August 25, 2017


In the South, a new helping hand: Muslim disaster relief teams (Yonat Shimron, 8/24/17, RNS)

At a time when the far right often cites the inability -- or refusal -- of Muslims to assimilate, these young volunteers are ready, willing and able to do what other religious groups in this country have been doing for decades: providing emergency aid, labor and comfort to people suffering the effects of natural disasters.

"It's a great way to show other people that Muslims are friends and that we can work together," said Mimi Hassanain of Livingston, N.J., an employee with Islamic Relief who sanded drywall in a Princeville home Tuesday (Aug. 22).

Hurricane Floyd, which plowed through here in 1999, destroying much of the town, was supposed to be a 500-year flood. But it was followed 17 years later by another 500-year flood when Hurricane Matthew bore down, submerging Princeville after the Tar River levee failed.

Ten months later, the work of rebuilding the nation's oldest town incorporated by freed slaves continues. Many of its 2,080 residents -- nearly all of whom are African-American -- have taken shelter in FEMA trailers, hotels, rentals or relatives' bedrooms. Many can't afford flood insurance, which can be pricey in a flood plain, and are living off Social Security. They're grateful for any assistance they can get.

The town's only restaurant reopened recently, as have a few hair salons and a transmission shop. But many ranch-style homes are still empty.

In the neighboring community of Tarboro, the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church has set up an operational base in an old health department building, turning office cubicles into sleeping quarters and a former laboratory into a communal kitchen.

From here, an average of 50 volunteers -- Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Mennonites -- spend one week at a time gutting homes or installing new drywall. Among the most recent recruits: 18 Muslim volunteers with Islamic Relief USA. The nonprofit relief and development group based in Alexandria, Va., was founded in 1993 and is now the largest Muslim charity in America, with a budget this year of $113.5 million.

The organization first sent a team to Princeville shortly after the October hurricane. Now it's extending its collaboration with the Methodists.

"This partnership is awesome," said Jason DuVall, the Methodist site manager. "I'm super stoked."

Posted by at August 25, 2017 5:48 AM