By Nicki Kaplan, Medill, Immigrant Connect
[Check out these companion audio stories and on Amal’s life-changing experiences and on PARR, Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights, both by Nicki Kaplan.]
Ever since the University of Chicago planted its roots in Hyde Park in 1890, it has been a beacon to the world. Now, the tree-lined university community along the city’s south lakefront has become a port of entry for Syrian refugees who are no longer welcome on America’s shores.
As Donald Trump was settling into his alien role as President of the United States, Hyde Park was extending a welcome to Syrian families who may be among the last clusters of refugees admitted into the U.S. from that part of the world for the foreseeable future.
Marina Rioux, president of the University of Chicago student group, Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights (PARR), says the language barrier for refugees who barely speak English hasn’t stopped community efforts:
Listen to Rioux describe the welcome.
It is hard enough for refugees to resettle in a city and country they don’t know. It takes a village, as it is often said, and here it’s a village of resettlement organizations that work together to make Chicago feel like home. For the Syrian community in Hyde Park-Kenwood, these efforts are imperative.
There is a Syrian refugee community support team, Sirat Chicago, that uses Muslim traditions to support arts, education, service and community building initiatives for the refugees. They enter the picture after the refugees have already fled poverty, violence, and war, navigated with help a complex resettlement process that has placed them in Chicago, received financial, educational, and emotional support from resettlement agencies that tends to last for three to six months.
At the heart of the village is the Syrian Community Network, which links the families to Sirat Chicago and other organizations such as the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council and PARR.
Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, founder and president of Syrian Community Network; Dorothy Pytel of Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park; and sisters Nadia Khan and Saffa Khan, members of Sirat Chicago, are key players who serve to offset the often strident and menacing voices that fuel the immigration debate.
Pytel says the refugees’ arrival has tightened the community.
Listen to Pytel explain the importance of the village to strangers.
Sahloul says a key advantage is that the organizations and refugees are in the same place.
Listen to Sahloul recognize the importance of community to those who’ve lost theirs.
Nadia Khan says that ironically the “Muslim ban” that became Trump’s ignominious badge of honor is helping, because it’s bringing people and organizations together to fight it.
Listen to Khan see a gift horse in Trump’s mouth.