Over the past year, the challenge of Covid-19 in Texas has been compounded by a winter storm that left millions throughout the state without power and water, and Hurricane Laura, which caused extensive property damage and displaced many. In the face of these challenges, members of the Ismaili community came together to assist those in need, staffing vaccine mega-sites, volunteering to distribute food and water, donating large amounts of PPE to first responders and communities in need, and organizing dozens of drives, including to collect blood, food, and books.

On 26 May 2021, Texas state leaders including Governor Greg Abbott recognized these efforts, welcoming volunteers and community leaders to the State Capitol in Austin. During his interaction with community members, the Governor remarked on the continued role the Ismaili community has played in mitigating the impacts of emergencies going back to volunteer contributions during Hurricane Harvey. Governor Abbott also lauded the efforts by the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Houston in hosting community events, including vaccination events providing a central and convenient location for many to receive Covid-19 vaccines. While speaking with Ismaili medical professionals, the Governor emphasized the significance of getting vaccinated to ensure a successful reopening of the State.

Recognizing the work of the scores of Ismaili medical professionals who have volunteered during the pandemic and in vaccine distribution efforts, Dr. Salima Jaffer, Chairperson of the Aga Khan Health Board for the Southwestern US, expressed her pride and humility in representing “the army of volunteers who have had the passion and deep commitment to serve humanity during the pandemic.”

Governor Abbott was joined by State Representative Jacey Jetton who authored a resolution honoring the efforts of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community for making “a positive difference in the lives of the numerous … residents during a time of crisis.” State Senator Angela Paxton also recognized the role of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center on the Texas Senate floor. Senator Paxton remarked that the work of the Jamatkhana and Center in outreach to the community-at-large, such as through food drives, water distribution events, and Covid-19 vaccinations, is a “shining example of connecting faith [with actions].”

While the recognition was offered by state officials at the Capitol, much of the work in which the Ismaili Muslim community was engaged occurred through partnerships at the county and city levels, including the cities of Houston, Sugar Land, Cedar Park, Spring, San Antonio, Port Arthur, and Fort Bend County.

At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when masks and other PPE were still in short supply among first responders and others in the community, the Ismaili Community facilitated the donation of 500,000 masks and partnered with the City of Houston to distribute them to the City’s most vulnerable residents. As reports of blood donation shortages surfaced, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center was opened up for blood donation drives, in partnership with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.

At multiple times over the past year, Ismaili community volunteers under the umbrella of I-CERV (Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering) organized activities to address hunger and food insecurity, including multiple drives supporting food banks in the local communities. In the aftermath of February 2021’s winter storm, I-CERV volunteers went door to door in Houston’s historic Oaks of Allen Parkway neighborhood to distribute food and water to homebound elderly residents and others who were unable to travel to food distribution sites.

Furthermore, in keeping with the spirit of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, volunteers from the Ismaili Council organized a book collection drive in collaboration with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and other partners in the Greater Houston and Austin area, to benefit educational institutions striving to educate young minds facing the challenges imposed by the pandemic. Most recently, Ismaili medical professionals from the Ismaili Health Professionals Association staffed multiple vaccine mega-sites across the state, administering coronavirus vaccines.

Aresha Davwa, a youth leader and member of the Aga Khan Youth & Sports Board for the Southwestern US reflected on the recognition from the state, and the occasion, noting that she is “especially proud of our younger volunteers who coordinated donation drives, who learned to sew masks, and who found ways to creatively serve the community, simply because of their compassion and empathy for others.”