Muslim community responds

The Islamic Center for Peace in Orlando said they're prepared for another hurricane.

BY HEATHER MOYER | ORLANDO, Fla. | September 16, 2004

"This has been a long process but so humbling."

—Bassem Chaaban

The Islamic Center for Peace in Orlando said after dealing with Charley and Frances, they are prepared for another.

Volunteers from the center had been assisting emergency workers and neighbors after Hurricane Charley. Then Hurricane Frances rolled in, so the center opened up as an official American Red Cross shelter. They kept 280 people out of harm's way, and about 100 of those people were young children and teenagers from two different facilities that help youths affected by domestic violence.

"This was the first time we'd ever been open as a shelter," said Bassem Chaaban, assistant director of the center. "We learned so much from it, and we'd do it again."

Chaaban said many members of the center's community served as volunteers in the shelter, offering a chance for people from different backgrounds to really get to know each other. "This was very educational for everyone involved. Some of our women who helped were wearing the traditional headscarves, and then some of the teens would ask more about our community. We really built great friendships with everyone."

Once Frances left, the shelter closed and Chaaban said center volunteers took all the remaining food and supplies out into the community for distribution. They went to over 80 homes, checking in on neighbors and helping some remove downed trees and debris. "It was great to see neighbors helping neighbors," he noted.

One elderly woman the volunteers met started crying when they brought her ice. Her electricity was out, and she was worried about her heart medications - which required refrigeration. "This has been a long process, but so humbling. We're very thankful for the opportunity to help," said Chaaban.

The Center for Peace is an Islamic education outreach facility. Chaaban said they do all they can to be a presence in the community and help when needed. "We take these opportunities so seriously in a time when there are so many stereotypes about Islam." He added that they arere not helping for their own glory, but to show that peace and community-building are a central part of their faith.

Another recent community building activity the center held was a Sept. 11 Memorial Service and Volunteer Fair. Last Saturday, area residents gathered in the morning to honor those lost in the attacks. Several people of different faiths gave speeches, and then those in attendance were able to visit with representatives from ten different area service organizations to learn more and sign-up as a volunteer.

"We had invited many more organizations, but it's an understandably busy time down here in Florida with all the hurricane response," Chaaban explained. "But we will do this again and invite even more groups."

The Center for Peace's foray into disaster response is one that its members are all happy and honored to be a part of. They aim to work with many different organizations and faith-groups already well-established in the disaster relief world, according to Chaaban.

"We want to get into every avenue that we have the experience and resources for. That could definitely include long-term recovery, but learning about it will take some time - and our resources and manpower are limited. We've been telling our own storm-affected community members that we're trying to assist everyone, but it's taking time. We're thankful they're so patient."

With a possible Hurricane Jeanne on the horizon, the center is gearing up for another round of immediate disaster response by having meetings to prepare its faithful volunteers. "We'll be ready for this one," Chaaban said.

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