By CLAIRE MENDES
CHIEF COPY EDITOR
This past Friday, the North Country chapter of the Euphrates Institute and the Islamic Culture Club co-hosted a benefit gala to raise money for Syrian refugees in the Syracuse area. They worked alongside the Muslim American Society in Syracuse, and specifically Dr. Ali Al-Mudamgha, who spoke about his experiences working with refugees at the event. The gala took place in Eben Holden and included various speakers, a dinner featuring Middle Eastern food, and several student performances. There was a $10 entrance fee to the event, which attendees could pay using cash, CWA, or their meal plan funds. According to Amaya Lopez-Silvero ’19, one of the co-chapter leaders of the Euphrates group, they had to turn attendees away from the door because they had capped the attendance at 100.
Dr. Al-Mudamgha discussed many of the realities that refugees face on a daily basis. He says there are approximately 5,000 refugees in Syracuse, most of them children or widows. According to Dr. Al-Mudamgha, it costs approximately 600 dollars per month for a child to go to school in Syracuse, while families generally only receive 700 dollars a month. He also spoke about the big differences contributions can make in refugees’ lives. One of the stories he shared was about a couple who both had physical disabilities and received a washing machine, through community donations, which made a powerful and positive difference in their daily routine.
Other keynote speakers included Iram Amin, president of the Islamic Culture Club; Tarik Ait Maatallah, Coordinator of Muslim Life at St. Lawrence; and Janessa Gans Wilder, founder & CEO of the Euphrates Institute, who spoke to those in attendance via Skype from the West Coast. They spoke about the importance of charity and giving in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity alike, as well as the horrors of the ongoing conflict in Syria and the challenges refugees face.
Wilder, a former CIA officer, founded the Euphrates Institute to help build peace and understanding about critical issue in the Middle East, according to the official website. She created the organization after five years focusing on the Middle East while at the CIA, including serving in Iraq for 21 months. She recently spoke at the United Nations on the International Day of Peace.
The North Country chapter of the Euphrates Institute is one of 22 chapters worldwide. “The average American knows little about [the Middle East] and even less about the solutions, visionaries, and hope for peace that already exist,” they explain on their Facebook page. “We believe if more Americans did see this side of the story, they would be less paralyzed by fear and despair, and become actively engaged global citizens who would be supporting and enabling those promoting peace and progress in the region.”
The night ended with musical performances from Dana Austin ’19, Brandon Moran ’19, and Ana Garcia ’20. The event was a success, raising over 3,000 dollars for the Syracuse refugee community.
Students who attended gave positive feedback about the event. “After doing research in Jordan about the struggles the country has with educating Syrian refugees, it was wonderful to see SLU and the Canton community come together for a moving night,” said Bridget Ireland ’18, who spent last semester abroad in Jordan. “The speeches were very moving and really showed what involvement from the community can do.”
According to Lopez-Silvero, the group had decided to do a large event this semester to put Euphrates on the map, as this is only their third semester on campus. “I really hope that the people who attended learned something, and that it encouraged the community to ask questions and keep helping,” said Lopez-Silvero. “It seems like a bubble all the way up here sometimes, but these are real issues, and they’re not that far away from home.”
The Euphrates Club meets every Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. in Carnegie 9.