What hurricanes teach us about being welcoming

Rose Hamid
Rose Hamid

During this treacherous hurricane season, I’ve seen some wonderful gestures from all kinds of organizations and people offering to welcome evacuees getting out of the path of hurricanes.

As hurricanes approach, people have to decide if they will evacuate or stay put. Much to my dismay, my parents, who live in Fort Lauderdale, decided to stay in their home. Thank God Irma took a turn, sparing them and other family members.

I realized, however, that it takes a lot to compel people to leave their homes (what they know, what they are comfortable with), to go to another place, even if it’s a shelter just a few miles away.

Hurricane evacuees are similar to those who leave their homes to find shelter and safe haven from things like wars, persecution or poverty face. Imagine how bad it must be for people to make the decision to trek across dangerous terrain or bodies of water to get to someplace safer for them and their families. People in such situations are referred to as refugees or immigrants, words that increasingly carry a negative connotation.

Negative attitudes towards refugees and immigrants go against, not only American beliefs, but also against religious traditions, which all teach to welcome the stranger.

Our natural inclination is to be welcoming and helpful, but sometimes a little voice creeps up whispering things like “Those people are a danger!”, “They will sap your resources!”, “They are too different!”, etc. Muslims believe that your first, positive inclinations are what God has planted in you, but those negative whispers come from Satan.

If we keep in mind that refugees and immigrants, like hurricane evacuees, only leave their homes when they have no alternative, it may be easier to ignore those negative whispers and fulfill our natural inclinations to be welcoming.

Welcoming America, an organization launched in 2009, is helping communities do just that. From their web site: “Welcoming America is leading a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by making everyone who lives there know they belong. Welcoming America believes that all people, including immigrants, are valued contributors and vital to the success of both our communities and our shared future.”

One of those efforts is Welcoming Week, which is “an annual series of events hosted by communities to bring together immigrants, refugees, and native-born residents to raise awareness of the benefits of welcoming everyone.”

This year Welcoming Week is from Sept. 15-24. According to Emily Yaffe, an international relations specialist with the City of Charlotte’s Housing & Neighborhood Services, the city has been a Welcoming City since the inception of the program. In 2016 there were 34 registered events hosted in Charlotte, including dinners, health fairs and soccer.

With all that’s been going on lately, it’s more important than ever to demonstrate what it is to be welcoming. Take advantage of this week and participate in activities already planned (find one at or plan an event of your own.

Follow your God-given inclination to be welcoming to all newcomers.

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