This is the first time they realised that there is a CEO of an international charity who looks like them. They realised that we can go and do these high risk projects.
“I’m not like other CEOs and directors because I’ve gone to seven different countries and worked in the camps.
“When the refugees were drowning I helped with the boat rescues. I took babies out with my own hands.”
Moonlight Trust funded 3,000 blankets for refugees in Lesbos, Greece. These blankets are being washed by the humanitarian group Dirty Girls so that they can be reused by other refugees.
Ms Raja said: “In summer they use them on the tents to protect themselves from the heat and in the winter they put them on from the cold.
“If you go to Lesbos you will see all the refugees lying on the floor, lying on the road wearing those blankets. We funded those blankets.”
Just like other sectors, charities also seem to be dominated by men. Ms Raja hopes to change that by not only inspiring women from ethnic minority backgrounds but also helping them gain practical skills.
She said: “When I came into the charity sector, I realised a lot of the charities were all men. It made me think ‘where are the women?’”
So she applied for some funding from the European Social Fund and launched an empowerment and leadership programme for women in Dewsbury and Batley. Ms Raja said: “We’ve been working with underprivileged women from ethnic minority backgrounds.
“Most of them are married and have children. They’ve never had a career but are now wanting to have one. We’ve been delivering leadership workshops. We helped raise aspirations by bringing in speakers from all around the country. We’re doing employability workshops.
“For the ones who couldn’t speak English, we are bringing in English teaching workshops. That has been going really well.”
It has been going so well that Ms Raja was also recognised with a shortlisting in the Northern Power Women awards this year.
The charity is getting to a point where Ms Raja will also have to cut back on her part-time role of lecturing at universities. She will also have to take on staff.
It’s not often that you see a young Muslim woman in a hijab making such a difference across the world. But Ms Raja has found that her background has opened up even more doors for her.
Her advice to others from a similar background is “believe in yourself”.
She added: “I know people who were refugees, who couldn’t speak a word of English but have now set up a business are doing well. Take the first step and find yourself.”
In making a difference with Moonlight Trust, Ms Raja has certainly found herself.