Noushin Raja founded The Moonlight Trust in 2010 in memory of her brother, Amaar, lovingly nicknamed ‘Moon’, who was brutally murdered in Dewsbury in 2008, at just 17-years-old.
Ms Raja had just graduated with a degree in Computing from Leeds Beckett University when the tragic incident occurred. Wanting to continue his legacy, she set up The Moonlight Trust as a side project as she began her career as a project development manager at her alma mater.
She has now come full circle, from a student of Leeds Beckett, to now a guest lecturer, teaching business students practical steps on setting up a social enterprise. She is also a public speaker, and has featured on the Islam Channel, BBC Radio Leeds, and spoken at the House of Commons.
More recently the dynamic CEO was also named Noor Inayat Khan Muslim Woman of the Year 2022 at the ninth British Muslim Awards held in Manchester.
Reflecting on her achievements and on establishing her charity over a decade ago, Ms Raja told Asian Standard: “I established the charity under very tragic and personal circumstances.
“At the age of seventeen, my younger brother was robbed and killed by a group of drunken youths. I had just graduated and landed the job that I wanted.
“I was always a compassionate and empathetic person, I always wanted to help the homeless and women in Pakistan. A part of my faith is that for the people who passed away you can either pray or give to charity for them.
“Initially, the charity started as a response to personal pain, I did it for me. Everyone is different but this is how I was going to heal myself. I didn’t expect that it would grow in the way that it did.”
The charity originally concentrated on helping people sleeping on the streets and underprivileged women in Pakistan. However, after a trip to the Middle East in the throes of the Israel-Palestine Conflict of 2014 as a peace diplomat, Ms Raja came home with a different outlook on the world and the issues going on within it and changed the direction of her organisation.
In 2016, the charity would help migrants in what was pejoratively called the “European migrant crisis” in the summer of that year. Ms Raja would personally support boat rescue missions to supplying food, clothing, water, sewing machine lessons, and immigration law support to refugees living in migrant camps. The charity provided almost £100,000 in aid to refugees in Greece alone.
During Ramadan, she delivered £15,000 of food packs to people in Greece, in Pakistan and to the Calais refugee camp.
The charity director said: “People often think I am a refugee when I speak on the issue as I am so passionate about it. I am not, I am a South Asian woman but at the time I didn’t know what a refugee was, so I never thought I would become an advocate on behalf of them.
“Lesbos opened my eyes. I was traumatised when I came back, boats were coming in and they were full of children turning blue and grey. The day I was back on the plane, two people died from drowning.”
Working as a freelance social media consultant for almost five years between 2014 and 2019, as well as a senior student support officer at the university, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Ms Raja made the transition to managing the charity full time.
Speaking on this, the Moonlight Trust’s founder, said: “Everything I was doing with the charity was paying off. I may not be a millionaire or might not have much money, but we are providing meaningful support to people in Kirklees and across the world.
“We have local MPs and six shadow ministers who became patrons of the refugee campaign. Local businesses who don’t often get involved in causes like this also came on board to support us.”
Another way the Moonlight Trust helps refugees is through raising awareness, promoting community cohesion, and increasing education on refugees locally through workshops, attracting audiences from school and university students to businessmen and women and MPs.
Providing opportunities to women from marginalised communities in Kirklees and across West Yorkshire is an important aspect of the work that the Moonlight Trust does.
The charity provides women from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities with support in the form of employability training, mental health support, resilience, and confidence support sessions.
Ms Noushin added: “Along the way, I realised that the management in the charity sector is dominated by men. There are not many people who look like me, who wear the hijab and are brown on panels or in senior roles.
“There is a force of women who really want to help but have never been given the opportunity, which is why we provide women with the skills that they need to succeed. Being a woman, you know about the struggle and challenges we go through.
“We know that society is patriarchal, and this is just another layer that women from my community, or are Black, or from a Minority Ethnic community face.”
As the world came to a standstill with the global coronavirus pandemic, so did international aid. Like many, the Moonlight Trust had to scale back international operations as people were prohibited to travel.
During this time, they ramped up support for people locally, with the charity launching a Covid-19 crisis response centre in Kirklees to expand their food bank support and provide essential support for those most in need during the pandemic. “When Covid-19 hit, we realised that there is a desperate need in the community and we opened our own food bank providing food parcels for over 7,000 people so far”, she said.
“Ms Raja added: “I thought it was going to be a temporary project, one that we would close after six months when Covid-19 went. However, it has become a permanent project that we have been running for over two years now.”
For more information about the charity or how to get involved, you can visit here.