NEW BRITAIN - Middlebury College is bringing a program to the city this summer that aims to support recently arrived Arabic speakers 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 Connecticut for a summer of mutual linguistic and cultural learning.
The goal of the program is to support these families as they build connections in their new communities in Connecticut and to bridge gaps left by organizations that support the families while also providing an intensive service-learning and linguistic learning experience for college students.
Emily Goldman, site director of the program, runs Jiran with Maha Abdullah, a Syrian-born teacher in the school district. The program is a collaboration between Middlebury College’s Center for Community Engagement and the Islamic Association of Central Connecticut, a New Britain-based organization.
This will be the program’s first summer operating. It began on July 2 and will run through August 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 said. “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. There will be a mix of educational workshops and local cultural events over the next few weeks meant to build community among recently arrived families and other New Britain residents.
This includes lectures, cultural workshops, intercultural events, film screenings and community pot lucks.
The Islamic Center of Central Connecticut, at 100 Arch Street, 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 of the Islamic Center. “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 the 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.