Waqar Khan near his house (with red door) in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. One year after Sandy, it is still being repaired. Hanifa Haris for Al Jazeera America
“I was shocked they didn’t know about us — it’s a failure of our marketing,” Siddiqi said. “But now we’re a household name in this area.”
ICNA Relief is a Muslim organization that focuses all its resources on needs within the United States. Its funding comes primarily from private donations, save for a very small amount from New York City specifically designated for its food-pantry project. Getting donations for Sandy aid was a struggle, though, as many people thought FEMA was providing everything that was needed — of the $700,000 that ICNA Relief estimates it spent on Sandy relief, it received just $200,000 in donations. Many of the donors, such as Hussaini, were also volunteers. Though much of New York City’s Pakistani-American community is based in Brighton Beach, ICNA’s services were available to, and used by, people of any religion or background.
Still, Siddiqi’s own Pakistani identity meant he understood cultural norms within the diaspora. One hurdle the organization faced was the strong tendency within the culture to resist asking for or accepting help. So ICNA officials went door to door after dark, offering heaters, blankets and financial help to people who weren’t comfortable accepting it during the day.
Today Mohammad Ameen, who works in the grocery store, is grateful his employers have given him more hours since the storm — his home was flooded and he needs the extra income. After Sandy, he slept on the floor and wasn’t able to change his clothes for nearly a month. When Siddiqi heard this, he looked at Ameen in surprise. Other than a few blankets, Ameen had accepted little help from ICNA Relief.
“He didn’t ask us,” Siddiqi said. “We were here.”
Just around the corner, Waqar Khan lives in a basement apartment below his family home. There are couches, a bed, a kitchenette and a bathroom, and the narrow hallway is cluttered with a supply of building materials and boxes. Khan has rigged the electrical board, which he fears might give out at any point, and the boiler hasn’t worked all year. But a little less than a year ago, when ICNA finished cleaning his home, there was nothing but the building's skeleton and debris.
“I don’t know how we got signed up for that,” Khan said, “but next thing you know they brought all the Muslim students with hammers and axes.”
Khan’s home has cost more than $100,000 to fix so far, and the repairs aren’t complete. While he, too, was reluctant to accept any help, especially of a material or financial nature (the one heater he was given, he in turn gave away), he was grateful INCA helped to gut the basement because the process would have been costly.
And Khan also knows his family was fortunate in comparison to others.