Engaging with Arab-Americans on Syria


On Friday, September 28, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah traveled to the Arab American National Museum in Michigan to meet with a group of Arab-American leaders and tour the museum. The Smithsonian Institution-affiliated museum, which chronicles the contributions of Arab-Americans to the United States and the world, is the first and only one of its kind. It is located in Dearborn, the city with the largest percentage of Arab-Americans in America, and is a project of Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), the largest Arab-American social service organization in the United States.

At the roundtable, Administrator Shah, moderator Hassan Jaber, the executive director of ACCESS, and Arab-American community and organizational leaders discussed USAID’s work in the Middle East, in particular in support of the people of Syria, and how diaspora and immigrant communities can be engaged. [Read more about Dr. Shah’s visit with Arab-American leaders here.]

The event came just as Secretary Clinton was hosting a Friends of Syria meeting in New York and announcing nearly $30 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the conflict in Syria.

One participant told Dr. Shah that as a child in Syria, he had seen the distribution of bags of food with USAID’s logo of clasped hands and that this had left a permanent imprint on him – it made him realize that the United States cared about him and the people around him. What, he wanted to know, was USAID doing now in the midst of the crisis in Syria?

The United States, in partnership with the international community, is tirelessly working to provide aid to the innocent children, women, and men affected by this conflict. We are delivering more than $130 million in humanitarian assistance to help more than 975,000 people inside Syria and the nearly 300,000 who have fled to the safety of neighboring countries. We are the largest provider of food aid to those affected by the crisis, and we are providing medical supplies and medical care in some of the hardest-hit cities in Syria. Due to ongoing violence and access restrictions, humanitarian partner organizations and their courageous staff are not yet able to reach everyone in need, but we continue to work to expand our aid networks to overcome these hurdles and provide additional humanitarian assistance for those affected by the crisis.

The meeting was a good opportunity for Dr. Shah to discuss his experiences on his recent visit to Za’aatri refugee camp near the Syria-Jordan border and his conversations with Syrians, young and old, who have sought refuge at the camp.

Equally important was the chance for Dr. Shah and USAID staff to learn from the people in the room, many of whom have family and friends in Syria. They shared their understanding of the situation on the ground, discussed what they are doing to help, and identified needs that might be addressed by the U.S. Government. They wanted to talk not only about the here and now but to engage also on a post-Assad era.

This meeting is part of an ongoing dialogue to deepen USAID’s partnerships with immigrant and diaspora community members to help the Syrian people.

 

This article originally appeared on USAID’s Impact blogThe contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of the author and its ideas and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of International diaspora Engagement Alliance, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Migration Policy Institute, or any of their partners.