At 9.00 A.M. on Saturday, November 17, the first group of volunteers with GTAH and partners, boarded the Staten Island Ferry in downtown Manhattan, headed for Staten Island. More than 60 volunteers gathered in front of Staten Island Yankee Stadium, a minor league baseball park, waiting to be transported to the site where we would be working on the day. Included amongst the volunteers were, once again, United Nations Staff, Members of the International Buddhist Progress Society, the Bethel Community Church of Staten Island, representatives from the Liberian Community in Staten Island and representatives of the Sierra Leonean Community in Staten Island.
Our key partner on the day was the NYPD Community Affairs Division. With the assistance of some of its leaders on Staten Island – Lieutenant Goodwin and Officer Gianino – they arranged for our team to be transported to the work site in police vans, equipping us with gloves, masks and cleaning materials for the task of clearing debris from houses on Fox Lane in the Oakdale community of Staten Island.
Fox Lane borders on acres of sea grass which helps to separate the homes from the ocean. Many of the homes and properties we entered were choked with this grass which came in with the sea surge that flooded rooms that were, in some cases, 15 feet off the ground. Some of our volunteers worked on one house for the entire day, clearing out an unending supply of wet and ruined clothing, furniture and other items while preserving some items for further use by the owners. The residents of the devastated area certainly did not expect their good fortune to have so many hands turning up at their doors to help. They were overwhelmed and expressed their gratitude by providing water and buying pizza and sandwiches for everyone during a break period. Other team members working in groups went door to door offering assistance as needed and simply pitched in. One such group filled a container with debris while another helped to rip up the flooring of a house being gutted for eventual rehabilitation.
The email below from my colleague Mohammed Nurhussein, Chairman of the United African Congress, to the volunteers best sums up this experience:
“Dear Fellow Volunteers,
A gorgeous mosaic that is New York was in evidence today when a diverse group of volunteers composed of UN Staff, Immigrants of various nationalities and faiths, young and old, men and women descended on Staten Island to lend a helping hand to fellow New Yorkers adversely affected by the super storm Sandy. It was deeply gratifying for me to have been part of this uniquely human manifestation of solidarity and empathy, New Yorkers helping New Yorkers in need. We helped home owners whose houses were flooded all the way to the second floor. We took out wet moldy clothing items in garbage bags, removed soggy mattresses, furniture, dinning and kitchen items, bookshelves, tables, and emptied the attic of all its contents, helped clean up the mess on the floors. The home owners were touched by the gesture and took pictures of us and with us. Despite their loss, we were able to see that we managed to bring some comfort and respite as well as a smile to their faces. That was the ultimate reward for us. There was a warm camaraderie among us as we all cheerfully took part in what was at times a physically demanding work. Our work in Red Hook last Monday was also a similar experience and we hope to replicate this next week in Far Rockaway
To all volunteers, the coordinators and particularly the super coordinator, the unflappable Gordon Tapper who managed to pull this off, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for a job well done. The United African Congress is proud and honored to be one of the organizations of this unique coalition.
With my best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving,
Mohammed A Nurhussein, MD, Chairman, United African Congress”
Thanks to the leadership provided by:
Dr. Mohammed Nurhussein, Chairman of the United African Congress
Sidique Wai, President of the United African Congress and Senior Advisor to the NYPD Commissioner.
The Venerable Chueh Chen, Abbess of the International Buddhist Progress Society
Imam Shamsi Ali, Director of the Al-Hikma Mosque in Astoria, Queens
Famod Konneh, Chairman of the African Advisory Council
Passynna Bulabula, Secretary of the African Advisory council
Mamadou Kone, President of the African Day Parade Committee
Ahmed Dean Kargbo, President of the Sierra Leone National Association
William Wade, President of the Liberian Association.