Ruba Odeh of Canton, Mich., is a 34-year-old wife, mother of four girls and a pharmacist to boot. So when she heard about the current lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Odeh felt the need to act. “It hits close to home — Flint isn’t that far away from us,” she said. “But just in general, even if I wasn’t in Michigan, it’s something that should spark concern in most people, what’s going on there right now.”
Odeh is one of the many Muslims helping out with the humanitarian efforts to help start the healing process in Flint right now after what started as a way to offset the city’s financial crisis turned into a full-on medical emergency, with beyond toxic levels of lead leaching into the city’s water supply.
We spoke to Odeh as a part of MuslimGirl’s ongoing coverage of Flint about her efforts to help out the citizens of the city, how we can continue to provide aid and our Islamic obligation to help our Muslim and non-Muslim brothers and sisters in need.
MuslimGirl: Why did you choose to go to Flint?
Ruba Odeh: I think what happened there just seems so inhumane to me, just the way the water supply was changed due to budget cuts or whatever — they were trying to save money, which is fine, but once residents started complaining about the water and the way it looked and the way that it tasted, I just felt like it was completely dismissed.
Their concerns were completely dismissed. And I know that area, a lot of it is low socioeconomic communities — and just myself having children and knowing how important clean water is, that stuff made me think that we should go out there and try to help and provide these people with clean drinking water.
It wasn’t that far of a trip, maybe an hour and 25 minutes away from here, but I was actually at Friday prayer when they made the announcement that they needed help distributing water to families, and that was the day before.
So I just called the number that they gave us and I found out more information and got in contact with the coordinator and got more details. And we were free that day, so I figured why not?
How else can Muslims help out in the situation right now?
The Muslims community has actually stepped up, really! I know a lot of people have donated water to masjids across the country, not just in Michigan — and I know there’s a big supply from a shipment coming in next weekend, so there’s actually going to be a bigger initiative next weekend distributing to more people who need water.
So I think that’s a great thing — the donating of the water — and there’s also websites where you can actually donate money-wise, because we’re not just distributing water; we’re also distributing clean filters to the houses, and I think with the amount of people that have been affected by this — I thinks somewhere upwards of 12,000 residents — any kind of donation, big or small, would really help.
And if you don’t have the money to donate, just do what people like me are doing and go out there and help out with the distribution.
From a Muslim perspective, it’s our duty; from a human perspective, it’s our duty. This could’ve been any one of us. It could’ve been any one of our communities.
What struck you as most alarming about the situation?
What struck me as most alarming is the fact that the government officials in the county and in the city in general had known about the potential risks of the water contamination, and even after they had known, they allowed it to continue.
They kept dismissing it, and they were reassuring the residents that the water was safe to drink. That whole cover up was very alarming to me, and I just think that the fact that it wasn’t handled immediately is basically criminal on their part.
From what you saw, how did the current socioeconomic status of Flint contribute to the situation?
Flint is known — years ago, with everything that was happening with the automotive industry and the stuff that was going on over there with the shutdown and a lot of people losing their jobs, I think it just went downhill from there.
So the neighborhoods that we visited, a lot of them were condemned housing, a lot of vacant houses. The people that were there, when we’d knock on the door and offer them the water and the water filters, were in pretty much public housing.
The areas we went to, there weren’t a lot of businesses open or really any activity in general — it didn’t appear to me to be a very well-kept city. Those are of course just the areas we visited; I’m not sure if outside the area we visited, there are more flourishing towns, but just the specific places that were on our route were very low-income areas.
What would you tell someone who’s on the fence about getting involved or doesn’t really know how to get involved in the first place?
Definitely, if you can do it, do it. There’s so many communities — not just in this community — that are in need. I’m sure wherever you are, there are people that could use your help.
From a Muslim perspective, it’s our duty; from a human perspective, it’s our duty. This could’ve been any one of us. It could’ve been any one of our communities, so just put yourself in their shoes and just think how you would feel.
As long as I’m available and as long as they need help, I’m going to keep doing it.
As far as getting involved, your whoever — your local mosques, churches, universities, somebody will have information on how to get involved, and there’s always information on websites.
Launchgood.org is a website that sometimes I go to to get information on what communities are doing, and the internet and Facebook and social media are a great source. As soon as I found out, I put a status up to let people know that I was going out to Flint to help distribute the water and I got a lot of inquiries from there and I was able to get lots of contact information just off of Facebook.
How long can you see yourself making the drive and going to help out?
Whenever I get the chance. It’s hard with the kids and scheduling conflicts and work and stuff, but if we have a free day and they’re out there and they’re doing this, it’s not that bad of a drive.
I know next weekend like I said they’re doing it again, so I’m hoping to get out there again next weekend again, and as long as I’m available and as long as they need help, I’m going to keep doing it.
I’m sure that really means a lot to the community — I think I read that it’s something like 10 percent of the population of Flint is children under the age of six, and that just makes this whole thing that much more horrifying.
It’s so horrifying — the houses that we knocked on their doors, many of them had infants. They were so appreciative of the water because they had to make their formulas with water; it just had so many effects. With dishes, showers and cooking, and everything like that, it’s really impacted their lives negatively.
It’s a huge issue, what’s going on right now. There are children — but not just the children, the adults, everyone — they have been drinking that water for so long and have serious levels of lead in their bloodstream right now.
A lot of them, the consequences — especially for the children, are going to be very damaging, and I don’t know if people realize the severity of this down the line, if this kids are going to grow up with certain issues, diseases, ADHD, mental problems.
It’s going to be hard to tell whether or not this would happen regardless of them drinking this water or if it’s a result of this water; but I think a way to figure it out is by taking the percentage of kids who have these issues compared to kids outside the city.
But it’s scary. There was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in the county, a couple of people had died from that and 70 more people were affected by it, and they’re tying that to maybe this water contamination.
So it is a really big issue and I hope people realize that, and also realize that it’s nice to go out and help and distribute the water and donate a buck, but also to really know that this is going to be an ongoing thing. Water supplies don’t last that long. We’ve been able to distribute a case of water to each family on our route, but that’s not going to last them very long.
So whatever efforts people can do to help and to continually help are going to be very important, in this situation and in every situation. Every little bit helps.
Written by Sumaia Masoom.