MSA helps ease the transition for Middle Eastern refugees

Living in a nation that has become entrenched in racial division, UNC Muslim Student Association Community Service Chair Rizk Alghorazi sees it as his responsibility to provide more than just an education to Middle Eastern refugees. He wants to provide them a home.

“If someone speaks Arabic and is a Muslim, you’re really negligent if you don’t do anything for the refugees coming in, even as an American,” Alghorazi said. “They’re coming in, they’re totally confused, they don’t know what’s going on. You come and show them, ‘Hey, look, we’re here to help, we can show you the ropes and show you how things go over here.’"

Alghorazi leads the Refugee Program, an effort by the MSA that began last year. The program looks to provide tutors for refugees of all ages throughout the Triangle, helping them adapt to the dramatic shift in educational, cultural and living requirements they’re experiencing. The MSA wants to foster a healthy environment for refugees to build long-lasting bonds within the community.

Volunteers both within and separate from MSA meet with the refugees from Monday to Thursday every week for two hours. The Zakat Foundation of America, a Muslim nonprofit dedicated to assisting the needs of poor communities, connects the MSA with these refugees, who can range anywhere from 2 years old to full-grown adults.

Ahmet Hatip, a sophomore who volunteers for the Refugee Program, pointed out the complications this system can cause.

“This year, we’re pushing hard to build a curriculum catered more toward the different age ranges,” Hatip said. “If you want to teach an adult something, they don’t really care about things like, ‘cat,’ ‘hat,’ ‘bat,’ because that’s not something significant to them. They need to know rent, house, how to pay bills, and things like that are more practical for adults.”

Hatip spoke to the difficulties young refugees face joining the public school system at various levels without any previous preparation.

“For us, it’s really challenging when they haven’t filled in the gaps yet and they’re being taught something way over their level but they still don’t have the foundations yet,” Hatip said. “The teacher is basically throwing the material at them and there’s no possible way for them to know what’s going on. How are you going to know what a chromosome is when you don’t even know English yet?”

Alghorazi mentioned the issue of finding drivers to retrieve the refugees from their homes, often as far as Durham, and take them back as another legitimate complication in the project. Despite this, Zuha Sayeed, a sophomore who also volunteers on the project, sees these problems as minor roadblocks.

“We have five different committees, like curriculum development, to work with, and we didn’t have any of that stuff last year,” Sayeed said. “It’s definitely grown tremendously this year and it will continue to grow next year.”

For Hatip, the real value of the Refugee Program goes beyond the academic aspect.

“There’s some days that we just talk and bond with them,” Hatip said. “For me, that’s the first goal, is understanding their problems because everyone’s problems aren’t just academic. We all have social and personal problems that we want to discuss with someone.”

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