February 23, 2017

Campus Community Organizes Tutoring for Syrian Refugees

A group of Arabic-speaking University students and community members are volunteering as tutors for Syrian refugee families residing in Hyde Park.

The volunteering is facilitated by an organization called Sirat, which provides aid and community services to refugee families. According to its website, Sirat promotes the development of cultural expression, religious involvement, and community service, in line with the values of Muslim faith.

Most recently, Sirat has begun providing services and relief to refugees in Hyde Park. In order to provide services including tutoring, ESL classes, and translation between Arabic and English, Sirat employs local Hyde Park professionals, Arabic speakers, and some UChicago students.

UChicago second-year Salma Elkhaoudi works directly with Sirat to help local refugee families. “Basically, if they need help with government resources, if they need help getting something, maybe they don’t have a working dishwasher, or need help getting a full-time job, I can help with those kinds of things,” Elkhaoudi said.

According to Elkhaoudi, there are currently four refugee families living in Hyde Park. The obstacles they face range from obtaining green cards to reading their mail. For these families, undergraduate students provide services consisting mainly of donations and language translation; they often work to help the refugee families with basic needs such as communication and everyday tasks.

The need for Arabic-speaking volunteers and professionals has spiked in the wake of President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from Muslim-majority countries such as Syria. While Syrian refugees have been fleeing to America for several years now, the United States’ extensive vetting process has delayed the entrance of many refugees, resulting in many recent arrivals. With the election of President Trump, refugees now have the added worry that they may not be able to obtain green cards and may be forced out of their new homes. Due to these developments, Sirat has recently grown largely due to the fact that most of the refugee families in Hyde Park settled here only months ago. Elkhaoudi confirmed the escalating urgency of the refugees’ situation, explaining that “The need has just sprouted in Hyde Park for Syrian refugee resettlement.”

Sirat also collaborates with a UChicago student organization, the Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights (PARR), which promotes the rights of refugees through political advocacy and community service. Sirat works with PARR to recruit Arabic-speaking tutors who provide ESL services for adults, homework help for children, and professional help including health resources and legal aid.

It is the hope of Sirat and PARR that refugees will be able to obtain the rights that they deserve as they flee from the dangers present in their native countries. However, the immediate goals of these organizations focus on making the local refugees as comfortable and as capable as possible so that they can make Hyde Park their home.

“It’s up to us. Especially in Hyde Park, at the University of Chicago, we are very much of an intellectual hub, and I think a lot of times we get stuck in this bubble of intellectualism in which we promote international advocacy and activism. But we forget that there are refugees down the street from us,” Elkhaoudi said.

Correction on Feb. 25, 2017, 9:40 p.m. CST:

This article misstated that PARR is a graduate student organization. It is open to undergraduates.