Muslim and Methodist volunteers are teaming up to help a town hard-hit by Hurricane Matthew.
Islamic Relief USA and the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church will send volunteers to rebuild homes in Princeville, a town still recovering from extensive flooding in the aftermath of the hurricane last October.
Islamic Relief USA, a national humanitarian organization, will bring Muslim volunteers from across the country on five trips to Princeville starting this month, said Hani Hamwi, who manages the organization’s disaster response team.
This is the organization’s second trip to North Carolina for Hurricane Matthew recovery. Last October, in the weeks immediately after the storm, Muslim volunteers aided at a shelter in Pembroke.
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But this time will be different, Hamwi said – focused on long-term recovery for residents of one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew.
Princeville, a town of about 2,000 with a population that is more than 95 percent African-American, was submerged by flooding last October when a levee failed. Many of the houses in town remain uninhabitable, with residents living in FEMA trailers or with friends and family since the flood.
The town has been slow to recover, Princeville mayor Bobbie Jones wrote in an email. He said the most important objective was “bringing our citizens home, whole – physically, mentally, emotionally, culturally and spiritually.”
Rebuilding homes so Princeville’s residents can return to normalcy is the objective of Hamwi’s volunteers, mostly young men and women from other states. He hopes to bring as many as 250 volunteers to Princeville between mid-August and December.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in the state of North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew, and that’s our intent over the next coming months,” he said.
Islamic Relief USA’s partner, the N.C. Methodist Church’s Disaster Response team, has been working in the area for months.
Jason DuVall, the team’s Tarboro-area site manager, said it is frustrating at times to confront the extensive damage still present in the region.
“People don’t really realize the damage still at this day and time,” he said. “That’s the wow factor, of really realizing the impact this water has had.”
But DuVall said he is encouraged by the partnership with Islamic Relief USA because it demonstrates how people from different backgrounds can work together.
“We worship the same God; we just have differences in how we worship,” he said. “We’re just trying to let the world know that we can get along in peace.”
Hamwi said his volunteers have had an excellent reception – despite many members of the community never having met a Muslim-American before.
“People from all faith backgrounds, and people from all different backgrounds, need to come together to help out their neighbors and get people the support that they need,” he said.
Beginning Aug. 20, Islamic Relief USA volunteers will work for a week at a time, doing “muck-outs” – clearing abandoned houses of flood-related debris, mud and mold. The houses will then be gutted, treated for mold and then rebuilt, said DuVall.
Mayor Jones called the collaboration “a true representation of how the world should work together,” and said he is hopeful for the future.
“We are definitely thankful for all volunteers who are sacrificing of their time and energy assisting us in our recovery,” he said. “After each flood, our town rebounds, bigger, better and brighter than before. This will be no different.”
Sam Killenberg: 919-829-4802