Chicago and her refugees

Oxfam America shows how to solicit the soul today, with their profiles of four Syrian refugees charting a new life in Chicago.

You can’t look at three-year-old Sham, clad in a princess dress and embracing her hopeful father, and not feel your heart yearn for the future of this family and the centuries-old promise of America. Or Batoul Taha, showing off the fashion designs she created at the Art Institute of Chicago — she was able to attend thanks to the support of a local church. Or proud parents Feras Shawish and Rehab Alkadi, beaming as their four-year-old sons English skills soar. Or, finally, 20-year-old Samhar Assaf, whose broad smile and obligatory checked shirt makes me wonder if he isn’t really some hipster I went to college with?

I think you more than get the idea. Oxfam’s steadfast attention to empowering others is the reason I chose them for my holiday charity gifts for mom, sister, and in-laws.

I am happy about this in part because who couldn’t want to lend a hand to these bright joyful faces?  But if you read a little deeper, I think it will also make you feel better about America. They smile because they are so over the moon to be here. And that speaks to the strength of American civil society.

For all the troubling signs in the news this week, for all the moments when I looked to my husband and said democracy feels weaker than ever, and asked him for reassurance that everything really will be alright… There are still plenty of reasons that America is, in fact, great because she is good. And when it’s harder to see those reasons in the highest heights of our government and power structures, we need only look closer around us. Sham, Batoul, Feras, Rehab, and Samhar are settling in thanks to the kindness of teachers, classmates, neighbors, local churches and nonprofits. (One of these that deserves special attention is the Syrian Community Network, recently named one of the city’s leading changemakers).

Even if that welcome mat isn’t quite universal, it’s still quintessentially America. We have to celebrate hospitality and kindness wherever we find it.



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