Syrian family settled in Fairfield gives face to crisis at Darien event
DARIEN — It was a chance to not only learn something about the dramatic plight of Syrian refugees, but also a unique opportunity to meet one of the families who’ve actually lived the experience.
On Monday evening Darien Library screened Salam Neighbor —a documentary film recounting the month-long stay of two young filmmakers in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp.
While they weren’t at this camp, the Mansour family has spent close to five years displaced from their home country.
In January husband and wife, Sleman and Mariam Mansour, arrived in Fairfield, where they’ve begun creating a new home with their daughter, Wafeka, 18, who was in attendance at the library event, and their two sons, Mohamad, 17, and Mustafa, 10.
“He hopes to learn English quickly so he can be part of this community,” noted Bushra Alshalabi, a Syrian refugee who came to Fairfield in August, interpreting Arabic for Sleman and the family.
“We want to raise awareness of the refugee situation and introduce some local refugees as people, rather than as symbols of the (crisis),” said Gary Holmes of Darien. “We feel the best way to do that is to introduce them in person.”
A board member of First Congregational Church of Darien, which sponsored the event, Holmes also works with the International Institute of Connecticut, which was instrumental in helping the Mansour family’s resettlement.
“We do provide a wide range of services for people like the Mansours,” said Claudia Connor, president & CEO.
Around 75 people attended the screening and question-and-answer session that followed. The film, which was made by former Fairfield resident Chris Temple, and his college roommate, Zach Ingrasci, left some people teary-eyed.
“I think the most important thing about Salam Neighbor is that it puts a human face on a seemingly incomprehensible human crisis,” Connor said.
She recounted the arduous process required for people to legally even enter this country, sometimes taking more than two years and including extensive background checks from a variety of agencies and institutions before they’re admitted.
Yet when a refugee arrives here with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing, they have to become self-sustaining in 90 days, despite the obstacles of language, poverty, and custom.
“Really the trauma of their journey continues, probably for a long time,” Connor said, noting of the 21 million refugees throughout the world, less than one-half percent of them will be resettled.
“This is a vital issue of our time,” said Dale Rosenberg, senior minister at First Congregational, who moderated the talk. “We want to show, we want to learn, and we want to make what difference we can.”
Alshalabi briefly answered some audience questions from the Mansours, including Sleman’s hope that he can restart a clothing and beauty product business like he had in his native country.
“He would love to get help to start his own business,” she said. “He doesn’t know anything about legal status here and he would like to be informed.”
Connor explained that many kinds of volunteer services are necessary for her agency to do its work helping people build new lives, including a mentor program.
“We do have a lot of volunteer opportunities,” she said. Also, assistance can come in many forms, including hiring refugees in local businesses and companies.
“There are so many way people can get involved,” she said.