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MSU Muslim students coordinate donation drive to aid Crow Reservation

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By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Faisal AlSaad has been in the United States for less than a year, but he was profoundly moved when he saw news clips about the victims of the recent American disasters.

“In Saudi Arabia we have the same disaster,” said the incoming Montana State University freshman from Saudi Arabia. “It is called masanada and everyone helps. I thought we should help here.”

AlSaad, who is completing a course in English language through the American Cultural Exchange program at MSU and begins coursework in the fall, asked staff in MSU’s Office of International Programs how he could help, initially thinking that the donations could go to victims of tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. Debra DeBode, a director in OIP, suggested he collect donations for victims of Montana floods, particularly people on the Crow Indian Reservation.

AlSaad set up a booth in the SUB and the first day collected $100.

“Bozeman has a big heart,” AlSaad said.

Fellow members of the MSU Muslim Student Association became involved and mentioned the project to Phenocia Bauerle of MSU’s Diversity Awareness Office. Bauerle, who is a member of the Crow Indian Tribe, linked the MSU students with Aldean Good Luck, outreach coordinator at Little Bighorn College, who headed the donation and distribution of donated items for the tribe. Bauerle said that it was touching that the students, many of whom are not from this country, took the time and put forth such a great effort to help victims of the flood.

“It was great to see the community here respond,” Bauerle said. “The Muslim Student Association being part of this shows their strong commitment to community and giving back – I’ve worked with this group on various events, and throughout everything, there is an extremely strong sense of community. It makes me proud to work with them, and I hope that the they are seen for all of the positive things that they do without being asked.”

In the meantime, members of the MSA manned tables daily in the MSU SUB taking in donations.

“It was gratifying,” said Abdullah “Rocky” Yassin, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering from Chicago who is president of the MSU Muslim Student Association. “We live in a generous place.”

In just a few days, the club had collected enough items to fill a pickup, including such things as clothes, diapers, medical and paper supplies and foodstuff. In addition, they collected about $600 in cash.

“Young children would bring us their coins, which was all the money they had,” Yassin said. “We would tell them that every little bit helps. We would like to thank everyone who gave.”

Yassin, a U.S. Air Force veteran who had experience organizing after disasters, visited local businesses with AlSaad to see if they could leverage the cash donations into as much food as possible. Smith’s Foods offered the group a substantial discount, he said.

“We were able to buy 40 cases of canned food, diapers and cleaning supplies, which were all things they needed,” Yassin said.

In the end, volunteers from the Office of International Programs and the MSA loaded the items into Yassin’s truck and another trailer. Yassin, AlSaad and Pancasatya “Tiok”Agastra, a graduate student in engineering from Indonesia, delivered the goods to Good Luck.

“The effort to organize and getting the donated items here to Crow Country was greatly appreciated by these students from MSU,” Good Luck said. “People like these gentlemen have greatly touched the hearts of the people. I told them that they have friends here in Crow Country, and are welcome to come back and visit.”

All three students said that the trip to Crow Agency and meeting Good Luck was moving, but it was particularly so for AlSaad, who had seen little of Montana previously.

“We are here to say that we have one voice, one world,” said AlSaad, who added that the donation drive was rooted in wanting to help fellow Montanans, but that he also hoped people would see that helping others is what the Muslim faith is about. “God created each other to live with each other and love each other and not kill each other. We live in one world.”

“When we got there we wished we could have done even more,” Yassin said. “In the end, we realized that we might not be able to fix the entire world, but at least we can help our own people.”

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