This is how the women of Fresno are shaping their community

And this is just one of the many stories of refugees in the United States.

And this is just one of the many stories of refugees in the United States.

The women of Fresno, California had many stories of success and accomplishments in 2016 and came out on March 8th, on Women’s International Day, to celebrate those accomplishments. Wasan Abu-Baker is a Muslim woman, community leader, advocate for the Syrian refugees, a Fresno Interdenominational Rescue Ministries staff member, a Sunday school teacher, and an inspiration to a lot of women in her community and friends. Women play a great role in Islam and are a cornerstone of a successful society. Like many women, last year was a great year for Wasan and her Muslim women friends in Fresno. They celebrated by having many community gatherings and many local and international events.

Wasan met Jameela Khan, and this is their story:

My story with Jameela started at the MyDeen Center two years ago, where we met as fellow community organizers and board members. From the start, we built a strong relationship with each other, spending hours planning for events with other members, organizing events, and building relationships with people in the community. Our goal, along with the other board members, was to unite together to serve the community, empower the Muslim identity in the US, and to help the young generation have self-belonging to their community. Jameela has a rich background growing up in Kenya, moving to the US with her husband, and raising three boys as an immigrant. Jameela and I shared many similarities in our stories, with both of us being women who immigrated to the US to start a new life and raising a family. It was very challenging for both of us to become familiar with our new surroundings and to be prepared to support a household as wives and mothers. We both worked hard with our husbands to perverse our Muslim identity, language, culture, and raising children to be strong members of society who can contribute to their community as a whole. Through my work with Jameela, I have found that we have many more things in common; her strong personality, passion, honesty, and commitment.

After I started my fellowship with the American Friends Service Committee of Pan Valley Institute, Jameela showed interest in the program and joined the program as an apprentice this year. I have been honoured to work with her outside the Muslim community, and she has been consistent in her devotion to service always ready to be there to serve. She was selected to be one of the speakers at Woman’s International Day in Fresno on March 8th. She beautifully expressed her own story as a Muslim immigrant to the US and facing the challenges she has through her journey.

Wasan’s story with Dima Kashak:

Dima Kashak is a young Syrian refugee I met last year. Dima moved to Fresno with her family, Zafir (dad), Nour (mom), Lamar (sister), and Basel (brother) last May. Her relative, Faiha Kashak, and her family, who are well known in our community as givers, played a big role helping Dima and her family resettle in Fresno. As always, my Muslim community showed their care and support. Dima quickly found friends in the Muslim community and through her aunt Faiha, I had the pleasure of meeting Dima and her family. For them, just like it has been for many Syrian families, leaving Syria wasn’t easy. It is hard to forget what they went through and how much they lost. But, they have many great memories that keep them going and a hope for a better future. My first connection with Dina and her mom

My first connection with Dina and her mom, Nour, is a common language and the same religion. Having these two things made communication with them very easy. Dima is a wonderful young lady with a sweet and polite personality; she is well educated, a great communicator, is respectful to her parents and friendly with everyone she meets. She is always smiling, which makes her very special. One day I remember telling Dima to be proud of what her parents are doing for her and her siblings; she said that she was and that she works very hard to make her parents proud of her. She is mature enough to realize the importance of preserving her identity as a Muslim woman, and I have encouraged her that although it’s not easy to do, she can preserve her Arabic language, headscarf, Islamic manners, and Syrian culture. I told her that she could do all of this, and also become an integrated member of society as a Muslim woman able to be effective, productive, and an ambassador to the wider community.

I feel strongly that Dima will enjoy a lot of success and also will hold on strong to her Syrian roots. In the few months that she has been here, Dima has become very comfortable with the English language and will definitely continue her education. When Myrna Martinez, director of American Friends Service Committee of Pan Valley Institute, shared with my her interests to invite a Syrian speaker to the event on March 8th, I quickly thought of Dima. She would be the perfect person to share the story of a young Muslim woman and a Syrian refugee.

Dima’s Story:

I was born on 1/5/2003 in the city of Homs in Syria. We lived in Homs until 2012, and then we fled to Jordan after the Syrian Civil war started in 2011. I have one brother and one sister and I was raised in a very nice family environment. My family arrived in the US last May as refugees and we have been living in Fresno for the last 11 months.

I am a student at Kastner Middle school. I enjoy learning, and I love my school and my friends. I have a dream to become a successful Syrian Muslim woman in the US. One of my goals is finishing my education and help my family. I want my parents to be proud of me because they are working really hard to support me and my other siblings to be productive people in our community.

When we arrived in Fresno, many people helped; my aunt and her friends from the community, Muslims and non-Muslims helped us. Everyone helped us in so many different ways, they helped us go to school, make friends, and connected us to the Community centres. My parents are both working hard to provide us with what we need, I am very proud of them because moving to the US and trying to learn the language, and integrate into American society is not easy. My parents are working hard to adapt to the new life here. We lost everything in Syria and came here to start from zero to rebuild our new lives.

The school system here is very different from the school system in Syria. I am exposed to more diverse groups here and it’s been a great learning experience for me. I am trying to build my own identity here as a Muslim Syrian girl by preserving my own culture, language, religion, and my Syrian identity. I want to be a successful Muslim young woman in the US. This is just the beginning of my story.

by Wasan Abu Baker

Wasan Abu-Baker was born and raised in Palestine, and was brought up in a highly educated household. She moved to the US after she married her husband and has three kids. She earned her masters degree in special education and is a community leader, advocate for refugees especially the Syrian refugees, and is doing a fellowship at American Friends Service Committee of Pan Valley Institute. She recently became a staff member at FIRM to serve the Syrian refugees, a member of CIVIC—Central Valley Islamic Valley Council, a large council that included all the Islamic centers in the Central Valley.

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