Ali Mohammad Lonekashmiri won a million dollars in Berryville this week from the Virginia Lottery. That’s pretty lucky you might think until you then learn that Lonekashmiri won an additional $100k just two years before in a “Scratch 5” lottery game.
Many people in Lonekashmiri’s shoes might already have created a list of the things that they planned to buy after the first jackpot, never mind the second, and in that respect Lonekashmiri is no different than most.
“We’ve been planning to buy a house for a long time and now it will be easier” said Lonekashmiri’s wife, Farhat.
But that’s where the Lonekashmiri’s list of “must-have” items starts to become a little different than average. When asked what else Ali Mohammad plans to do with his money his face beams and breaks into a smile.
“I am creating a charity to help provide food, clothing and shelter for people in Pakistan who are suffering from the flooding” Lonekashmiri said. “I’m planning to go next month at the end of Ramadan to distribute aid to the people there.”
That Lonekashmiri wants to help disaster victims in Pakistan may not be too surprising given that both he and Farhat moved separately to the United States from Pakistan before marrying in New York. What makes Lonekashmiri’s goal so compelling, perhaps, is that his hometown is in Kashmir and his extended family is in Pakistan’s capital of Lahore, hundreds of miles from where the disaster is occurring.
“My family is safe and are not having problems” Lonekashmiri said. “I am going to the Punjab and Sarhad area where things are very bad.”
Lonekashmiri is planning to travel 12,000 miles into one of the worst natural disasters in modern history so that he can give money and help to people that he has never met.
For most Americans, the extent of the damage and human suffering from the flooding in pakistan is unimaginable.
“We’re talking about an area affected the size of Italy or Florida. The National Defense Mapping Agency reported on Sunday that over a million homes have now been destroyed” said Dan Feldman U.S. State Department Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Just miles and miles and miles as far as you could see for the whole several hours as we were flying around: agricultural fields under water, roads and bridges under water, roads continuously disrupted by water, so impossible to move people or food or supplies out; power plants literally under water, the swollen banks of the river – both rivers actually – just going, stretching as far as you could see, reinforcing for us, obviously, not only the degree of immediate relief that will be needed as the UN and other international donors have focused on, but longer term the recovery and reconstruction efforts which will take many, many months if not years. And the sheer impact still needs to be assessed but will certainly be staggering.”
Lonekashmiri said that he was already planning his Pakistan relief trip before his most recent lottery win. Lonekashmiri and others in the community have already raised funds that have been sent through the Berryville Rotary Club. The only difference now, Lonekashmiri says, is that he has more resources to help with.
“More than ten million people are suffering in Pakistan” Lonekashmiri said. “many are really, really hungry and some don’t eat all day. I want to help them.”
Lonekashmiri said that he plans to buy food and other aid items once he is in Pakistan and can assess what is most needed.
Before moving to the U.S. Lonekashmiri was a journalist for fifteen years in the southern Pakistan town of Quetta near the border with Iran. After travelling the world and visiting many countries he decided to settle in the United States.
Lonekashmiri and Farhat moved to Berryville in 2005 after they were married.
“We love Berryville very, very much” said Farhat. The couple has two children who attend Johnson Williams Middle School and own two convenience stores, one on North Buckmarsh Street in Berryville and another in Clearbrook, West Virginia.
Although many people now know that Lonekashmiri purchased his winning lottery ticket at Berryville’s Food Lion grocery store, the reason that he purchased the ticket there, instead of at his own store that also sells lottery tickets, may not be as well known.
“I’m not allowed to purchase lottery tickets in my own store” Lonekashmiri grins. “Why, is it against the law?” a visitor asks. “Yes, my wife’s law” he replies.
Farhat Lonekashmiri stands nearby while her husband speaks and simply smiles.
By travelling to Pakistan on his good will mission Lonekashmiri will also be risking his own personal safety. The monsoon rains that triggered the flooding are forecast to fall for several weeks yet and the worst may not be over. Over the past several weeks thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes when fresh floods from the swollen Indus River surged out from its banks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has said that the flooding in Pakistan is the worst disaster he has ever seen, and has urged foreign donors to speed assistance to the nearly 20 million people affected.
Lonekashmiri says that he understands the risks associated with his trip but still plans to go anyway. People there need help and he wants to do what he can.
Ali Mohammad Lonekashmiri certainly is a lucky guy but, perhaps, the world is even luckier to have him.
Correction: In an earlier version of the story CDN reported that Mr. Lonekashmiri won an additional $100K from the Virginia Lottery last month. Mr. Lonekashmiri actually won the $100K amount in July 2008 according to Virginia Lottery officials.