August 18, 2004
Khurram Saeed, Staff of THE JOURNAL NEWS
CHESTNUT RIDGE – Still sniffling from the cold she caught in Chile last month, Nuranisa Rae livens up as soon as she starts talking about the homes she and her friends built for that nation’s poor.
The two-room wood houses were simple, but judging by the reactions of Chile’s indigenous people, Rae, 17, said one would have thought they were mansions.
"If anybody in America looked at this house, they would be like, `Can I put my bike in there?’ " said Rae, who lives in Chestnut Ridge. "But for these people, it was just the nicest thing. It was better than anything they had ever had."
Rae was among 15 Rockland youngsters who are members of Youth for Humanity, a local group affiliated with the Jerrahi Mosque in Chestnut Ridge, who returned Aug. 6 from their nearly month-long humanitarian operation.
Youth for Humanity was co-founded by Rae and her friend, Anna Holland, last summer. Although the pair and most of the group’s 30 members are Muslim, its mission is not religious.
Two Christian teenagers also made the trip to Chile in July, and Holland said all were invited to join.
"Part of our religion includes charity and works of charity," Holland said. "We fulfilled one requirement of our religion by doing this trip, but it’s open to everyone."
Before it officially organized itself under Youth for Humanity, many of the Muslim youngsters went to Bosnia the summer of 2002 and visited Kosovo last summer to work with orphans suffering from post-war trauma, director Shqipe Shaira Malushi said.
On a local level, the group has held food drives to benefit People to People in Nyack, and delivered food, clothing and supplies to New York City’s homeless as part of the Midnight Run project. Many of the group’s members also attend the Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge.
Youth for Humanity decided to work in Chile this year because the Jerrahi Mosque, part of the Sufi order, has a branch in the nation’s capital, Santiago.
They partnered with the charity "Un Techo Para Chile," which translates: A Roof for Chile, and built homes for the Mapuche, an indigenous people who live in the mountains in the southern part of the country. The Americans worked alongside Chilean youngsters who also volunteered during their school vacation.
Nuriya Oswald, a 17-year-old from Chestnut Ridge, said she was moved by the Mapuche’s meager living conditions. Typical homes were small and made of wood with corrugated metal roofs. In one instance, Oswald said a family lived with their chickens.
Although Oswald said she had always been grateful for the life she led, she said people needed to see poverty with their own eyes to appreciate their riches.
Even though it was winter and they spent 10 days of hard physical labor, building the new homes proved that much more satisfying.
"We could see what came out of it," Oswald said. "When we met the families, we could see what a big impact we were making."
The Chilean charity, similar to Habitat for Humanity, builds homes for $400. To foster a feeling of ownership and pride, each family is required to pay 10 percent, or $40.
Youth for Humanity donated $800, enough for two homes. The money was raised in Rockland through a garage sale, a
Moroccan dinner fund-raiser and by selling meat pies at the mosque before and after Friday prayers.
Jennette Morgan, 16, was touched by the Mapuches’ hospitality. Although they had very little, they prepared lunch every day for their guests.
"Even though they had nothing, they were willing to give us anything we needed so we would be comfortable," the Chestnut Ridge girl said. "It makes you want to cry."
Oswald said the trip had another unintended benefit.
Many of the people they met in Chile had never met a Muslim. It gave them an opportunity to talk about their faith and answer questions, such as why some of the young women in the group wore headscarves while others did not.
It was a matter of choice, she explained. Oswald noted that the humanitarian trip should not be confused with missionary work.
"Religion definitely does not come up," she said, "unless people ask us questions first."
Reach Khurram Saeed at email@example.com or 845-578-2412.
For more information
To join or for more information about Youth for Humanity, call Nuranisa Rae at 845-425-4504.