Supporting the Darfur Refugee Community in Southern Maineby Bobbie Gordon and Roberta Zuckerman, NCJW Southern Maine Section
NCJW actively works for the elimination of genocide. As a Jewish organization, NCJW knows the high cost of inaction and silence in the face of genocide, and the importance of treating all groups of people with respect. Portland, Maine, is home to approximately 100 immigrants from Darfur — one of the largest Darfur communities in the United States. The National Council of Jewish Women Southern Maine Section has spearheaded The Darfur Project for the past two years. Section members Roberta (Bobbie) Gordon and Roberta Zuckerman initiated the project and served as co-chairs.
After meeting with leaders of the Darfur community to learn their needs, we created the following goals:
- To build connections between the Jewish and Muslim communities
- To learn about the genocide in Darfur and the immigrant experience
- To teach basic English language skills in one-on-one tutorials
- To develop additional writing and public speaking skills for those with more advanced English
- To organize events for Darfurians to bear witness to the ongoing genocide and hardship befalling the people in the region
- To encourage people to take action to end the genocide and advocate on behalf of the people of Darfur
We launched The Darfur Project with a moving and powerful public talk “One Man’s Story of Tragedy, Escape and Immigration” given by El-Fadel Arbab, a member of our Darfur community. Approximately 70 people attended the presentation and the preceding screening of a short film, which spoke to the violence against women and children in Darfur. The event aimed to educate the Southern Maine community about the plight of the people living through genocide, destruction of their homes and villages, displacement and, the challenges of immigration — for the small minority who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so.
In the first year of the project, we hosted four pot luck dinners at which NCJW members and their families came together with our local Darfur families to share Jewish food and food from the Darfur region. Breaking bread together helped build bridges and friendships between our two communities.
The project also included a tutoring component that involved 16 NCJW tutors (a few husbands also participated) and their individual adult students from the Darfur community who were at various levels in their English abilities. The students made substantial progress with their English skills, and we as tutors learned a tremendous amount from our students.
In addition, Bobbie Gordon intensively mentored three members of the Darfur community, and on April 7, we hosted The Darfur Project Community Read & Forum, which provided a platform for them to speak about their experiences in Darfur. We also encouraged both the Jewish and general community to read the book Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir as told to Damien Lewis. The book is a compelling true story of a Darfurian woman doctor’s struggle and her determination to deal with the trauma of the genocide in Darfur. Approximately 50 attendees listened to four members of the Darfur community (including a spokeswoman from the Save Darfur organization based in Washington, DC) to speak about their experiences before participating in a follow-up discussion.
We encouraged those involved in our program and others in the community who felt moved to take action to contribute to the Solar Cooker Project of Jewish World Watch to benefit the women in the Darfur refugee camps. Each Darfurian family needs two cookers, which only cost $15 each, and prevent women from risking assault and rape by leaving the camp to collect firewood. Our section started by donating 30 cookers and then matched the donation of 70 more by people in the community. As a result of this project, a total of 323 solar cookers were donated.
The NCJW Southern Maine Section is very proud of what we have accomplished during the past two years with The Darfur Project. We feel that our efforts have succeeded in raising people’s awareness about the enormous suffering in Darfur. We were very successful in building positive connections between the Muslim Darfur community of Portland and NCJW families. Individual adults in the Darfur community were able to improve their language skills and some were able to reach their goal of bearing witness to the genocide in Darfur. Furthermore, Darfurians in our community who are in contact with family in the refugee camps informed us that the solar cookers are making an enormous difference in the lives of the people in the camps.
Please feel free to get in touch with us for more information or if you have any questions.
Roberta (Bobbie) Gordon 207 329 3353 email@example.com
Roberta Zuckerman 207 712 1784 firstname.lastname@example.org