NEW BRITAIN - Middlebury College has brought a program to the city this summer to support recent arrivals from Arabic-speaking countries and connect them with their new community.
Jiran: The Arabic Community Action Summer connects advanced college or post-college Arabic students with refugee and immigrant families who have recently arrived in the state for a summer of mutual linguistic and cultural education.
The program’s goal is to help the families adjust to life in New Britain and to bridge gaps left by social service organizations that also support those families, while providing an intensive learning experience for the students.
Emily Goldman, site director of the program, runs Jiran with Maha Abdullah, a Syrian-born New Britain teacher.
The program is a collaboration of Middlebury College’s Center for Community Engagement and the Berlin-based Islamic Association of Central Connecticut.
The program started on Monday and will run through Aug. 3.
“The goal is for the students to strengthen their linguistic competency, their cultural competency and learn about forced migration, because many of the families in New Britain are here because of forced migration,” Goldman told The Herald. “For the families, the goal is to use the students’ presence to strengthen their intercultural competency and their social network within New Britain - to get to know the city and the resources that are here better.”
Jiran means “neighbors” in Arabic, and Goldman emphasized that that’s the theme of the community action summer.
A mix of educational workshops and local cultural events over the next few weeks are meant to build community among recently arrived families and other New Britain residents. They will include academic lectures, educational cultural workshops, intercultural events, film screenings and community potlucks.
The Islamic Association of Central Connecticut, which has a mosque at 100 Arch St., is hosting most of the lectures.
“Since its establishment, the goal of the Islamic Association of Central Connecticut has been to contribute to the betterment of the Muslim community, society as a whole, and to work diligently to further develop the Muslim community’s interfaith relations in Connecticut,” said Imam Ibrahim Alsuraymi. “Jiran provides a service to the community and contributes to our goal of developing our relationship with the Connecticut community.”
The other events are about “cultural sharing,” Goldman said.
“We’re having a music and dance event that is about the cultures present in New Britain, so we’ll have music and dance from Poland, Puerto Rico, mainland U.S. and the Middle East,” Goldman said.
This event, “Moving Across Cultures,” is the first of the summer and will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 8, at the YWCA of New Britain, 19 Franklin Square.
Jiran will also host a screening of the film “From Nowhere” in partnership with ForwardCT at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 12 at New Britain Public Library, 20 High St. “From Nowhere” is an award-winning film about the experience of undocumented students applying to college. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the film’s writer, Kate Ballen.
All events and lectures are free and open to the public, and Jiran organizers are hoping for a large group of interested residents.
“That’s the goal - to get as diverse a crew as possible at each of these events so that people are really spending the time to meet each other in ways that they wouldn’t necessarily have time to do other times in the year,” Goldman said.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.