First, props to Tom Petty for lyrics that perfectly sum up the message behind this truly inspiring story. Amr Arafa originally hails from Egypt. A Harvard graduate, the 34 year-old has had his share of heartbreaking experiences throughout his quest to obtain his green card. Arafa first emigrated to the United States in 2005 where he was met with some of the most stringent immigration visa requirements. It wasn’t until 2015 that he was actually awarded citizenship, though during that time, he was not able to travel to his home country to grieve with his family over the loss of his father. Rather than choose to feel resentful, he instead turned his personal journey into an opportunity to help others in need.
Arafa has created a website that connects people in crisis, particularly refugees and domestic violence victims, with American hosts in much the same way as the popular Airbnb service. Only in this case, securing a place to stay is free.
Airbnb, founded in San Francisco in 2008, allows travelers to connect with locals who have spare rooms or homes to rent when hotels are not available, the price is too high or they simply prefer to stay in a cared-for home. The service offers a place to settle, breakfast and other creature comforts, in addition to the potential for making new friends and/or business contacts. The minimum list price on the Airbnb website is $10 per night.
Arafa’s website, though still in its early stage, offers the same services (minus the fee.) EmergencyBNB is designed to encourage American hosts to list rooms or homes they have available to rent for free to those who would otherwise have no place else to go.
Arafa currently resides in Washington, D.C., and has used his own studio apartment as a sort of “test run” for EmergencyBNB. Listed on the Airbnb website, he sets the fee at the minimum $10 then, upon viewing verifiable proof of his guests’ situations, he refunds the $10 directly to them. He stipulates on the site he prefers to be contacted only by domestic violence victims or refugees who are in immediate need of a place to stay. He does not stay in the apartment with them (as some Airbnb hosts do), but he does his best to make their stay both comfortable and memorable by providing fresh linens, toiletries and the occasional ride to the embassy.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Arafa mentioned how free he felt after receiving his green card. That he had finally established a sense of stability (which eventually allowed him to travel back to Egypt and see his mother for the first time in eight years.) He wants the same sense of stability for others who have been affected by circumstances beyond their control: “EmergencyBNB is not about the government giving you a place to stay, it’s about the fact that your neighbors care about you.”
He also spoke to the Washington D.C. publication Street Sense, whose staff consists of people who were once homeless. He said, “It is time that the sharing economy is considered as a means of helping others and not just as an economic opportunity.”
Knowing that people like Amr Arafa exist and are doing everything they can to make this journey known as life a little easier, I can’t help but think to myself…what a wonderful world.