After some unexpected set-backs, my service project with my fellow Allies is finally coming together. My group co-hosted a community event with our partner organization, the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society (IMAS) on the North Side of Chicago. The organization’s mission is “to foster the well-being and self-sufficiency of Iraqi refugees and immigrants in the Chicago-metro area: easing their transition to life in the United States, forging connections between Iraqi and American society, and facilitating the preservation and exchange of Iraqi culture”. With the Iraqi community in Chicago growing, IMAS is eager to expand its programming and our project focuses on helping the staff build the infrastructure for new youth programs.
Our kick-off event was a great opportunity for interface with the community. Personally, I had very little knowledge of or experience with refugee groups from any background before partnering with IMAS. The opportunity to learn more about Iraqi culture and the refugee experience makes this project even more exciting. The journey began for me at the event, where I had an enlightening conversation with a community member. She approached me to ask for more information about Public Allies and my personal background. After a 40 minute conversation, I walked away feeling like I’d just met one of the most courageous women in the world. She has only lived in Chicago (and the US in general) for about 5 months, but has managed to find a new home and family here after losing her entire family in Syria. IMAS, she said, helped her come back to life. The people she has met are her new brothers and sisters. Of everything she said, one quote will probably stay with me forever:
“When people ask me how old I am, I say 5 months because when I came here 5 months ago I was reborn. It was a new beginning.”
Her attitude towards her experiences is inspiring. Personally, it reminds me to believe in the power of hope and the strength it can give you to start over.