All posts by Ryan Holmes

Local doctors treat Syrian refugees in Jordan (Video)

By Ryan Connelly Holmes

Chicago-area pediatricians Sofia Shakir and Jihad Shoshara have been married 20 years.

In 2015 they did something for the first time as a couple: they each went on a medical mission trip to Jordan to treat Syrian refugees. Shoshara had gone on medical trips before, but Shakir had not.

Shakir traveled to Jordan in November, while her husband was there in March.

The doctors went with the Syrian American Medical Society, which has sent volunteers to Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon since the organization started in 2007.

Watch Shakir and Shoshara share their experiences:

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Pan-African Association teaches refugees English (Video)

By Ryan Connelly Holmes

When a refugee arrives to the United States, English language training is an essential part of integration and future success. These classes are offered by a variety of refugee resettlement and social service agencies.

Pan-African Association (PAA), located in Edgewater, is one of those organizations.

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Syrian band raises $7,000 for refugee relief (VIDEO)

By Ryan Connelly Holmes

Syrian band Hewar raised $7,000 for Save the Children at a concert on Saturday night. All proceeds will go to help Syrian refugee children.

The ensemble of Kinan Azmeh on clarinet, Issam Rafea on oud, and Dima Orsho as lyrical soprano was accompanied by Omar al-Musfi on percussion. The concert, hosted by Tzedek Chicago and Luther Memorial Church, took place in the chapel at Luther Memorial.

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Syrian jazz fusion band to play at refugee relief concert in Chicago

By Ryan Connelly Holmes

The Syrian band Hewar is scheduled to play at a concert in Chicago on Saturday to benefit Syrian refugee children. All proceeds will go to Save the Children, an aid organization that focuses on children across the globe.

“They’re all just amazing musicians of extraordinary caliber, so just to have that evening out as a cultural experience would be a treat,” said Elaine Waxman, one of the organizers of the event, “and then made that much more meaningful by the opportunity to raise money for the Save the Children relief effort.”

Hewar was formed in 2003 as a collaboration between Kinan Azmeh, a clarinetist and composer, and his colleague Issam Rafea, an oud player, an instrument in Middle Eastern music similar to the lute. Both Syrian, Azmeh and Rafea met each other while in school in Damascus.

Azmeh and Rafea added Dima Orsho, a lyrical soprano, to the band after its inception. On Saturday, they will play with special guest percussionist Omar Al-Musfi.

A classically trained clarinetist, Azmeh has a doctorate from City University of New York, or CUNY, and a master’s from the Julliard School. He has played concerts in countries such as Lebanon, France, England and the United States. Saturday would be his first benefit concert in Chicago for humanitarian relief.

Since March 2011, Azmeh has been playing concerts all over the world to benefit Syrian refugees. He has performed for refugees in Jordan and taught music in the camps as well.

But it didn’t happen immediately. It took Azmeh more than a year after the Arab Spring to feel emotionally ready to write music again.

“After a year I realized that I owed it to myself to write and to keep my voice loud,” Azmeh said in a phone interview.

“I’m lucky that I have an instrument that actually can be quite loud if it needs to be, and I felt, you know what, that me making music is an act of freedom and I want to practice that.”

The name Hewar means “dialogue” in Arabic, which is an essential part of the band’s mission.

“The whole idea is that a conversation between two people is larger than the sum of their individual ideas,” Azmeh said.

Collaboration is what made the concert possible. One of Azmeh’s music students actually suggested the idea to him, and then got to work in her congregation to make it possible.

Katia Waxman, Elaine Waxman’s daughter and a 17-year-old junior at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, met Azmeh in 2012 at Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music in New Hampshire.

He was Katia Waxman’s teacher for the clarinet, and the two quickly formed a friendship and a mentor-mentee bond. For years she was looking for the right event to bring him to Chicago. When reports about the refugee crisis started coming in the last year, she pitched the idea to her mother, her congregation Tzedek Chicago, and Azmeh.

They all emphatically said “yes.”

“I’m so excited,” Katia Waxman said. “He’s been a really important part of my musical growth, so I’m excited to introduce him to the rest of my musical world.”

The high school junior and her mother belong to the Jewish congregation Tzedek Chicago, which shares a space with Luther Memorial Church, a Lutheran parish in Lincoln Square. Luther Memorial Church was excited to share its 340-seat church for a concert by candlelight, Elaine Waxman said.

The two congregations are joint sponsors of the event.

Once the space was booked and Luther Memorial and Tzedek were on board, Elaine Waxman contacted Save the Children, which immediately agreed to be the concert’s beneficiary.

Azmeh said he likes working with organizations where he knows all the money will go directly to the relief efforts. As for the concert itself, he hopes it provides a muse for giving.

“I hope the outcome of this is that is inspires people,” Azmeh said.

“If it makes people feel happy, that’s a great reward for us if people just simply enjoy the concert,” he said. “But also we’re hoping for something more immediate that people do feel inspired to act and do something.”

Saturday’s concert is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church, located at 2500 W. Wilson Ave., in Chicago.

Photo at top: Kinan Azmeh in concert. (Kinan Azmeh/Courtesy)

Activists & homeless join to march on Ald. Cappleman’s office (video)

By Ryan Connelly Holmes

Protesters marched in Uptown Monday night to vent frustration at Ald. James Cappleman and the Chicago police who ticketed individuals sleeping near the Wilson Avenue viaduct.

“These people who are sleeping out here, they want peace,” said Ryne Poelker, 24, who used to be homeless and now is involved as a volunteer with the Northside Action for Justice.

“They just want to be able to exist in peace and they’re being constantly ticketed, constantly harassed, and constantly criminalized for being homeless,” he said. Continue reading

Grassroots coat drive brings warmth to those on streets (video)

By Ryan Connelly Holmes

A few feet from the traffic passing under the Fullerton I-90/94 overpass sits a mattress. Beneath the covers of the mattress on the ledge, a man and a woman lay resting, their belongings close by. On the other side of four lanes of traffic, a few people congregate, their possessions filling shopping carts.

It’s about noon on Sunday Oct. 18. This area is popular for individuals on the streets to seek shelter, even during the heaviest traffic times of the day.

By 8 p.m. on Oct. 19 the city has totally cleared out the underpass. It looks like no one has been there.

Such is the transient world of life on the streets.

This is the world and these are the people that Ira Coleman vowed to help when he started Button & Zipper in 2013.

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