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Red Cross to host World Refugee Day Arts and Food Festival

Red Cross will host the fourth World Refugee Day Arts and Food Festival.
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World Refugee Day Arts and Food Festival

First Place Parking Lot

207 Fulton Street E

Saturday, June 23 10:00 am to 2:30 pm

Admission is free


On June 23, the American Red Cross will host World Refugee Day Arts and Food Festival at First Place Parking Lot. Although World Refugee Day takes place on June 20, Grand Rapids celebrates it on the Saturday before or after. This is the fourth year the festival has taken place.

According to the festival's Facebook page, the day is "to recognize the needs of refugees and celebrate their contribution throughout the world." Approximately 18 vendors will attend with various foods, crafts and arts from their countries. A local belly dancer and henna tattoo artist will be at the festival as well. The event is free for the whole public.

"It's all new sites and new sounds and people," Elyse Mathos, Military & International Services Coordinator, said about refugees coming to Grand Rapids. "It can be a little overwhelming. A lot of people selling these items, I mean this is kind of their life now and to celebrate that and recognize that I think is really important. It's to raise awareness that there are refugees living here in Grand Rapids that we should pay attention to."

Some of the vendors that will be present include:

Another vendor attending is Wafa Haddad, founder of TigerLilly Arabic Language Academy. She came to Grand Rapids from Syria in 1994. When she arrived in the United States, Haddad did not know English or even how to drive a car. There was also no festival to introduce her to other refugees and she wishes there was.

"Nineteen years ago we did not have diversity festival for different cultures and I was lost for a little while," Haddad said. "And then in GRCC school - I was in GRCC - and we had an international service. They help me with how to send my kids by bus to the nearest school little by little. If I had [then what there is] now what's going on in this beautiful way of introducing ourselves to the new people, I would not be lost."

Haddad will be preparing barbeque shish kabobs at her booth. Information about the TigerLilly Arabic Language Academy will also be available. The other vendors will also have booths with their crafts and foods to sell.

Haddad is only of the thousands of foreigners in the United States. According to Mathos, 264,574 refugees reside in the United States as of January 2011. Internationally, 43.7 million people have been forced to leave their home due to violence or disaster.

"We have here newcomers," said Haddad. "They come to Grand Rapids and they look for languages, they look for schools and they look for homes. They don't know where to go. And when we gather them, we want to show them our businesses and our friendly people so that you can see diversity. You can see that you are not alone, we are here with you. The festival can gather everyone here to communicate, to educate, to learn and to share and exchange and we will have the best community here because of that festival."

The Red Cross wants to create a memorial for those who have been separated by the relocation to Grand Rapids or have passed away. The plans are tentative and have not been finalized.





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