INJAZ, an assimilation program that connects Arabic students to local refugees, celebrated its initiation into the University community as an official student organization.
The event titled Celebrating Partnerships, featured Middle Eastern music, poetry, food and speeches that focused on the University's engagement and exchange with the Arab community of Durham. The event, which occurred Thursday evening, was organized by INJAZ and the Arabic program in the Asian and Middle Eastern studies department, co-sponsored by the Center for Muslim Life and Student Organization Finance Committee.
INJAZ aims to create a two-way opportunity for students and Arabic-speaking refugee families to gain an understanding of each other’s culture, said senior Ellen Paddock, a member of the INJAZ board.
“INJAZ emphasizes on a mutual language exchange [with] the students learning Arabic from the refugee families and the refugees learning English from the students,” Paddock said.
Duke's Muslim Chaplain Abdullah Antepli opened the night by highlighting other partnerships that precede the creation of INJAZ—such as the establishment of Duke’s Center for Muslim Life and the work done by Habitat for Humanity to provide no-interest loans for housing to local residents including refugees, Arab and otherwise.
After the speech, Duke students and faculty mingled with members of the local Arab refugee community, enjoying traditional Middle Eastern food and live Arabic jazz music.
Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski, community resource coordinator for Church World Services, noted that reciprocal communication and learning is vital to the success of INJAZ and the assimilation of refugees.
“Refugee’s come here and see all the things they can’t do and feel alienated,” Cohen said. “But they join INJAZ and they see that they have something to offer Duke’s students and the community.”
Although the program was designed to be an educational exchange, some students who have worked with refugees in the past have developed deeper relationships with the families they worked with.
“Last year, I worked with an Iraqi family and it quickly became more than just a language and cultural exchange,” said junior Sarah Haas, an INJAZ board member. “It became much more a friendship.”
INJAZ, which means “achievement” in Arabic, began last Fall under the name Dardasha, Arabic for "chat", as a program open only to students taking advanced Arabic. Dardasha and the refugee community were brought together by Church World Services, which offers a range of other services to the local refugee community, including housing and English lessons. Last Spring, the program expanded its doors to allow intermediate Arabic students to participate in the exchange, and was renamed INJAZ to mark its approval by SOFC.
Last year, approximately 250 Arabic-speaking refugees immigrated to the Durham area, Cohen said. The population is composed mainly of Iraqi and Sudanese refugees, with an increasing number of Somali individuals arriving as a result of political instability in the region.
“The growing Somali population will change the dynamic of INJAZ,” Cohen said. “It will give students the opportunity to learn from a completely different culture and hear the variation in Somali Arabic and Iraqi and Sudanese Arabic.”
Abdirazaak Ismali, a Somali refugee who arrived in the United States Sept. 3 and attended the event, expressed his gratitude to INJAZ for helping him grow accustomed to his new life.
“I would like to tell them thanks,” Ismali said. “My dream and goal is to work so I can study at Duke University.”