It wasn’t long after Hurricane Harvey made landfall that Muhammad Wadia could hear its downpours beat down on his roof top. As the rain grew heavier, he got a text message through WhatsApp. His friend, whose wife was pregnant and due the following week, was asking for help.
“He needed to get out of his house and take his wife,” said Wadia, a financial analyst for the city’s Finance Department. “Half of his driveway was covered in water.”
Soon, Wadia began to receive multiple messages from family and friends.
“People were asking what to do next because the water was rising and coming in their homes,” he said.
Determined to help, Wadia created a WhatsApp group and began to spread word that his friends needed to be rescued.
“I don’t own a truck, so I contacted folks who have a truck,” he said. “It took me a couple of hours to walk to the individual’s house with a truck so that I could get to my friend.”
It was a selfless act that soon multiplied into more rescues, with Wadia forming a team of individuals to do high water rescues, provide food and water, and help with debris removal of flooded homes in the wake of Harvey.
Wadia’s actions earned him a 2018 Bravo award, the highest award a city employee can earn that recognizes his or her outstanding volunteerism and service to the city.
“Wadia’s service, skills, willingness and desire to serve the citizens of Houston, his academic brilliance, and willingness to teach and advise others are traits that benefit us all,” said Greg Carrington, deputy assistant director for Finance’s financial reporting and operating division.
“All of us were coordinating rescues,” said Wadia of the WhatsApp group members who were in constant communication with each other during the storm.
Once the rain slowed down, Wadia met with his friends to discuss how to further help the community.
“Rescues were one piece,” he said. “After rescues, we strategized about what people could bring to the table. Doctors, medical professionals, pharmacists, finance folks, because there was some disaster-related aid that FEMA was providing on the individual side.”
“We set up a hotline right away,” Wadia said of the initial 15 people that were helping with recovery efforts. “We distributed that number to the groups and all the friends, families and communities.”
“We reached out to shelters for dietary restrictions,” Wadia said of the group’s efforts to supply food to people with religious, vegetarian or other dietary needs. “We have such a diversified community here in Houston.”
After helping with rescues and the dietary needs of those in shelters, Wadia checked on a friend’s home still flooded with water. He felt he had to do more.
“Once we had formed a team that could go to multiple houses then we started the debris removal,” he said.
The initial group of 15 would grow to 70 people over the next four weeks. The group spent days, night and weekends helping to remove debris from flooded homes in the Katy, Sugarland, Richmond areas and and The Woodlands.
“We took water out of the houses,” Wadia said. “It was a painful process. We used mop and buckets, then tearing our carpet, padding, sheetrock, and sprayed for mold.”
Wadia and his group helped with debris removal from an estimated 40 to 50 homes, Carrington says.
“Wadia even worked on houses the same morning he took the exam for an accounting credential he had been working toward,” Carrington said. “I am proud to call Wadia my friend.”
For Wadia, helping his community is a family tradition passed down from his father and uncle, who recently passed.
“I remember stories and talking to them,” Wadia said of his childhood. “Whenever someone would call them, it didn’t matter what time of the day, they would go help them out.
For the past three years, Wadia has served as the organizer of Fiqh and Fun Roundtable, an evening summer program for kids aged 9 to 16. Held at the WISE Learning and Sports Center, the program aims to give kids a fun experience while teaching them about positive behaviors and community service.
“There’s over 120 kids who attended the program this past year,” said Wadia, who founded the program. It’s a service he’s been providing to his community since he was 19, before coming to the U.S. Along with helping local youth, Wadia provides free planning and budgeting services through a credit union that helps low-income families get home loans.
“We didn’t plan to do what we did,” Wadia said of his actions during and after Harvey. “I’m blessed that I got the opportunity to help people.”
He believes giving back is a trait we all have within us.
“Every human being here in this world has a spark in them to help others,” he said. “Sometimes they are unable to identify what to do.”
Editor’s note: Wadia was recently promoted to staff analyst within the Houston Public Works Department. He will work in the financial management services division and help with grants for disaster recovery.