Finding Home Again
On August 29th 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana soil. The devastating effects of this storm have left us awed and overwhelmed. Ten years later we are entering 2015 with a renewed spirit to uplift the communities and neighborhoods that were affected by this tragedy. On January 5th, ICNA Relief had the honor of being a part of this noble effort to rebuild and restore New Orleans.
ICNA Relief's Director of Disaster Response, Jane Aslam, was working with staff and volunteers to rebuild a home on the corner of South Scott Street in Mid-City New Orleans. On this cool sunny day, students from local MSAs, families, and friends came together to make a difference. A mix of hoodies, hijabs, and hats colored the scene with an atmosphere of unity and collaboration. The siding of the yellow painted house was being replaced and caulked in preparation for painting. Volunteers stood on scaffolding that they had recently set up. Inside, debris was being removed and window frames were being painted. The ICNA Relief 'Muslims for Humanity' T-shirts were swimming in and around the house, embodying the slogan in real time.
Amongst the group of hard workers was Hannan Albassisi, mother of Eman, a student volunteer with the MSA of Xavier University. Hannan first heard of the rebuild project from her daughter at home. “601 South Scott Street,” Eman said to her mother. At first, she thought it was a joke. “Oh my God!” exclaimed Hannan after Eman insisted she was serious. It was a shock. Hannan immediately picked up the phone to call her sisters, nieces, nephews, and friends to join her in the effort to rebuild her childhood home.
Hannan was born in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents migrated from Palestine to the United States. At the age of six, her family moved to New Orleans, where she lived in the very same house she stood before on that beautiful morning. “Back then the house was white with a red porch,” Hannan explained. While on site, she revisited her past as old memories rose to the surface. “The whole block was one big living room. Everyone was out on the porch. The kids would be playing together, as the parents sat watching. We were the outdoor generation,” Hannan reminisced. Upon visiting the backyard she recalled burying her kitten there. In years past, there were several times that she drove by South Scott street and made a point to share her childhood memories with her kids. This day, she had the chance to literally show them exactly where it was that she fell and broke her arm or where she would play 1,2,3 red-light with her friends.
While Eman and her friend painted inside, she yelled to them, “Make sure my windows look nice!” Clearly, Hannan's sense of ownership and love for her home are very much alive. She lived in this house from age six to nineteen, spending her formative years here. She was very proud and invested in contributing to the rebuild project.
In addition to New Orleans, ICNA Relief USA's Disaster Response team recently visited Columbia, Mississippi. Columbia is a small rural town in the southern Mississippi Delta with a population of 6,400 people. An EF3 tornado stormed through this area on Christmas Eve leaving over 100 families without homes and 5 people dead. This was a heavy blow to bear for this small, close-knit community. Our Director of Disaster Relief Services, Sister Jane Aslam, joined by her sister, niece, and great-niece journeyed to Columbia, her native town. When they contacted the Community Donation and Volunteer Center, they learned that the food supply had run out. Evening phone calls were made in a frenzy of concern and eagerness to help. By the next day, volunteers were purchasing, packaging, and delivering food to families that were now doubling-up in the homes of their relatives.
While in Columbia, Sister Jane visited the community cemetery. As she stood at the feet of her parents' graves, she noticed the head stones surrounding theirs. The etched names echoed back the story of her past. Uncles, aunts, great-uncles, aunts, and other kin lay resting together. At this moment, it dawned on her that she was literally standing at the "roots of her family tree". She was home. While witnessing the traces of her ancestors, she was overcome by a feeling of deep gratitude for being the first among her family to receive the blessing and beauty of the Islamic tradition.
Sister Jane's father, a home-builder, moved from Columbia to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy struck in 1965. History has come back full circle now that Sister Jane has traveled from her current residence in Louisiana to help the people of Columbia, Mississippi.
As a convert to Islam, Sister Jane is among those Muslims that have deep roots in this country, and with that comes a natural attachment and desire to keep the home safe and happy for all those that reside in it. The story of Hannan Albassisi is not so different. Although, her ancestors come from a land faraway called Palestine, she is growing new roots in fresh soil. The work of ICNA Relief USA is unearthing new meanings of home for those taking part in the transformation and healing of our communities.
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