Courtesy of Salma Shitia '18

Members of the Cornell and Ithaca community attend the Syrian Refugee Gala in the Johnson Museum of Art Saturday night.

May 2, 2016

Gala Raises Funds, Awareness for Syrian Refugees

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Hundreds attended the Cornell for Syrian Refugee Gala on Saturday, designed to “not just raise funds for Syrian refugees, but also to raise awareness of the crisis,” according to President of the Arab Student Association Salma Shitia ’18.

The gala featured music from the Cornell Middle-Eastern Music Ensemble, spoken word poetry, a testimony from a Syrian whose cousin is a refugee and an auction, Shitia said.

Although most know of the war in Syria, not many Cornellians are aware of “who the Syrians are,” according to ASA Treasurer Ahmad Sabbagh ’17.

“[Saturday] night we helped establish familiarity with the Syrian people and restore their forgotten humanity by sharing their names, faces, feelings and culture,” Sabbagh said. “I hope that after this event, people will recognize refugees for the beauty that stems from their human lives rather than the taints of war.”

Shitia said she was excited to see how the Cornell and Ithaca communities could collaborate to support refugees after Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 pledged to help refugees relocate to Ithaca.

“I was honestly very happy when I read the news that Mayor [Myrick] was welcoming refugees, but I was even more impressed when I learned there was a non-profit being formed in the Ithaca community called ‘Ithaca Welcomes Refugees,’” Shitia said. “It was very nice to get in contact with Ithaca community members who support the cause as well.”

She added that she was grateful for the Ithaca community’s support of the gala.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re stuck in our own Cornell bubble,” Shitia said. “But to have an entire community and an entire city that also feels that way is very rare, and I’m honestly so grateful that I could attend Cornell and be a part of the Ithaca community where individuals are so kindhearted and open-minded.”

Christopher Hanna ‘18, co-president of Amnesty International at Cornell, added that cooperation between Cornell and Ithaca will be necessary to successfully settle refugees in the city.

“Ithaca will be one of the first American cities to resettle Syrian refugees, and their successful resettlement here will depend on the efforts of both the Ithaca and Cornell communities,” Hanna said. “The gala served as a first step in establishing a robust local support network for Syrian refugees.”

Due to United Nations funding issues, many refugees receive little food assistance and live below the poverty line, according to Hanna.

Shitia added that, in addition to these issues, refugees face barriers because they lack personal and financial connections to their host countries.

“I’m an Egyptian, I’m not Syrian, but I do have a lot of Syrian friends,” Shitia said. “Each summer I get to go back to Egypt and I get to visit my family, but these individuals have lost their family, or don’t have the ability to go back to their homeland, or recognize that more of their homeland has been destroyed.”