Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Iraqi Children Receive Christmas Gifts

This morning I received an email from Shlama Foundation telling me what my and others’ contributions were spent on. With a combined $680 donation, the foundation was able to deliver 550 Christmas gifts to displaced children on December 29th.

On one hand, that brought a smile to my face. On the other hand, I thought, “I should have donated more than a hundred dollars.” My children received a number of unnecessary gifts for Christmas, many of which they used for only a day or two.  We should have used that money to give to the Iraqi children. Such an act would have been more rewarding and my children would have learned a valuable lesson about the job of giving.

Shlama Foundation was founded in August 2014, after tens of thousands of Christian Iraqis fled ISIS and were forced to live in refugee camps in the Kurdistan region. One of the founders, Noor Matti, lives in Iraq. He had come to Michigan when he was six years old. As an adult, he applied to pharmacy school and was accepted, but decided instead to return to Iraq.

Shlama means “peace” and the foundation has established a secure system that not only shows where the money went, but creates a relationship between donor and recipient. On their website, a spreadsheet shows the name of the donor, the amount given, and a link to a YouTube video that portrays how and for whom the money was used, with photos of the receipts. In each video, the recipients express their situation, thank the donor by name and address how the money has touched them.

I interviewed the members of this organization last year, during which time Matti told me his feelings about the situation in Iraq. “Better days are ahead,” he said. “As a nation, we hit rock bottom. So, there’s nowhere to go but up.”

Learn more at Shlama.org

Shlama Foundation

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Iraqi Americans (Not) Acclimating

Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

             Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

Today I attended a school meeting with the educators and parents where we discussed, once again, how to encourage Iraqi American parents to get involved in their students’ work and in the school itself. My community has the largest growing Iraqi immigrants. It has even been nicknamed “Little Baghdad” because on each corner there is an Iraqi produce market, butchery, bakery, restaurants, etc. This is great on one hand. The culture resonates very strongly here. However, when the newcomers stay within these boundaries, adding Satellite TVs in order to watch Arab channels all day long, they don’t give themselves the chance to acclimate.

One of the teachers said that she really embraces this ethnic community, especially given that she resides amongst them. “However,” she added, “it feels like this community is like a volleyball game. This team is on this side, and that team is on that side, and often they split apart. They don’t really come together.”

I remembered something my elderly neighbor once said as we chatted over our back fence. Her parents were first generation immigrants from Italy. She said that all immigrants had difficulty acclimating but that she noticed this was more prominent with Iraqis. They really resisted change.

I thought about that and wondered whether this was due to them having immigrated from a country of a different religion. They also had endured much oppression and persecution and for over 30 years war. Their wounds are so deep, it’s not easy to tap into them. They will take decades, maybe even generations, to heal. But isolation is not the answer. And it’s their children who will suffer for it.

As the principal said, “If people don’t know the truth, don’t worry. They will make it up.”

His point was to spread the good news about the school. My point is let’s spread the good news about our culture, our history, our pains and joys. Let’s share ourselves. Because if people don’t know the truth about us, they will make it up.