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Syrian refugees make a new home in Tucson with help from local organizations

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Courtesy Danyelle Khmara | The Daily Wildcat

Three Syrian women sell cookies and drinks at their bake sale, December 2016. The bake sale featured Syrian desserts.

With help from the Tucson community, Syrian refugees are greeted by the volunteers of the Arizona Welcomes Refugees Facebook page.

The page was founded by Arizona State Senate Assistant Minority Leader and small business owner Steve Farley in November 2015.

"[There is a] wonderful giving community in Tucson," Farley said.

After Gov. Doug Ducey made a statement in November 2015 calling for a halt of new refugees coming to Arizona, Farley was inspired to create a community that "sets a foundation for generations to come."

The local volunteers started by meeting refugee families with welcome signs at the airport, which quickly evolved and grew into a monthly potluck. The community began to develop a relationship with the refugees, making connections over commonalities, such as good food.

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The Arizona Welcomes Refugees page has arranged three successful bake sales with all proceeds going directly to the women and their families.

Jan Knight, an active member of the Facebook group, said she was inspired by the Syrian cuisine and culture to propose a bake sale profiting the women who make the authentic Syrian delicacies. She said she got the idea after eating a homemade basbousa, a cake made from semolina or farina covered in syrup.

"Syrians are incredibly hospitable," Knight, who has been involved with the group since July 2016, said. Volunteers arranged trips to the grocery store and got involved in teaching the new families English along with other valuable skills for their new country.

Farley said he believed that the relationship between the community and refugees would help incorporate "strong, new Americans who will give back to society."

The closed Facebook group currently has 1,463 members, as of press time.

"Everyone who joins becomes a leader," Farley said.

He said there are no positions held, just "person to person altruism." The page is open to all ideas and opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the incoming refugees and the Tucson community.

"[The people are] a loose-knit citizen group," Knight said.

The volunteers do not identify as a religious group or nonprofit and choose to host their events where space is donated.

When the refugees arrive in Tucson, they come with almost nothing and are set up in a basic apartment. Knight often goes on grocery store and Goodwill trips to help the families assimilate into their new lives.

"[The apartment is] very, very minimal," Knight said.

Many families come with young children and are thrown into a culture completely different than what they are used to.

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"They want the same things we want," Marilyn Cochram Moustafa, Arizona Welcomes Refugees volunteer said.

Moustafa said the subject of refugees hits close to home and wanted to end the negativity and hatred.

"People are afraid of things they don’t know," Moustafa said. "I could really see how much misinformation there is."

No date is currently set for a fourth bake sale, but those interested are welcome to add themselves to the Arizona Welcomes Refugees Facebook page.


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