Al-Bustan Welcoming Event Featured in Philadelphia Weekly

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Breaking Bread: Sharing a meal with Syrian and Iraqi refugees

Members of the city’s growing community of Syrian and Iraqi refugees came together to discuss the situation in the Middle East over a great meal at the Friends Center (15th and Cherry Sts.), thanks to a diverse coalition of local nonprofits, religious groups, and high school students sponsored by the Arab cultural organization Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

January 4, 2017 | Philadelphia Weekly | Sarah Grey

Upstairs, volunteers inventory a huge roomful of donated clothing, bedding, winter gear, and pantry supplies. The walls are lined with tables stacked high with blankets, hats, and gloves, bags of rice, and large bottles of extra-virgin olive oil. “People gave in droves,” says Max Dugan of Al-Bustan. “It’s so much more than we expected.”

Ray Hill-Cristol, 17, and Eve Lukens-Day, 18, both seniors and leaders in the Human Rights Club at Germantown Friends School, said that a year ago their club decided to “adopt a family” of Syrian refugees. “Our country’s interference is a huge part of the problem in Syria,” Lukens-Day says, “so we feel a responsibility to do something to help. She introduces me to two members of that family, Sam and his young daughter Rokaya. “Everything is so different here. They show us the way,” Sam says, referring to the students’ assistance with English-language paperwork like immigration forms and job applications. His teenage sons, Adnan and Abdullah, attend local high schools; while they’re still feeling shy about practicing their English with strangers, they’re learning quickly.

Back at the party downstairs, both boys help the younger children with their art projects. A musician begins handing out instruments for a drumming lesson, while an Arabic-speaking therapist leads adults in a discussion circle in one corner. Nora Elmarzouky, who also works at Al-Bustan, adds that, in addition to work, the organization helps connect refugees with local residents who want to help. “People get lonely,” she says simply. “They often feel like they’re not welcome here. They need friends.”

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