Shortly after registering for the ISNA conference (see last post), I got an email about a community service opportunity for one of the mornings of the conference on behalf of a group called Dream of Detroit.
Here’s a short description of Dream of Detroit from their website:
Dream of Detroit is a Muslim-led initiative that’s combining community organizing with strategic housing and land development to build a healthy community and empower a marginalized neighborhood.
The group would give volunteers a little history tour of Islam in Detroit, take us to free clinic in Detroit called Huda Clinic where we would get a tour, and then all of us would take part in either renovating a house or working on an urban garden. To me, it seemed like an interesting way to not only check out more of the city, but to do something good as well.
There were about 30-40 of us on the bus ride over to the clinic. Mark, who is involved with Dream of Detroit, gave us all a bit of a history lesson as we took the side streets to our destination. According to Mark, Detroit has had a Muslim community for more than 100 years, with the first masjid in 1921.
When we got to the Huda Clinic, we got a presentation about the start of the clinic and all the services they offer. The clinic started with six couples who wanted to make a difference and now they supply free healthcare to those in Detroit, regardless of faith. In the beginning, the clinic was open only one day a week. Now, it’s open four days a week. Doctors of all faiths volunteer their time at the clinic as a way to give back to the community.
After we got a tour of the Huda Clinic and learned more about Dream of Detroit and their goals, we split up into groups to pick a project to work on. I decided to help out on the garden.
Within the past year, the clinic started an urban garden based on the needs of the community around them as access to fresh fruits and vegetables was limited. Organizations around them are also helping – Home Depot is going to build them a shed and Tim Hortons donates their coffee grounds. They even have plans to install solar panels and have a tilapia farm.
Working on the urban garden was a brand new experience for me. I know zero about gardening. Less than zero even. For starters, I didn’t even know what the difference between urban gardening and non-urban gardening. As one of the regular volunteers explained, there’s lead in the soil so you really can’t dig below an inch or two to plant anything. So, they are using raised beds to plant.
I asked one of the volunteers, Babar why he does what he does – volunteering at the Huda clinic and working in the Urban Garden. “Because I’m Muslim,” he said. He said that this kind of work is contagious, essentially that if some people start this kind of work, others will join. He told me about how the neighbors started cleaning up the area once they started the garden, clearing out piles of litter that were taller than me and he mentioned that one of the neighborhood kids, a 10 year old boy (who happened to also be there while we were all there), figured out how to irrigate the garden when college graduates couldn’t figure it out.
It was cool to see so much passion from all the regular volunteers that day and even though I’m not from Detroit, I felt a lot of pride for the city. These people are by providing resources to the community in a city they love. Most definitely inspirational.
If any of you ever find yourselves in Detroit, be sure to check out these organizations!