بيانات صحفية / مواقف
Christian group returns to volunteer in Dearborn, despite cancellation of Arab Festival 21/06/2013
By Samer Hijazi
Thursday, 06.20.2013, 08:25pm
DEARBORN — While this past Father's Day weekend marked the first time, in 18 years, that the Arab International Festival was not held along Warren Avenue, it did not stop a Christian volunteer group that works to promote tolerance and understanding, from coming to town to continue a tradition of their own.
In May, the American Arab Chamber of Commerce (AACC), the organizers of the festival, made the decision to not hold the annual event for the first time in 18 years. Despite the cancellation of the festival, the group, known as Impact International, remained in contact with Fay Beydoun, the Executive Director of the AACC, and shared their intention to return to Dearborn to volunteer their services with other projects. Approximately ten volunteers, from four states, drove and flew into Dearborn to maintain the organization's tradition.
The non-profit group is comprised of volunteers from southern states, who focus on engaging in cross-cultural initiatives with Arab Americans and non-Arab citizens. They do this by offering services that would lead to opportunities and platforms for friendships and cultural respect and understanding.
Over the past 14 years, about 200 volunteers from Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and other southern states, have traveled to Dearborn, with money from their own pockets, just to volunteer at the festival. Impact International has provided their services to help set-up, clean up, and assist festival goers during the annual event.
Eric Peterson, who works in the City's Park's and Recreations Department, provided Impact International with a project to work on during their visit this year. They were given the opportunity to plant and water lilies on the sidewalk of Warren Avenue on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning of last week.
The group purchased the flowers themselves, as a contribution to the community. They began the process at the corner of Schafer Road, and worked their way east, until they reached Wyoming Street. While doing so, they also collected trash from the busy street and sidewalks. They were met with positive support from local residents.
"We were so honored to do this project. The businesses on Warren Avenue were so appreciative in coming out and offering us water and other refreshments,” said Mike Griffin, Impact International President. “People would drive by and honk their horns and cheer us on. We just really appreciate the kindness that we continue to receive here."
While most of Impact International's volunteers are Christian, their goal has never been to promote their religious views at the festival. Instead, they have always worked to eliminate barriers and help non-Arab Americans experience the beauty of the Arab culture. Their visit was no different this year.
Along with the project on Warren Avenue, they also volunteered at HYPE Athletics in Dearborn Heights, where they helped paint a running track within the facility. In addition, they were able to experience other aspects of Dearborn's culture, by attending a lecture and taking a tour of the Islamic Center of America, visiting the Arab American National Museum, and dining at some of the City's finest Middle Eastern restaurants.
On Monday, during the group's final day in town, they also visited the Dix community in the south-end of the City, where they handed out toys that they had purchased themselves to toddlers and children in the area.
Griffin, who currently resides in North Carolina, says that he established the organization after traveling to the Middle East and visiting Yemen. During his visit, he was moved by the citizens of the country when they willingly shared their customs and traditions with him.
"When we traveled to the Middle East, we saw that the stereotype of Arabs in American media was not a correct image. So now, we want others to see what we saw. There are so many wonderful aspects of the Arab culture that you don't get to see in the media," Griffin added.
After his trip to the Middle East, Griffin wanted to expose southerners in the U.S. to the Arab culture. He was able to develop a relationship with the AACC, and together, they started a tradition that would bring volunteers from the south every year on Father's Day weekend, to help run the festival. Griffin says that the Impact International initiative was so well received in the south that he had men, women, children and families throughout various states wanting to get involved.
Fay Beydoun says that Impact International has become a great asset to the Dearborn community and has played a vital role in helping to operate the festival for many years now.
"We've had a relationship with them for over 14 years, and they are one of the greatest groups of people that you can ever meet. They've come up here every year to help with the festival and all the logistics that are involved. They are a Christian-based group, who pay their own way up here, just to help out the Muslim community. Their only interest is interacting and being able to do good for this community," Beydoun stated.
Despite their positive experiences at the festival annually, the group has also been witness to some of the setbacks that have occurred in recent years, during which some religious tension has occurred. Griffin says that it's unfortunate that hate groups, who claim to represent Christianity, were able to come to town and disrupt a peaceful community.
"I can't be more disappointed and upset with these hate groups that call themselves Christians, who only have the desire to hurt and insult other people. It violates everything that Impact International stands for, and we were just as hurt by it as the community was," Griffin stated. "There has been so much grace, tolerance, and openness with this community. It sickens me and breaks my heart to see these groups come and bring insults and hate with them," he added.
Griffin says he was extremely disappointed when they learned of the festival's cancellation this year, but hopes it will return next year. Pamela Hooks, who has been coming to Dearborn with Impact International for three years in a row, says she is looking forward to returning next year as well.
"The opportunity to go and learn about someone else's culture is intriguing. My experience at the festival was great. So many people recognize our group, and come back to thank us. I'll definitely come back next year, whether the festival is there or not."
For more information on Impact International, visit their website at: www.impactint.net.