By Aisha Asif
Tupelo, Miss. May 11, 2014– ICNA Relief USA’s Disaster Response Team was deployed in Tupelo, a city in Northeast Mississippi with a population of around 35,000, for 10 days after the recent Tornado out-break that killed 14 people in the state and impacted several other Southern states as well. Our Disaster Response Team Lead Br. Arif Ali traveled to Tupelo to assess the damage and begin post-tornado efforts.
When Arif Ali, pulled up in front of Masjid Abraham in Tupelo, Mississippi, a man came out rushing towards him. “I thought I parked wrong,” Br. Arif. But instead of reprimanding him, the man said to Arif, “Alhumdulillah you’re here — how did you know we needed help?”
Ever since the tornado-outbreak of late April that started in Arkansas, a lot of media attention has been on the state where 16 people died and which was the first to be hit. As charities and aid organizations made their way to Little Rock, ICNA Relief USA’s Disaster Response Team made its way to Tupelo, where numerous local businesses and homes have been damaged.
Whole sections of restaurants and hotels have been obliterated, leaving nothing but a mass of planks and broken furniture scattered nearby; their once towering sign boards bearing their names now lying flat on the dirt. Many houses have had trees fallen on them while the neighboring home is untouched by damage. Across the state of Mississippi 14 people have died mostly in rural areas.
The man who met Arif that day was none other than the acting imam at the mosque Br. Abdul Raheem Khan. He said it was a blessing to have ICNA Relief at his masjid and expressed his relief at seeing their truck pullover for the first time: “It was more than just ‘help is here’ but ‘Muslim help is here.’” But he wondered why he wasn’t seeing the type of media coverage places like Arkansas were getting to attract greater support for his own city. “I don’t mean to be reacting negatively but do more people have to die here?”
“As the camera pans so follow the resources leaving other disaster-stricken communities not in the spotlight relatively fewer resources to get back on their feet,” said Sr. Jane Aslam, director of Disaster Response Services. ICNA Relief’s goal is to help people living in areas that won’t necessarily make it on T.V. “Therefore we choose to serve the underserved — those lacking the media attention and who are the greatest in need,” she said.
That’s why ICNA Relief has been working in places like nearby rural Marietta, — which has been in the news — clearing up debris from damaged houses, cutting fallen trees found littered on the ground and on top of houses, and tarping homes. It is an immense opportunity for the Muslim community to reach out to our American brothers and sisters to wipe away ugly stereotypes. Disaster Response team leader Arif Ali described his encounter with an elderly, disabled homeowner whose mobile home he recently tarped, “He looked and looked and he came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder and said Fourth of July — he invited me to have corn with him on the Fourth of July.”
Our other team leader Imam Rafiq had a similar heart-warming exchange with the homeowner who thanked him and added, “You’ve really changed hearts and minds. You changed my heart and mind.”
Br. Abdul Raheem Khan, who came out to volunteer with ICNA Relief in Mantachie, MS along with his mother-in-law, said he was looking for a way to do “dawah through practical work” and he found it. The mobile home he worked on with fellow ICNA Relief volunteers from Florida had flipped over a 180 degrees and crashed into an electric pole. The house which otherwise would’ve taken homeowner Robert six months to demolish, was done so in two days. To show his appreciation he and his family arranged lunch for the whole Disaster Response Team and all volunteers.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of help; ICNA Relief has done a great job,” Robert said. “They’re very nice and done so much work that I can’t explain — I would have moved on in three minutes. It’s a hot day and they’re still working,” he said.
ICNA Relief’s Disaster Response Team was in Tupelo from May 2nd to the 11th.