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For Syrian refugees starting over, a chance to celebrate

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A group of Syrian refugee families had a special time in a school gymnasium this past weekend.

About a dozen families came out to the Beverly Hills Academy in suburban Detroit to celebrate Eid al-Ahda.

That’s one of the Muslim world’s biggest holidays. It commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God, and also coincides with the end of the Hajj, the annual holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

Mariam Kandil organized the party, which included Middle Eastern food and treats, games, and special gift bags for the kids.

“It was a group of moms. We just wanted to do something special,” Kandil said. “A lot of the refugees have recently just come, and we wanted them to have a good time.”

Kandil is part of a growing group of volunteers — many, but not all of them Syrian-Americans — who are helping Syrian refugee families re-settle and start their new lives in Metro Detroit.

Right now, they’re helping re-settle 23 families. Most of them spent years as refugees in Jordan or Turkey after fleeing Syria before coming to the US, which has admitted fewer than 2000 Syrian refugees so far.

The volunteers do expect more families soon. The Obama administration recently announced the US will accept up to 30,000 Syrian refugees by 2017.

Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Decorating with henna.

Members of Detroit’s Syrian and larger Arab-American communities are doing their best to prepare.

“People are absolutely getting organized, and they’re eager to do as much as possible,” said Kenan Basha. “Unfortunately, the need is so tremendous to transition and relocate people, and without a doubt there are going to be growing pains as we transition from smaller to much bigger numbers."

“But,” Basha added, “I’m a very big believer that where there’s a will there’s a way, and people will figure this out.”

In the meantime, Kandil says the Eid festivities are one way to help the new refugees start to feel more at home.

“They’ve been through so much heartache and turmoil,” she said. “And Eid is a time when…usually you spend it with family and friends. A lot of them have lost a lot of loved ones. So we wanted to put some smiles on their faces.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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