Red Cross

Editor’s Note: “Peace be upon him” (abbreviated “pbuh”) is a salutation for the prophets of Islam. Who receives salutations depends on the school of thought. It is a mandatory practice per the Quran and hadiths.

One out of every six people in the United States endures a palpable struggle with hunger. This translates to nearly 54 million hungry Americans; of that, 15.9 million children live in food-insecure households.  Applying this statistic to the Texas Department of State Health Services 2014 population projection, there are 330,000 hungry in the Austin-Round Rock region, and probably more since Texas has one of the highest rates of hunger in America. It goes without saying that malnourishment can hinder mental and physical development, thus it is a detriment to our economy as well as to our principles as a value-based country.  Hunger is a tragedy that scars this land of the free and diminishes the American promise of the brave. 

That being said, Americans from various backgrounds are continuing the fight against hunger. As members of the American community, Muslims are no exception. Today marks the start of Hunger Awareness Week, an annual week of events where the United Muslim Relief chapter at the University of Texas at Austin seeks to increase awareness about hunger in the local community and abroad. The week includes various types of events including a rally, a movie screening and even a keynote by regional Red Cross CEO Marty McKellips. Another aspect of the week is the ongoing canned food drive dubbed “CANpaign.” UMR partners with the Capital Area Food Bank as its benefactor; last year, UMR was able to donate around 570 cans. In fact, UMR has a long-standing relationship with the Capital Area Food Bank, where UMR members volunteer often. 

The week of events will end with “Project Downtown,” an event where members gather to make sack lunches. Then, together, they distribute the food and water to the homeless in downtown Austin. This project is also a regular event hosted roughly six times a year. Last year, UMR distributed roughly 300 sack lunches per Project Downtown. Beyond the numbers, what really makes this experience life-changing is the act of distribution. Members talk and interact with the homeless. Learning about their lives or just how they are doing that day humanizes them. After all, as some members of the UT community forget all too often, they are human, something we tend to forget while walking down the Drag. 

The hunger cause comes second nature to Muslims, just as any cause against injustice. As Muslims, who fast for the month of Ramadan, we are reminded every year of the importance of providing for the less fortunate. Since charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, being a Muslim means being charitable, especially since Islam is unique in its specific dictation of how to live one’s life. Muslims are taught that charity has a broad meaning encompassing the charity of money, of character, and in this context, feeding the hungry. The extent of compassion extends beyond just humans as well. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once stopped his preparation for prayers and provided water to a cat until the cat’s thirst was quenched. The importance of this story can only be fully realized when you consider the fact that Islam is very strict about starting your prayers on time, and leaves little cause for one to neglect the practice.  Furthermore, the Qur’an is explicit in the importance and commandment of feeding the hungry.

“And they [the God-conscious] give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive.”

Among the most famous Muslim relief organizations out there, Helping Hands stands out, exemplifying the aforementioned ideals. Charity Navigator awarded this charity its highest rating, four stars. In comparison, Red Cross only received three stars. Last year, Helping Hands spent over 20 million for their program services, including everything from education and health to community development and family support. 

Struggles present us with opportunities to do something great. If there weren’t fear then what would courage be? And if there wasn’t evil then what would good be? Believe it or not, feeding the homeless takes courage. It takes courage to accept the dark realities and the responsibilities associated with them. Struggles present opportunities for us to come together and do good despite our differences. As Muslims continue their struggle to illuminate the darkness of ISIS and the like, I will end with this quote from Asif Moosani, economics senior and president of the UMR chapter at UT.

“An act of charity forges fraternity between strangers and community between enemies.”

Rizvi is a government senior from Chicago.

A fire early Monday morning forced 32 residents to evacuate the Walnut Run apartment complex in North Campus. 

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Update (6:00 p.m.): The shelter provided by the Red Cross at the Recreational Sports Center officially shut down around 3:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon because no more students had come to utilize its services, according to volunteer Bob Stephens. 

Stephens said students affected by the fire had found temporary housing with friends or family, and Student Emergency Services made sure that the three students who checked into the shelter Monday morning had places to stay that night.

Original story: A fire at an apartment complex north of campus forced 32 residents, including students, to evacuate from their housing early Monday morning. 

According to Austin Fire Department spokeswoman Michelle Tanzola, the fire started in a second floor apartment around 2:30 a.m. Monday at the Walnut Run complex on 3202 Helms St. near Speedway and 32nd streets. 

A total of 18 apartment units were affected, and the fire was extinguished around 3 a.m. Firefighters evacuated both the main apartment complex and the two buildings next door.

Management graduate student Suho Han said he was in the apartment right below where the fire started. 

“I woke up around 2:30, and it sounded like popcorn popping, so I looked out the window..and [there was] fire on the roof of the balcony, and embers coming down” Han said. “I got up, put on my shorts...and grabbed my keys and my wallet. We got outside, and the fire was going up the wall.” 

According to Han, firefighters arrived on the scene fairly quickly.

“Once the fire department came, they told us to get across the street,” Han said. “It took about 20 minutes for the firefighters to put out the fire, but then it came back a little bit.”

Han said his apartment was severely damaged, but was told he might be able to go back later in the day and gather a few more of his belongings.

“It’s all trash now,” Han said. “I’m probably going to stay at my friend’s house until I can find somewhere else.” 

Students were evacuated to the Recreational Sports Center, where a temporary shelter was set up by the American Red Cross of Central Texas.  

Bob Stephens, one of the Red Cross volunteers. said the shelter was set up around 6 a.m. Monday morning. At press time, only 3 students were registered to stay at the shelter, but Stephens said more students are expected to come by tonight. Stephens said he expected most students would stay with friends or family. 

“We’re providing sleeping cots, blankets, a comfort kit with personal items, and snacks,” Stephens said. “The Rec Center is providing access to showers.”

Stephens said the shelter is expected to remain open for as long as it is needed by students.

Christa Lopez, Student Emergency Services associate director, said her organization is working to provide emergency funds and other basic necessities for students affected by the fire.

No one was injured, and the cause of the fire is still unknown.

Rae Lewis-Thornton tested HIV positive at the age of 23. She will be speaking to UT students about the stigmas of HIV/AIDS on Wednesday. 

Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis | Daily Texan Staff

In the winter of 1986, Rae Lewis-Thornton decided to donate blood at a local hospital in Washington, D.C. She was young, successful and happy, with a boyfriend and a job working for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. 

Three months later, Lewis-Thornton received a letter from the Red Cross regarding the blood she donated and asked her to come in. She left the Red Cross that day, HIV positive at the age of 23.

Nearly 30 years later, Lewis-Thornton is still fighting her disease, but she is focused on changing the stereotypes associated with HIV/AIDS in America. On Wednesday she will speak at the Texas Student Activity Center about this issue and its stigmas. The event is presented by the African American Culture Committee.

Lewis-Thornton tested positive when much was still unknown about HIV and AIDS. As this strange new illness ravaged America, researchers could not get a grip on the disease.

“At that time we didn’t know HIV was a death sentence,” Lewis-Thornton said. “I remember thinking when I left the Red Cross, ‘It’s alright, I only have HIV, and I can handle this.’”

Lewis-Thornton also remembers intense confusion. HIV was mostly associated with homosexual, drug-using white men at the time. Lewis-Thornton was drug and alcohol free, heterosexual and monogamous in her relationships. She didn’t understand how an educated and successful woman was placed in this situation.

“People never seem to think it could happen to them,” Lewis-Thornton said. “That is the major issue I want to come across. You are the only one who can keep you safe.”

For seven years Lewis-Thornton kept her HIV a complete secret. She continued to progress in political organizations and worked on several presidential and senatorial campaigns. She did not let her situation come across in her work and most of her friends and family were completely in the dark.

When she turned 30, however, her T-cell count dropped below 200, and her virus transitioned into AIDS. At this point, Lewis-Thornton knew she had to tell her close friends and family about the illness that was slowly destroying her body.

She said she was most worried about informing Jackson of her illness. After working together on two presidential campaigns, he had become like a father to Lewis-Thornton.

“I’ll never forget when he said, ‘I loved you before AIDS, and I’ll love you after,’” Lewis Thornton said.

Lewis-Thornton had no intention of going into motivational speaking. It never even crossed her mind. One day, however, a Chicago high school teacher begged her to speak with her students about the realities of HIV/AIDS. She was hesitant at first, but was ultimately convinced.

As the class periods changed, some students left and the next class filed in. But Lewis-Thornton noticed that throughout the day, some students did not leave.

Lewis-Thornton asked the teacher why some students were being kept in the room for multiple lectures. She asked if it was a punishment. 

According to Lewis-Thornton, the teacher replied, “A few of the kids have been skipping class to hear you speak again. They’ve refused to leave.”

The actions of these students flipped a switch in Lewis-Thornton’s mind. Three weeks later, she quit her job and decided to start speaking for groups interested in the truth about HIV/AIDS. She believes it is her calling.

“I walked away from that high school and couldn’t shake this feeling of gratitude,” Lewis-Thornton said. “I knew I had the duty to educate everyone I could about this illness.”

Lewis-Thornton’s lectures are typically open forums where no question is too provocative. She has few reservations addressing intimate details about her story and the effects of HIV/AIDS.

“You can actually see the girls squirm when I tell them I have 15- to 21-day menstrual cycles,” Lewis-Thornton said.

Lewis-Thornton believes that HIV/AIDS should be as relevant today as it was in the early 1990s. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one person contracts HIV every nine-and-a-half minutes. She said that although it is not a “sexy” topic, HIV/AIDS is too important to glaze over.

Abigail Emery, a biology pre-med freshman and a budding AIDS activist, agrees with Lewis-Thornton. She will be attending Lewis-Thornton’s lecture Wednesday.

“It is an issue that has seemed to become nonexistent in the past decade,” Emery said. “There is still so much that must be done.”

Perhaps Lewis-Thornton’s new perspective and approach to AIDS awareness will give UT students a reformed understanding of HIV/AIDS relevance today. Lewis-Thornton hopes to inspire a new generation to stand up in the fight against AIDS and its negative stereotypes, one lecture at a time.

MOSCOW — Russia said Monday that Syria’s government and rebels should halt their fighting once a day to give the Red Cross access to the wounded and that jailed protesters should be allowed to have visitors.

The call from Russia, an important ally of Syria’s, came after its officials met with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had urged Moscow to take such a stand.

Russia had previously backed the ICRC’s call for a cease-fire, but Monday’s statement from the Foreign Ministry was worded more strongly than the previous ones, in an apparent signal that Moscow is raising the pressure on Syria.

The statement followed Moscow’s talks between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it agrees with the ICRC about what is needed during Syria’s uprising. ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini welcomed Moscow’s response, saying his organization “received positive indications of support on its operational priorities and on its call for a two-hour cessation in fighting on a daily basis.”

The Red Cross has not received permission from Syria to access all parts of the country affected by the fighting. Damascus also has not agreed to daily cease-fires.

Mardini said the meeting with Lavrov was part of contacts “with all those who could have a positive influence on its action in Syria,” adding that the Red Cross hopes to “see concrete results of such meetings on the ground in the coming days or weeks.”

“Our main interlocutors remain the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition,” she added.

Russia and China have protected Syria from United Nations sanctions over its crackdown on the uprising, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed. But Moscow recently has shown some signs that it was losing patience with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s harsh stance.

Lavrov told lawmakers last week that the Syrian leader has been slow to implement long-needed reforms, warning that the conflict in the Arab state could spiral out of control.

He also complained in a weekend interview with state television about the “unproportional” use of force by the government troops and said that Moscow disagrees with many of the decisions made by the Syrian leadership.

“We are supporting the need to start a political process, and to do that it’s necessary to have a cease-fire first,” Lavrov said. “Russia will do everything for that, irrespective of the decisions made by the Syrian government. We disagree with many of those, by the way.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Russia presses Syrian daily truces to grant Red Cross access to aid