On Saturday, Epsilon Alpha Sigma, the University of Michigan’s first Arab sorority, and the Multi-Ethnic Student Association held a banquet to raise money for Syrian refugees through Friends of Kayany, a non-profit that supports education for Syrian children living in Informal Tented Settlements in Lebanon. EAS was also granted a charter at the event, elevating them from a colony to a chapter of the national Arab sorority.
The event, titled “Remembering the Refugees,” took place at the Ross School of Business Blau Colloquium and featured spoken word artist Omar Offendum, Friends of Kayany treasurer Bandar Shawwaf and EAS founder Rula Othman. About 140 students and community members were in attendance at the annual event. The event has been running since 2012.
The sorority surpassed their fundraising goal of $8,000 to raise a total of $9,400 for Friends of Kayany throughout the semester.
According to Angie Ackhar, LSA sophomore and public relations and outreach and external social chairs for EAS, the money will provide resources such as scholarships, opportunities for higher education and transportation to and from school for Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, among other things.
Shawwaf emphasized the importance of education for children living with refugee status and said the word Kayany was chosen to communicate a sense of self-worth to the children it supports.
“The Arabic word Kayany means something like ‘my existence, the foundation of my being, my place in the world.’” Shawwaf said. “The name was chosen to reinforce students’ sense of self, their sense of self-worth, and to show them that some things cannot be dispossessed or displaced.”
Offendum also presented a series of poems and songs at the banquet. Offendum discussed the immigration experience, religious themes and humanity at large.
In his first poem, Offendum expressed words his mother told him in Arabic about Damascus, the capital of Syria, through a rap.
“If they ask you what Damascus (is) like? Tell them it’s a glimpse into the afterlife,” Offendum said.
Othman presented the University’s colony with a charter at the event, making them an official chapter of the national sorority, along with other awards for members of the sorority.
According to Achkar, the charter was a surprise.
“We did receive our charter, so it was a positive, unexpected outcome,” Achkar said. “… We were previously the Epsilon Alpha Sigma Sorority Incorporated Colony, now we are considered a chapter in our national board’s eyes. So all the planning leading up to that and all the hard work that we have put in, that leads up, ultimately, to our charter.”
Achkar came to the University from a tight-knit Arab-American community in Dearborn. Achkar said the sorority was created to empower girls within the Arab-American community and help them adjust to university life.
“I guess I was trying to find my own community within the (University), while staying intact with my cultural roots,” Achkar said. “So once the idea of Epsilon Alpha Sigma, the Empowered Arab Sisterhood, came about, I was like, ‘This is something that could help girls coming in. So freshman girls coming in from close-knit communities or communities that were never close-knit.’ That it could create that space for them to bond and empower one another, instead of have that competitive vibe that many schools have.”
Public Policy junior Nadia Hakim, who attended the banquet, said she recognizes the importance EAS has with empowering Arab women in the community and is proud of what they have accomplished thus far.
“A lot of times Arab women do get a stereotype and I think having this group of girls that are really there to support one another is amazing,” Hakim said. “And not only are they supporting one another, they’re really empowering everyone else around them and working towards so many great causes. They’ve been here for one year, and the amount of work they’ve done and the presence they’ve had within the Arab community has been amazing.”
Many members of the Multicultural Greek Council were in attendance at the banquet. LSA senior Ben Martinez, president of the University’s chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta, a Latinx fraternity on campus, said he went to the event in order to support EAS sisters and learn more about the refugee crisis.
“(I attended the event) primarily because a lot of connections with members of the sorority, as well as an opportunity to explore outside of my own community and events that partake within them,” Martinez said. “And to learn more about the subject of refugees and that topic, as well as supporting Epsilon Alpha Sigma because of their own application within the Multicultural Greek Council.”