What Flat Tires Can Teach Us About Being One Community

The following blog post is a guest contribution by Christina Tobias-Nahi, Acting Vice President of Communications and External Relations at Islamic Relief USA.

If one believes in karma, my fate seems to be having flat tires when I am on interfaith overseas activities—more precisely on islands.

Maybe it’s God’s funny way of bringing people closer as they wait for a tire to be changed or a hole to be patched up. I wrote in a previous blog about a blowout in Greece with HIAS, where Islamic Relief USA has a joint program to service refugees in Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesvos.

This time around (same tire), it was in Puerto Rico where Islamic Relief USA joined One America in October 2019 in order to bring together Houston-based faith leaders for a service project rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Maria.

At least there were no windy mountain roads and bats involved (to my relief), but instead a little service shop on the outskirts of town.

Though the circumstances were different, the laughs and camaraderie were the same.

Though the circumstances were different, the laughs and camaraderie were the same. The group was similarly constituted: Muslim, Jewish and Christian.

Despite a flat tire, smiles abounded.

Arriving in Puerto Rico

Apart from the flat, the week went according to plan.  The team flew in and immediately were linked up with the local hosting organization, Hunger Corp.

We soon began to work, learning how to sift sand, mix cement, and lay and level bricks. Before our very eyes, walls were turning into the structure of a house.

The interfaith team at the work site in Puerto Rico.

We had the occasion to meet other community members whose houses had already been rebuilt and to hear the stories about the hurricane’s disruption to the community.

Shelter from the Storm: Then & Now

Hurricane survivors shared with us about how some of their family members left to other towns or to the US mainland after the devastation, never to return.

Watch this video to discover more about Islamic Relief USA’s disaster response efforts in Puerto Rico in June 2018.

The most haunting moment was visiting, twice, the caves where families who had nowhere else to flee had taken shelter. They holed up in the rocky crevices in the days and weeks following the hurricane.

They stored their few possessions, such as family photos, in broken down vehicles as they fled up into the hills. Today, gardens and trees are being replanted to again nourish the families on these lands. Homes are being built stronger and more resilient, just like the people.

A garden flourishing post-hurricane.

Islamic Relief USA’s Silver Anniversary Grants

This trip was part of the Islamic Relief USA Silver Anniversary Grants given last year to around 60 grantees as an homage to IRUSA’s 25th Anniversary, and for the benefit of local communities in our midst who are trying to rebuild from a natural calamity, or rebuild due to the divisiveness of our current times.

For the latter, one such project I had the occasion to visit in September 2019 was The Big Table in Louisville, KY., with IRUSA partner Peace Catalyst International.  This now annual event closes down the city park as nearly 2,000 people, including Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, come together to partake in one of the worlds’ largest potlucks for “conversation that matters.”

The Big Table event in Louisville, September 2019.
At the Big Table event with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

Another interesting component was that in its efforts to diversify, the Louisville school system actually went and recruited nearly 100 teachers from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, either because they had retired and their pensions were no longer enough to help them rebuild from the ruin, or their schools had been closed in the aftermath of the disaster.

Churches, synagogues, mosques, refugee agencies and other government and business partners across Louisville bring people together to cross religious, racial, and political divides. For what purpose? To try one another’s delicious foods, and have facilitated, beneficial conversations.

(Representatives of these projects will be speaking at the Annual Partnership Gala in Washington, DC, upcoming on December 10, 2019.)

This shows just how small our world has become, and the interconnectivity of it all. Just like shared experience of the flat tire, we are all bound together!

Though we belong to different faiths, we are one humanitarian family.

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