An Islamic, Community-Based Framework for Promoting Afghan Refugee's Well-Being
On January 21st, a group of Afghan and Syrian middle school and high school students and their parents were invited to UCR for an introduction to student life. Thank you Raghad for initiating this amazing event along with the Empowered Arab Sisterhood, the Middle Eastern Student Association, Science Ambassadors, STEM Academy students and faculty, the Refugee Empowerment Project and Glocally Connected.
If you’ve ever moved to a new community you know it can be tricky to find your way. That is, to find your way to the best supermarket, to find a good family doctor, to find the best place to live, and, most importantly, to find community.
This past summer at Glocally Connected’s ESL Summer Program, we started to create a quilt. Each child was given a 5 x 5 square swatch of fabric and a marker. They were given quite a bit of creative freedom but were asked to share what peace meant to them or to draw something that symbolized each of them. Soon images of birds, hearts, happy stick figures and the flag of Afghanistan were produced. We started pinning these mismatched and colorful images together.
Next, the moms started making their swatches. Messages such as “ I love peace” and “I love Afghanistan and America” were written on the colorful pieces. Then, our volunteers and the organizations supporting Glocally Connected added their part to the quilt.
At our Annual Peace Walk we invited community members to share their message or image and the quilt grew. The following weekend, at the launch party for “A Taste of Afghanistan” at the Riverside Art Museum, 2 large quilts were hung. The newcomers were pleased to see them and to see how they fit into of a much larger community.
The quilts celebrate our diverse and beautiful community. They will continue to grow and remind us of what it means to be a part of this community. We hope that you will be a part of it too!
Launching the Refugee Cookbook
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. We loaded the community quilt into the car and headed for the Riverside Art Museum where the launch of our new cookbook “Taste of Afghanistan” would take place. The Afghan women and children that contributed to the book was ecstatic. To see their work in print tickled them pink.
In fact, thanks to a program at CSUSB, and Inlandia Institute, we were able to put together this marvelous cookbook that was filled with taste and tradition. The Afghan refugee women took English classes learning to describe recipes in English while their children were involved in writing poetry and drawing and painting. We gathered all their hard work and, voila: ‘A Taste of Afghanistan’ came out.
One by one the guests started arriving to the Riverside Art Museum for the launch. It was such a mixed crowd that people had a hard time trying to figure out who is a refugee and who is not. That was absolutely perfect. A community event with neighbors, and residents of the town supporting each other. In fact, when people purchased books, they were looking for the “authors” to sign their books, not refugees. The Afghan women were beaming with their colorful scarves and the children were proud to see their work printed in a book. Some of the women had just learned to write their names in our English classes, and there were plenty of opportunity to practice that because all 100 books that were printed got sold and most buyers wanted their books autographed by the owners of the recipes.
There were Afghan snacks, samosas, cookies with black sesame sprinkled, and of course baklava to taste for the guests. People were chatting and enjoying the snacks when we decided to talk about the program and thank some of the contributors. A little Afghan girl sang a song and conquered all the guests’ hearts.
This event was certainly an example of how our communities should get together and celebrate and support each other’s accomplishments and share cultural qualities.
Peace Walk 2017
Join Sherry Mackay, Co-founder and Director of Glocally Connected and Caryn Marsella,RAM Director of Arts Education who will share information about collaborative efforts between Glocally Connected and RAM to integrate refugees into our community through arts education.
Date: October 19, 2017
Place: Riverside Art Museum
Today is the last ESL class of the spring term. There will be a two-week break followed by the beginning of “summer school,” with an extra hour of class and programs for all of the children now out of school. Saying goodbye to my new friends on my last day of volunteering for a while felt like the last day of school but without any of the excitement—I am just going to miss them! Many of us start volunteering out of concern and a conviction to support refugee families, but we continue because we love it and don’t want to miss being with the friends we have made.
Since I started volunteering in January, I have made many new friends and seen them each learn and grow—their English is better, they are more confident, they are earning money, and they are truly a part of a community, both the Glocally Connected community and the larger community of Riverside.
I grew up in Riverside, and this has always been my community, but as our Congressman Mark Takano told one of the students when he met her at the Sahaba Initiative’s Iftar last month, our community is stronger for having refugee families here. That iftar, and the one the women are cooking and planning for this coming Saturday, are just two examples. There’s also the International Day of Peace event in September, where I first heard of Glocally Connected, the Alternative Gift Fair, the Peace Vigil, the Riverside Art Market, meals at First United Methodist, making lunch for the homeless. I sat with two of the families at the interfaith service at Temple Beth El in March. Three families came to the Sweet and Sour event at the Citrus State Park and shared citrus stories all the way from Afghanistan. They truly are a part of this community. That’s a testament to Sherry and Selin and the organization they’ve built, but it’s also a testament to the women and their bravery in being here and courage in taking steps to make it a home for themselves and their families.
I have thought a lot about “home,” and place and community as I have gotten to know these families and tried to welcome them to my hometown while knowing just a little bit about theirs. After class one week I was walking to my car with my cousin, her two sons, and one of our new friends from Afghanistan when two-year-old Elliott pointed up at the bright blue sky and exclaimed, “Look! An airplane!” We looked up with him, then Farishta told us when her kids see planes in the sky, they say “Afghanistan,” remembering their long journey from their home there to their new home here. A few weeks earlier, I had been driving Friba and Shabnam to class and pointed to the snow covered mountains, glistening on this sunny southern California day. Friba said when she sees them, she thinks of the mountains in Afghanistan. The day I met Raudnaur, a Syrian refugee, I was overwhelmed thinking that the day before she had been in Turkey, and a short while after landing at LAX, here she was—here we were—in a room in a church I had driven past for years, women from Afghanistan and Syria and Turkey and Canada and Taiwan and Riverside. Talk about “glocally connected.” And in spite of everything, we were laughing a lot!
When we celebrated the New Year at Fairmount Park, where I used to feed the ducks when I was a kid, I looked at the women I had met and their families spread out on picnic blankets, and at my brother talking to their husbands and my mom holding their babies, and I thought to myself that I was glad we were all there. Now I have a painting of a park in Afghanistan done by Shabnam’s son, here in the United States for just under six months, and I imagine, someday, maybe, somehow, I can visit Afghanistan with my friends and they can show their Fairmount Parks and the places they call home, because I am so glad they are part of the places I call home.
The circumstances that created the refugee crisis and the political rhetoric exacerbating it are ugly, the worst of humanity; the love, courage, and community shown in the midst of it are beautiful, the best. It’s the only thing that has gotten me through this year, and I can’t wait to be back in school with my friends.
By: Nicolette Rohr, UCR Graduate Student and Glocally Connected Volunteer
May 15 at 7 pm
Keynote Speaker: Ravda Nur Cuma (Youth Advocate, Activist, Syrian Refugee, Refugee Advocate, and World Humanitarian Summit Speaker )
Dr. Jessica Goodkind (Sociology Faculty at University New Mexico, Director of Refugee Well-Being Project)
Sherry MacKay (Glocally Connected Co-Founder)
Dr. Selin Yildiz Nielsen (Glocally Connected Co-Founder)
Moderator Dr. Reza Aslan UCR Professor & Host of Believer on CNN
We've had the pleasure to be featured on My Awesome Empire on KCAA, Saturday, February 18, 2017. Our founders, Selin Nielsen and Sherry Mackay, were honored to talk about our organization's upbringing and mission. We've been established for more than a year now and along advocating our refugee families in the area, our ESL classes are the most active. We hope to connect with more families in the Inland Empire and to grow our volunteers and partners.
By: Kristina Fernandez, GC Director of Social Relations
On January 18th, 2017, the University of California Riverside hosted Ms. Raife Gülru Gezer, the Turkish Consul General Los Angeles to speak about the attempted coup in Turkey and its aftermath.
Although Turkey has had multiple coups in the past years, the tragedy that occurred this past July cannot be undermined: 240 died and 2195 were wounded.
Gezer was “surprised” and she knew the situation was serious. She was assertive on her stance: it was a terrorist campaign spearheaded by Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) to infiltrate the Turkish Republic and overthrow the president. She compared the coup to the 911 attack to highlight the sentiments toward solidarity and national security.
“People stood outside of tanks to advocate and uphold democracy,” Gezer asserts. The people of Turkey did not want military intervention in 2016 and they were sure of that. In that note, Turkey was under State of Emergency to fight FETO and cleanse the infrastructure. As a result, more than 10,000 civil servants were discharged.
Amongst other nations, Turkey has been actively hosting refugees globally. Gezer makes a point that the country is facing many instability especially within its borders. Turkey is 600 miles away from Syria and 150 miles away from Iraq. Turkey is susceptible for internal and global conflict.
Ms. Raife Gülru Gezer says that Turkey is not the only nation battling the notions of “freedom vs security.” An array of countries are experiencing the same thing on a global scale. However, as we continue to face the largest human displacement since World War II, let us not forget the urgency of accommodating the increasing numbers of refugees coming in these countries: they are asylum seekers in search of safety. What sort of protection and security do refugees receive in their host nations? As we have seen with the 2015 Paris attack, many pointed fingers at refugees. Many criticized border security and some concluded that nations are becoming too lax with their policies which potentially ushers in “terrorists.” The “us vs them” culture is widely promulgated today and without proper legal protection, it is easy for refugees to be conveniently blamed.
Current correspondence suggests that there may be a lack of transparency within the UNHCR camps in Turkey that reveals conditions of refugees who were deported from Greece to Turkey: "A UNHCR representative in Athens wrote in a letter that the organisation has not been able to regularly access refugee camps in Turkey or monitor whether anyone sent there from Greece is given legal protection, according to a copy of the document that was published on the website of the NGO Statewatch" (EurActiv).
Despite the harsh winter conditions, hundreds of refugees in Serbia are refusing to go into camps because of fears of deportation: "They have deported many people from Bulgaria... We are scared. If they deport us to there, Bulgaria will deport us back to Afghanistan," says Akbar, an Afghan refugee(Aljazeera). Although the United Nations condemned the "pushback policy," deportation remain a constant worry for refugee.
We ended the talk with a Q&A session and one thing resonated: perspective is everything. To truly understand and address global humanitarian issues, perspective(s) have to be considered: a two way dialogue must be engaged.
By: Kristina Fernandez, GC Director of Social Relations
Do you pray for something to happen or for something not to happen? By all of the wrong things happening, Sana’s prayers were answered. Who would want a truck to break down on a freeway somewhere between Moreno Valley and Fresno, California with their entire home packed up in it? Or to be told that the apartment that they would be moving to with their 4 young children wouldn’t be available for another 2 weeks because the previous tenants left a mess and they needed extra time to get the apartment in shape for them? All of this happening when you know that you need to be out of your apartment by the next day!
Sana, her husband Ali and their 4 children moved to California from Afghanistan almost a year ago. Her husband was a carpenter who worked with the American military. He was issued a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). Many such visas were issued because Afghans who supported the U.S. efforts in their country, were targeted by resistance groups. Ali doesn’t have a higher education and doesn’t speak much English; however, he’s very proud of his work with the American military and proudly displays his certificates in carpentry.
Like other refugees, this family received bare bones support. Ali desperate for work stood outside of Home Depot trying to pick up odd jobs to pay some bills. His wife sold some baklava (a sweet layered dessert) to friends in the area. They couldn’t pay their rent and were advised by friends in Fresno that it would be more affordable and there was a better chance to find a job.
Still, in their hearts, they didn’t want to go. Sana was studying English, their 3 older children were settled into their school, and they had made friends here. I’m her English teacher and I was one of the many people who was very sad to see them leave, but I felt like my hands were tied. On Thursday, our class ended at 11:30 am and we all said goodbye to her.
An hour or two after class, I heard about the series of unfortunate events: the truck breaking down, the apartment falling through, and the family potentially becoming homeless the next day. I also heard that they had slept in their empty apartment with no blankets and no heat the night before.
That same afternoon, a former student and fellow Afghan said that her husband could probably get Ali a job. With a job in sight, I could start to see that it was possible for them to stay. I started calling around to see who could potentially help. After a number of desperate calls, I finally reached Owaiz Dadabhoy and Dr. Ahmed Almikhtar from Uplift Charity in Anaheim (almost an hour away) and they calmly reassured me that they could probably help this family. They would send a caseworker to visit the family in the morning.
I soon found out that there is a huge difference between paying month-to-month and signing a year contract for an apartment--a couple of hundred dollars per month. Who wouldn’t want to pay less for their apartment, but when you’re barely scraping by and you don’t have a steady income coming in, you live month-to-month…..or with this family, day-to-day.
Mohammed, the caseworker from Uplift Charity, a refugee himself from Iraq, arrived at their home Friday morning. He assessed their situation and soon helped them sign a one-year lease for their apartment. We heard that the truck loaded with all of their belongings would return in a couple of days. Blankets and food were bought by Uplift Charity and towels and other basics were donated by community members.
When I visited the couple that day they were so relieved and so grateful. Sana expressed how happy she was that they weren’t moving to Fresno. When I left them, they were excited to go and pick up their kids at school to tell them and their teachers that they’d be staying.
Sana’s prayers were answered. She was staying home. They are still waiting to hear about the job, but, I believe that they feel more confident now that they are connected with so many people in the community. This couple is resilient, capable and hard-working.
Why am I saying all this? Sadly, this kind of story isn’t that rare. Many refugees move to the U.S. with the dream of a safe life and opportunities for themselves and their children. However, the reality is that resettlement agencies are overloaded and often can’t even provide the minimal support that is expected of them. Take a minute to imagine yourself moving to a new country where you don’t know the language, you don’t have any contacts, you need to get yourself and your family established, and you need to find a job immediately. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it.
It’s great that the U.S. is accepting refugees. We need to continue doing this, but at the same time, we can maybe help make the transition easier. Currently, there is a gap--at least, in the Inland Empire. Fortunately, individuals and organizations are stepping up to fill the void. Students, community members, nonprofits, and faith-based institutions are coming together to support these families as they start their new lives.
In the end it was nothing short of a miracle how everything came together. But, if you think about it, it was a collection of small efforts, a few phone calls, the right introductions, and good intentions. I would urge everybody to take a small step, pick up the phone, introduce yourself, and we can make more miracles happen to the people who need it the most.
*names have been changed to respect the family’s privacy.
By: Sherry Mackay & Selin Nielsen, CoFounders
The refugee community is backed by their resilience and solidarity. Here at Glocally Connected, we keep local refugee’s integration at the core of our mission.
Recent correspondence in Uganda suggests that displaced refugees are allocating their skills and resources to small investments and businesses. Tendai Marima from Aljazeera states that, “entrepreneurship [will] foster stronger community relations with their Ugandan hosts.”
It’s a bilateral relationship from both hosts and refugees: a monetary and social exchange that enables mobility. This interaction and mixing “allows refugees to mingle rather than be enclosed within a settlement" (Aljazeera).
We’ve seen this historically happen. In 1975, when Saigon fell, the United States accepted roughly 130,000 Vietnamese refugees. As seen today, Little Saigon is flooded by small businesses owned by Vietnamese refugees/immigrants who settled in the area.
“Vietnamese refugee Frank Jao opened Bridgecreek Development along Bolsa in 1978. He saw the potential for a Vietnamese business district and began buying land. At its peak, Bridgecreek owned one-third of all Little Saigon property, including the Asian Garden Mall" (OCRegister)
Mobilizing refugees through entrepreneurship is a promising future. What is instore for our refugees in Riverside if we were to implement a similar initiative?
City councils are actively looking into potentially building an Innovation District in Downtown Riverside. Entrepreneurs, students and community members gathered a few months back to discuss some of the “MUST HAVES” of this proposed Innovation District. While the discussion comprised of mainly bringing in tech industries, ideas about social entrepreneurship were not dismissed. In fact, a place that foster economic and social growth is an ideal place where refugees and non-profit organizations can thrive.
It is our goal to help alleviate and integrate refugees to their new home; however, allowing them to build their own communities independently and autonomously is effective and far more beneficial for both parties.
By: Kristina Fernandez, GC Director of Social Relations
The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly to coincide with its opening session, which was held annually on the third Tuesday of September. The first Peace Day was observed in September 1982. In 2001, the General Assembly by unanimous vote adopted 21 September as an annual day of non-violence and cease-fire.
Every year millions of people around the world become refugees because of conflict and war, and have to flee their countries seeking safety. It is our goal to lend a helping hand to refugees worldwide starting from our home in Riverside, CA. Please join us in making a statement to promote PEACE at home and PEACE in the world!*
It has been one year
Since Glocally Connected was born from passionate hearts of two world citizens
Since Aylan lay lifeless on a beach in Turkey
Since we tried to keep people’s attention on the gravity of the refugee problem
Since Germany opened their borders to unlimited refugees
Since they closed them a few days later
Since the number of refugees rose from 60 million to 65 million in the world
Since 89 thousand people were killed in the conflict in Syria bringing the total to 470 thousand
Since US promised to admit 10 thousand Syrian refugees
Since US admitted 1285 Syrian refugees
Since Turkey admitted another million refugees, reaching the number of Syrians nearly 4 million
Since Turkey and EU signed the agreement to send back refugees from Europe to Turkey
Since 72 thousand Syrians are said to be sent back to Turkey from Europe
Since 2.5 million Syrian refugee children are out of school
Since 55 bloody days of bombing of Aleppo killing and injuring 3500 civilians
Since the world did nothing to stop the civilian casualties
Since we had our 1st Peace Walk in Riverside commemorating International Day of Peace
What will we do next for Peace?
*Quote by M.K. Ataturk
The Power of Community: Celebrating the Festival of Ramadan and Eid
There was no Call to Prayer, but for the first time I felt the spirit of Ramadan here in Riverside.
Holidays reflect a culture and tell us a lot about those who celebrate it. Eid al-Fitr, is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. This year I got the opportunity to witness and, to a certain degree, experience the importance it holds for Muslims. Along with many other non-Muslim community members, I shared in the celebration because we were invited to do so.
I teach ESL classes twice a week to a group of Afghan women. During the first week of Ramadan they came to class, but they were dragging. The looked tired because they were fasting. They needed to stay up late the night before to eat after sunset and woke up at around 3 in the morning to eat before sunrise. One woman slept through her alarm and hadn’t eaten since the night before.
During the second week, I could see that it was difficult to concentrate, but they seemed to be fairing better. To say the least, I was impressed with their dedication and determination to continue the fasting.
By the third week, I can only describe their state as Zen. They had found their groove and were very proud of their fasting. There was a newfound camaraderie amongst these women in doing this together. I also learned that this is a time of forgiveness and charity. The women were excited to buy new clothes and to celebrate Eid. They were also going to ensure that all their Muslim brothers and sisters would have food and money to buy new clothes.
I was invited to two Iftars: the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan. The Islamic Center of Riverside hosted the first one, which was held on the rooftop of City Hall. Many officials and representatives from both the Muslim and larger community shared insights and experiences. A calm and embracing energy left me feeling recharged and connected to our Riverside community.
The second Iftar was hosted by the Sahaba Initiative--a nonprofit that aims to develop healthy families through social services and community efforts, which include mental health, mentorship and direct services. The event brought together volunteers, nonprofit organizations, civic leaders, clergy, community leaders and businesses, and recognized outstanding service in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Once again, I was reminded of how open and welcoming the Muslim community in Riverside is to the larger community.
Many civic leaders, such as Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, Mayor Carey Davis of San Bernardino and Congressman Mark Takano shared their well wishes and their commitment to support our Muslim community members.
Professor Dr. Yolanda Moses of UCR gave a speech about solidarity and embracing diversity and conflict.
Congressman Takano, the son of two Japanese immigrants identified with the feeling of being isolated and shunned upon because of one’s ethnicity. Two non-Muslims shared how they have fasted for years in solidarity of their Muslim friends.
Another community member shared how his friend told him that we’re always looking for a stigma to attach to. For example, in the past the AIDs epidemic made so many fearful of the LGBT community. Now, Terrorism makes so many fearful of all Muslims. We were reminded that the horrific acts of violence we have witnessed around the world, in the name of religion, in no way reflects Islam.
Recently, as I’ve driven around Riverside, I’ve seen signs on churches and a synagogue that wished Muslims a happy Ramadan season. This community has embraced interfaith connection. I feel great hope for our country because of what I’ve witnessed locally. When people (of any faith) connect and really get to know one another anything is possible.