It’s always rewarding to be part of the solution, alleviating the woes of the people who were severely impacted by the major weather events. Last year, it felt as if one disaster didn’t complete unleashing its wrath before another one took place in some other part of the U.S.
Fortunately, Islamic Relief USA, a humanitarian and advocacy organization that works in more than 40 countries, lent a hand in the aftermath of many of these catastrophic, and often life-changing events. Thanks to our relatively new Disaster Response Team (DRT), the organization, which will mark its 25th anniversary later this year, was able to have an on-the-ground presence and help people directly.
During hurricane season, DRT and organization volunteers tended to evacuees. Hurricane Harvey, which overwhelmed the city of Houston, had many residents migrating to other population centers of the state. One of them was Dallas, where IRUSA helped manage a large shelter, ensuring evacuees had a place to sleep, something to eat, even a space to do their daily prayers. While IRUSA is a Muslim-based organization, it has always helped people of all faiths. Shortly after Harvey, IRUSA volunteers and disaster response staff provided assistance to residents in Florida who were displaced by Hurricane Irma.
IRUSA’s commitment to Houston’s recovery in the aftermath of Harvey is intended to be long term. That level of commitment was demonstrated at a press conference IRUSA organized on January 18, when it presented Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner with a $50,000 check to assist in recovery efforts. While the city had seemingly come a long way from the dark days of August, it was clear that certain segments of the population are still suffering.
Mayor Turner expressed gratitude, saying the funds from IRUSA will be instrumental.
“This $50,000 will aid a number of families. But for contributions like this one, a lot people would be stranded waiting for help,” Turner acknowledged. “There are still thousands of families that are adversely affected by Hurricane Harvey. There are people who are still in hotels. Then, there are thousands of other people whose homes need to be repaired or rebuilt.”
In addition to hurricane relief, IRUSA has been busy for the last couple of months with helping people on the West Coast. IRUSA came to the aid of Northern California residents whose homes were destroyed by the wildfires that were seemingly omnipresent last fall.
With the help of the American Red Cross, a longtime partner, and local emergency management offices, IRUSA was able to set up a program to distribute cash cards – in increments of $500 – to affected residents of Yuba County, which has one of the largest poverty rates in the region. At last reporting, some 120 households – comprised of people of several different races, ages and ethnicities – were helped by this effort.
The goal for Islamic Relief USA, and especially its disaster response unit, is to not only respond and rescue people, but to help the communities rebuild for the long haul. It is about making them, and the communities they live in, stronger, better and more efficient. The resilience of local residents and business owners is one component. The other parts include hardening the infrastructure and rebuilding homes.
Since IRUSA tested, and continues to test, this approach with a long-term home rebuilding project in North Carolina, which was started shortly after Hurricane Matthew a few years ago, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s now a matter of preserving that relationship, and executing that template in other parts of the country.
Natural disasters provide a window into the level of destruction that’s possible…and to the strong determination of people wanting to live their normal, daily lives.
Minhaj Hassan is the Public Affairs/Media Relations Specialist at Islamic Relief USA, which is based in Alexandria, Va. The nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization works in more than 40 countries and will celebrate its 25th anniversary later this year.