August 11th, 2010
07:00 AM ET
Editor's Note: Karim Amin is a domestic programs coordinator and humanitarian aid worker for Islamic Relief USA, based in Alexandria, Virginia.
By Karim Amin, Special to CNN
"I didn’t think anyone knew we were out here,” said the elder from the Crow Creek reservation as she humbly accepted a bag of food and clothing from me. “But you come back every year.”
She is known as “Grandma” on the Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Grandma is one of many Native Americans living in dilapidated conditions as joblessness and poverty continue to plague Crow Creek and many other reservations across the country.Too many reservations that were intended to give the Native Americans their own sovereign land have become outposts full of trailer homes and temporary housing - a place where the original people of the Americas have been sent to and generally ignored.
I had come to the Crow Creek Reservation with Islamic Relief USA’s (IR USA) Day of Dignity, an annual effort dedicated to alleviating poverty to thousands of people across the United States.
As Grandma talked to me about her and her family, I looked into her eyes and imagined all that she has seen - the pain, the neglect, the struggle.
“I am going to bring my grandsons to thank you and welcome you,” she said with a warm smile. “We really appreciate you coming here.”
I was moved but also humbled to see that a simple bag of groceries and supplies could make such a difference.
"It’s more than that," Grandma explained. Our presence there meant more than the aid and services we were providing–it was, she said, an acknowledgment of our common humanity.
Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit relief and development organization, began Day of Dignity eight years ago as a single event during the holy month of Ramadan. The idea was that since Ramadan is a season characterized by love, compassion and charity, American Muslims could use the day as an opportunity to act on their faith by helping those in need.
Today, Day of Dignity has evolved into an annual grassroots campaign that brings thousands of volunteers from all backgrounds together to distribute food, clothing, blankets, medical care, and other social services to homeless and underserved people. This year, the campaign’s goal is to serve about 20,000 people with the help of 2000 volunteers in more than 22 cities across the country.
At the Day of Dignity event on the Crow Creek Reservation this past June (the first one this year), Islamic Relief USA volunteers spent hours assembling and distributing aid packages filled with blankets, t-shirts, hygiene products, school supplies and food. Youth volunteers set up games and face painting for children who came to the event and health professionals were on hand to provide screenings.
But beyond the food, clothing and health services, perhaps the most touching exchange was that all day Crow Creek residents came and went, graciously accepting aid packages and stayed around to play games with the volunteers. Some of the elders sat with the volunteers to teach them about Native American language and culture.
One of the organizers of the event, Victor David, an American Muslim and long-time Native American advocate, said beyond assisting others, Day of Dignity’s’ goal is to bring diverse communities together in the spirit of giving.
“When we first came a few years back the people were hesitant first,” David said. “Now they look forward to us coming every year.”
We left hoping that we made a small a difference, if just for one day.
Islamic Relief USA will be hosting many other Day of Dignity events across the country during the holy month of Ramadan. It is my hope that American Muslims and people of all faiths will come out and join us as we extend beyond the comfort of our homes, mosques, churches, and communities to help those in need.
Almsgiving and helping those in need are major pillars of Islam and the basis of Islamic Relief USA’s work, but it is also the foundation for many other faiths.
As Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Do you love your Creator? Serve your fellow man first.”
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Karem Amin.
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