Fri April 9, 2010
Islamic school faces challenges after flood
By Elisabeth Harrison
West Warwick, RI – "I still have nightmares," she said. "And actually every time I step foot in the school, it actually has affected me."
The damage is considerable. A layer of black sludge covers the floors, which will probably have to be replaced. Earlier this week, teachers wearing masks and plastic bags over their shoes picked through the wreckage to see what they could salvage. One teacher says she lost everything in her first grade classroom.
The Islamic school serves roughly 130 students from Rhode Island and Connecticut in preschool to 8th grade. Classes in math, English and other subjects are supplemented with classes in Arabic and religion. Board member Sterck Zaza says that complicates the cleanup effort.
"There is sensitive material in the school and when I say sensitive, we have our holy books," she said. "Those cannot go to the landfill, they have to be either buried or burnt. I believe burnt. And so we have to treat those with respect."
Computers and administrative offices were also destroyed, and the entire first floor will have to be cleaned and sanitized. School officials estimate the damage at roughly $400,000. Like many Rhode Islanders, they didn't have flood insurance. Zaza went to the local school committee to ask for help.
"The flooring, everything up to two feet in the gymnasium has been under the flood," she said. "So we're just reaching out to the community, everyone, the Muslim community, the Catholic community."
School officials said they would spread the word. Then Principal Bassima Al-Jallad got some encouraging news from a local church.
"I got the call that 'Yes, you can use the building,' and of course we have nothing there, nothing to bring there," Al-Jallad said.
Al-Jallad says the community has been coming together to try to help her tiny school. Local mosques have already started collecting donations, and she's hoping for more aid from Islamic Relief, an international disaster relief organization
"The first thing we all said was al hamdillah,' thank god," she said. "We're not complaining, we're going to accept it as it is because we say that it's like a test, it's an experience we're going to go through and we all expect that when there's a hardship something good is going to come after."
Classes resumed Wednesday in the school's temporary home, though teachers say they'll be working in a reduced capacity. If nothing else, they hope the church and the rest of the community's generosity will be a good lesson in how neighbors can pull together in a time of crisis.