by Wasan Abu-Baker
Fresno women have many stories of success and accomplishments in 2016. The women of Fresno as teachers, doctors, dentists, engineers, students, professors, mothers, sisters, community organizers, politicians, artists, cooks, writers, journalists, principles, and pharmacists came out to celebrate those accomplishments on March 8, International Women’s Day.
I am a Muslim woman, community leader, advocate for the Syrian refugees, Fresno Interdenominational Rescue Ministries staff member, Sunday school teacher, and an inspiration to a lot of women in my community and friends. Women play a great role in Islam and are a corner stone in a successful society. Like many women, last year was a great year for me and my Muslim women friends in Fresno. We celebrated having many community gatherings and many local and international events.
Wasan’s Story with Jameela Khan
My story with Jameela started at 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 other board members, is 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 husband to preserve our Muslim identify, 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 many more common things with her; 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 honored 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 International Women’s Day in Fresno on March 8. 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 girl I met last year. Last May, Dima moved to Fresno with her family: Zafir (dad), Nour (mom), Lamar (sister), and Basel (brother). Her relative Faiha Kashak and her family, who are well known in our community as givers, played a big role in helping Dima and her family get resettled 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 Nour, is with a common language and the same religion. Having these two things, communication with them was very easy. Dima is a wonderful young lady with a sweet and polite personality, well educated, great communicator, respectful to her parents, and friendly with people. She is an older sister and her mom’s right hand, and 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 ambassadors 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 English and will definitely continue her education. When Myrna Martinez, director of American Friends Service Committee of Pan Valley Institute, shared with me her interests to invite a Syrian speaker to the event on March 8, I quickly thought of Dima. She would be the perfect person to share the story of a young Muslim woman and Syrian refugee.
Dima’s Story in her own words
I was born on 1/5/2003 in the city of Homs in Syria. We lived in Homs until 2011 when we started moving from city to city because of the Syrian Civil war, then later fled to Jordan. I have one brother and one sister, and [was] raised in a very nice family environment. My family arrived to the US last May as refugees, and have been living in Fresno for the last 11 months. I am a student at Kastner Middle school. I enjoy learning, love my school and my friends, and have a dream to become a successful Syrian Muslim woman in the US. One of my goals is finishing my education and helping 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 in so many different ways. They helped us go to school, make friends, and connect to the Community centers. My parents both are working hard to provide us with what we need, and I am very proud of them because moving to the US, trying to learn the language, and integrate to the 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.
Check out more immigrant and refugee stories in KRL’s Tales of Diversity category. If you would like to help other Syrian refugees in the Fresno area please visit Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM)’s special webpage.