Walking down Rundberg Lane, I cannot help but notice the great diversity of the area. For me personally, it represents a kaleidoscope of different cultures and faiths; in fact, Rundberg Lane today lives up to Red Wassenich's famous slogan, "Keep Austin Weird." Not far from there, in a quiet apartment complex, is the office of the Muslim Community Support Services, a nonprofit organization that I have had the privilege of being associated with for the last seven years; first as a volunteer and later as an executive board member.
But MCSS's story started more than 20 years ago. My uncle, with a small group of people, shared a vision to create a cemetery for the growing Muslim community in the greater Austin area. This success, catalyzed by pooled resources by the Muslim community, inspired the group to do more. Now, two decades later, MCSS is an all-volunteer run organization with a plethora of initiatives, including providing support, aid and shelter to refugees and victims of domestic violence, English as a second language classes, tutoring services, scholarships and more.
As a Muslim immigrant, who chose to press the reset button in my own life, my family and I incurred many struggles to establish ourselves in this country and form new relationships. However, throughout this journey, I was always aware of how privileged we were compared with the many refugees who were forced to flee their country, leaving behind roots, connection and community.
My uncle introduced me to a wonderful woman when I needed a babysitter, and I instinctively knew I could trust her with my children. She had such a pleasant and cheerful persona and formed an instant unbreakable bond with my family.
It was only later that I discovered that she and her family had to flee Iraq, leaving behind a prosperous business and beautiful home; in the process they lost contact with their 20-year old son. I would lay awake for hours holding my babies tight, picturing the harsh reality that my sweet friend might never see her son again. This is what originally prompted me to start volunteering with this organization.
Helping another human being is a core tenant of Islam, whether by way of time, money or effort. It serves as the guiding principle for all MCSS initiatives. I truly believe that by helping others we pay our rent here on God’s Earth. The Quran says:
“Those who spend their wealth by night and day secretly and openly, then for them (is) their reward with their Lord, and no fear on them and not they will grieve.” (2:274)
For the many tragedies that these families endure, there are also tremendous stories of resilience, and success.
Today many of the refugees that MCSS has helped in the past have added value to the local economy by opening businesses: restaurants, grocery stores, auto shops, and car dealerships.
My family would go to a popular Mediterranean café, which is owned and run by one of our oldest clients. This proud entrepreneur wept tears of gratitude as she hugged my uncle and told us the story of how she was a widowed mother with a large family, none of whom spoke a word of English when they first arrived in Austin. With the support of MCSS, she worked hard to put her children through school.
This successful family now continues to “pay it forward” by employing other refugees and less fortunate individuals. Her success and philanthropy are a testament to the fact that community care is everything when refugee families get the right support at the right time.
The children of these families add so much joy to our lives. Tutoring them has been rewarding for me and my own kids on so many levels because despite their personal struggles, their smiles and laughter make us appreciate what is important in life beyond the materialism that we see around us. It is a symbiotic relationship that improves the lives of these little beauties, but also enriches my own, and motivates me to continue energizing the Muslim community here in Austin.
On World Refugee Day (June 20), and especially in these unprecedented times, I ask that you join us in commemorating the courage and perseverance shown by my growing family; they never cease to inspire me to be a better citizen and to contribute the way they have through their courage fortitude and resilience in the face of insurmountable odds.
Nazia Khan is an executive board member for the local nonprofit Muslim Community Support Services. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.