The rhythms of beaten drum shared the air with wafting scents of traditional Afghan food air at Charlottesville’s IX Art Park on Monday at a World Refugee Day celebration hosted by local nonprofit International Neighbors, a Charlottesville-based nonprofit that works with refugees and immigrants who have settled in the area.
“This is a celebration of diversity. This is about loving your neighbor, your refugee neighbor,” said Adaline Masah, director of outreach for International Neighbors.
The event featured free food, an interactive drum circle session, a multicultural fashion show, and various giveaways and informational sessions from community groups.
World Refugee Day is recognized internationally on June 20 every year. It was designed by the United Nations to celebrate and honor refugees from around the world.
The day was first established in 2001 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
This is the second year International Neighbors has held a community event to commemorate the day.
“We want our neighbors to see each other and for our refugee neighbors to know that we support them and support the community. We want the community to get to know their neighbors too,” Masah said.
Sharon Stone, founder of local nonprofit The Free Book Bus, debuted a new coloring book at the event. The book is called Welcome to Charlottesville, and highlights various aspects of life in the area through the ABCs in which A is for Albemarle County and B, naturally, is for Bodo’s Bagels.
Stone created the book specifically with immigrants and refugees in mind and is translating the book into several languages. On Monday, she had an Arabic translation available. In the next few weeks, a Pashto version will join and versions in Farsi, Dari and Spanish are in the works.
“It’s been more than a year in development. When I first started seeing refugees on the bus they were asking for Pashto, Dari and Farsi. I started buying them online, but they were very limited and expensive. So I had the idea to do an ABC book and get it translated,” Stone said.
Stone takes her bus to schools, housing complexes, food pantries and other community hubs, where children and even adults can browse the bookshelves installed and choose a title or two to take home. It’s completely free with no catch.
The book was written by Stone and illustrated by Racheal Davis. The translation and production of the books was funded through grants from the Bama Works Fund of Dave Matthews Band and Whole Foods Market Community Giving Program, as well as a donation from Ned Woodhouse.
The English translation of the book will be sold at Alakazam Toys and other local businesses as a fundraiser for the bus.
“Parents get really excited about the book. A lot of times, when [families have] been here awhile, their kids start to lose the native language. Parents really want their kids to have the ability to read and write their native language from their home country as well as English,” Stone said.
Mohammad Nasim Kakar, an Afghan refugee and Charlottesville resident, is president of the newly incorporated Afghan Community of Charlottesville, a group that works to promote community and culture among refugees and help those who have newly arrived in Charlottesville.
He said events like these are important for community members to get to know the culture of their neighbors and for refugees to meet people in Charlottesville.
“We are thankful to have an event for us to show our culture to the people around us, to people live who in Charlottesville,” Kakar said. “We have around 600 Afghan families living in Charlottesville, and they don’t know the culture here when they first come here. Our goal is to help them get connected in the community.”
Kakar said connecting with Charlottesville residents at events like this has helped the city feel more like home to him and other refugees.
“Charlottesville became my home. I feel like it’s my own country. The people are nice, and I feel safer here. This is a great city to live in with my family,” he said.