Monday, May 20, 2013

“We were able to keep our dignity”

by Carl Manning

For Hafiz Ahmed, the American Red Cross was the difference between keeping his dignity as family provider and suffering the despair of being without any place to live but the streets.

Ahmed, who makes a living as a New York City taxi driver, arrived in the United States from his native Bangladesh in 1997. For the last year, he has lived with his wife and his 8-year-old son in a basement apartment in the Forest Hills section of Queens.

In March 2012, after dropping his son off at school, Ahmed was working his day shift when he received a frantic phone call from his wife. There was a fire in their apartment building and their home had been flooded with water and smoke. It would be uninhabitable.

When Ahmed arrived home, the police asked if his family had a place to stay. That’s when the reality sank in. He said he was supposed to be the family provider, but at that moment he couldn’t even provide them a place to live.

Ahmed didn’t have the money to stay at a hotel, his father and brother didn’t have room to take the family in and he couldn’t count on the landlord to help out.

“Everybody I know lives in tiny places and it is no good to go there and bother them,” Ahmed said. “Everything was gone. There was water like a shower on my TV, my computer, my mattress. The whole house smelled.”

As he worried about what to do next, Red Cross volunteers showed up at the scene and provided Ahmed and his family with immediate assistance—food, clothing and a place to stay.

“One night I was in my bed and the next night I was in the hotel,” he recalled. “During that time I got a gift from God. We made it. These people helped us … this is really appreciated.”

But the Red Cross assistance didn’t end there.

Ahmed met with caseworkers who helped with his long-term recovery needs. Ahmed said he didn’t realize the Red Cross helped fire victims, and he’s glad they were there when he needed them.

“The most important thing the Red Cross did for me was to assure me that I didn’t have to live on the street,” he said. “We didn’t beg anybody. We were able to keep our dignity.”

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