St. Thomas Times Journal, printed May 18, 2016

Unite for Refugees has an important introduction it wants to make.

It won’t be of the formal ‘St. Thomas, meet Syria. Syria, St. Thomas,’ variety, but instead a celebration of the Middle Eastern country’s culture at the CASO station on Thursday. The Taste of Syria concept is partly a refugee sponsorship fundraiser, but also an educational and community integration initiative.

“It’s a cultural awareness raising event,” said Rachel LeClair, project facilitator with the St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership, the parent group of Unite for Refugees.

“It originally started as a very tiny event in December. We just wanted to do a little drop-in event with a cultural display and we just wanted to see how much money we could raise.”

Revenue generated from the volunteer-driven event will support Unite for Refugees’ ongoing effort to sponsor three more Syrian families. LeClair said they’ll need approximately $75,000 to make their wish a reality.

At Thursday’s event, attendees will be able to taste Syrian fare, see their names written in Arabic, learn a few phrases in the language and try out henna temporary tattoos. There will also be live oud music and a dance demonstration at the cultural celebration.

Even some of the city’s recently-arrived Syrian refugee families will be there, lending a hand to make sure the event goes off without a hitch.

“The newcomer families are going to be helping out. They’re actually making the tabouleh and hummus that’s going to be served,” noted LeClair.

The evening won’t all just be food, fun and games however. Dr. Iman Arab, founder of Bring Back Hope, a coalition to support privately sponsored Syrian refugees, will be speaking about the nation’s history and culture and shed light on the ongoing conflict in the country.

Tickets to the event are $5 each and are going fast – almost 300 tickets have been sold to date. LeClair said the response is humbling and she is looking forward to seeing what Thursday’s gathering has in store.

“We’re really overwhelmed with the support. We weren’t sure how well it would go over in the community, but it’s been really great … We’re happy about that,” she said.

If you go…
Taste of Syria
When: Thursday May 19
Time: Doors open at 4:30 p.m., keynote speaker at 6 p.m.
Where: CASO station, 750 Talbot St., St. Thomas
Admission: $5, Food available for purchase