When Dania Albaba was a sophomore at the University of Houston in Texas, she wanted to do more to serve her community. So she and a few of her friends decided to launch a local chapter of the nonprofit group United Muslim Relief USA.
Three years later, Albaba and her friends found themselves going door to door to help Texans affected by April’s historic flood in Houston that killed eight people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.
Albaba was sent with a fellow student, Bassant El-Shazly, to visit the small town of Waller, Texas, about 60 kilometers from downtown Houston. With the town having a population of just 2,400, the young women wondered what kind of reception they would get.
The residents “surprised us with their kindness, humility and love,” Albaba recalled. “We came across a lady whose home must have been damaged, and asked if she experienced any flooding. She replied, ‘Don’t you worry about me. My neighbor has got it a lot worse.’ We were blown away by her selflessness,” said Albaba, now 21, who will start medical school this fall at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
The volunteers worked with a partner organization — Islamic Relief USA, which coordinates with the American Red Cross — and assessed flood damage in each household they inspected, reporting their findings to the appropriate agencies.
“What I remember most was the gratitude, smiles and even hugs we received,” said El-Shazly, 21, who graduated from the University of Houston in 2015 and will work at an international accountancy firm in the fall. “Most [families] were shocked that anyone thought to visit the areas they live in. They thought they were completely on their own.”
The flood victims — mostly lower-income, minority people — were not Muslim, Albaba said. “Our neighbors … were in need, and that’s all that mattered.”
With Ramadan in progress, the volunteers are helping in other ways, too. United Muslim Relief Houston’s annual Ramadan benefit dinner, held June 11, raised funds for United Muslim Relief USA’s health-care projects in Sudan, the Central African Republic, Bangladesh and elsewhere.
The Houston volunteers also are planning a Ramadan Project Downtown event, where they’ll prepare lunches for Houston’s homeless, even while they themselves are fasting.
Reflecting on her visit to Waller, El-Shazly said the experience was life-changing: “Prior to volunteering, when a flood warning came in, we worried about ourselves, our homes and our families. … I now think, ‘I’m okay. Let’s go help others who aren’t.'”