Welcoming Refugee Families with Art


A day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that was originally planned to benefit recently resettled refugee children, uplifted all participants with great joy. Young kids to the most erudite museum administrators spent the afternoon laughing, learning, creating, bonding, and spontaneously singing in celebration.

Seven bi-lingual friends, esteemed professionals from various fields, took a day from work to volunteer as translators. A father and son drove a Syrian family that had just resettled in Connecticut to join the festivities. Museum president, Daniel Weiss, welcomed the group. He reflected on a collection, spanning 5,000 years and honoring worldwide cultures and civilizations.
Following the president’s opening remarks, fine artist, Azi Amiri led the children to the Islamic galleries, where they pressed clay against ancient bas-relief walls to capture textures. They drew observed details to understand patterns and themes. Senior Production Coordinator, Rebecca Shear, archived the day in photographs. Fine artist and Metropolitan Museum Curatorial Assistant, Harout Artin Simonian ushered parents and babies on an exciting museum tour that spanned from the Temple of Dendur, in the ancient Egyptian collection to the Fashion Institute’s limited-time Manus vs. Machinas exhibit. Deputy Chief Development Officer for The Fund for the Met, Amy Amy O’Reilly Rizzi and Metropolitan Museum Chief Audience Development Officer, Donna Williams, stayed back in the Uris Center to help me prepare a welcome-back reception.
Adults and children reconvened in the Uris Center for a send-off ceremony. When Ann Nicol, Executive Director of the UNA-NY, addressed the group, she expressed compassion, support and well-wishes for the families. Ms. Nicol presented each child with backpacks filled with school supplies. Afterward, I presented the kids with bags of art supplies.
I was one of the last to board the homebound bus. Inside, grinning children and beaming parents surprised me with beautifully crafted artisanal personal pizzas that Amar, one of the mothers had made for everyone. Then, Mayada, the mother of another of the children, offered everyone delicious triangular pastries filled with falafel. I felt honored by Amar and Mayada’s homemade contributions.As we ate together, it seemed clear that if regular people from diverse backgrounds befriended each other, global misconceptions could be resolved.
As the bus pulled away from the museum and embarked on the journey back to New Jersey, philanthropist, Hadi Hajjar, gave the kids his own gifts. He had filled party bags with toys, candy, and miscellaneous treats that made the kids jump for joy. The group chanted Hadi’s first name for quite a while. Stephen, the bus driver overlooked newly happy children jumping up in spontaneous outbursts.
The day of art for refugee children turned into a moment of joy for all. It was an extraordinary show of solidarity, humanitarian values, love and support by the range of collaborators, including the refugee families. Please continue the momentum. Events like this should happen as often as possible to heal wounds, unite cultures and usher a new day of international peace.
Originally from Syria and Eritrea, the families that participated in the day are now resettled in Connecticut and New Jersey. Translators originally hailed from the United States, Syria, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Financial sponsorship came from five states. This was an extraordinary show of solidarity, humanitarian values, love and support. It’s the sort of event that should happen as often as possible to heal wounds, unite cultures and usher a new day of international peace.
I collaborated with Church World Service’s Jersey City Refugee Resettlement branch to initiate this event, working with Rebecca Liberato, Sami Rageb, and Mahmoud Mahmoud. The Metropolitan Museum and the United Nations Association’s New York branch joined the effort.
Metropolitan Museum Chief Audience Development Officer, Donna Williams, Associate Educator of Family Programs, Jennifer Kalter, Senior Press Officer, Egle Zygas, Communications Manager Ann Bailis, Fine Artist, Azi Amiri, Fine Artist/Met Museum Curatorial Assistant, Harout Simian, Associate for Administration, Alexis Patterson, and Deputy Chief Development Officer for The Fund for the Met, Amy O’Reilly all collaborated at the museum to offer an extraordinary day to the kids.
Moktar Gaouad, Mimi Melkonian, Hadi Hajjar, Samira Loschiavo, Yasser Alsafadi, Ingy Soliman, and Dr. Ihsan Sankari volunteered their day to work as translators. Ross Ogden and Ted Ogden drove a family that had just resettled in Connecticut and who are sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church to and from the museum. The Ogden family also worked as impromptu event photographers.
Dr. Ihsan Sankari translated a take home project that I offered to the kids. I included stamped and addressed envelopes in each art supply bag, so that the kids could return their art and any writing that they’d like me to eventually include in a book.
Yoobi, a school supply company dedicated to outreach, gave 1000 backpacks filled with school supplies to the UNA to deliver to refugee children. UNA-NY passed out backpacks to 24 children at the Metropolitan Museum event.
Starbucks Coffee (manager: Gustavo Hernandez) and Mrs. Greens Grocery Store (manager: Damon Sawyer) provided drinks and snacks for both the bus and for a reception at the end of the day.
The art supply bags and bus were made possible by a collaboration between Rye children, Mrs. Green’s Grocery Store in New Canaan, CT, J&R Tours, Pace Prints, The Rye Arts Center, Salma Shawwaf, Laurissa James Gold, Corinne Menacho, the Tamalonis Family, John James, Randy James, Elinor Vizard, The Polito Family, Stephanie Gardner, Andrea Costa, Hilary Kozarowicz, Hadi Hajjar, Shiva Sarram, Gina Cottet, Roger Busch, Paula Fung, Diane Diane Langsam Bernstein, Susan Susan Sheppard Steidl, Jake Steidl, Courtney Hawes and me.

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