At the invitation of Assistant Principal Margaret DeNaples and ESOL Director Patricia Ryan, Al-Bustan staff began meeting with a group of Northeast High School girls in December 2015, with the goal of creating a safe space for Muslim girls to express themselves and feel empowered with the guidance of mentors.
The exhibit installed in May 2016 in the school hallway portrays the work of 30 girls who attended 10 sessions of sharing, discussing, writing, and drawing. Through their photographs, writings, and map, they shed light on their stories about coming to America and what it means to be female and Muslim in America – within their family school, neighborhood, and beyond.
The idea of merging photography and writing was inspired by the work of MacArthur Fellow and internationally renowned photographer/educator, Wendy Ewald. The students learned about Ewald’s collaborative work that explores questions of identity, culture, place and community through her books: American Alphabets, The Best Part of Me, Secret Games, and Towards a Promised Land.
Another source of inspiration was Like Roses in the Wind – a bilingual book with drawings and writing by children at the Lebanese-based Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundaton.
With many different stories of where they grew up and how they came to live in Northeast Philadelphia, the girls mapped out their countries of origin (ten, as we counted: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Turkey, Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, and Palestine) and where their families moved to before arriving in the US.
Al-Bustan is pleased to have worked with a bright and eager group of girls and is grateful for each student’s contributions and the weekly support of Ms.Patricia Ryan – without whom this series of workshops would not have been possible. Over a ten-year partnership in varied capacities with NEHS, Al-Bustan seeks to bring together people of diverse backgrounds to build peaceful and respectful paths for bridging differences, celebrating diversity, and fostering alternative ways of affecting positive social change.