Volunteers Accompany Arab-Americans
By DEBORAH KONG
AP Minority Issues Writer
October 4, 2001, 2:02 AM EDT
SAN FRANCISCO -- Sonya Kaleel watches 15-year-old Hiba Al-Gizawi each
morning as she melts into the river of students flowing to the doors of
Balboa High School.
Just a few weeks ago, the two had never met. But now, Kaleel drives
Al-Gizawi to school each day, then waits to make sure she is safely behind
the school gates.
Kaleel is one of hundreds who have volunteered in cities across America to
accompany Middle Eastern and Muslim women and children on daily errands
after a wave of backlash incidents -- prompted by the terrorist attacks --
made many people afraid to venture outside.
Since Sept. 13, when someone spit on her mother, Al-Gizawi has been
reluctant to take the bus to school. She fears the head scarf she wears as
a symbol of her Islamic faith and modesty will make her a target, too.
"We used to go out, me and my parents, go out shopping, have fun, but not
anymore," she says. "You never know what they're going to do to me."
Now, she stays indoors with her parents and two brothers, watching Arabic
television and calling friends.
Al-Gizawi, an Iraqi native who came here six years ago, and Kaleel, a
36-year-old marketing consultant who was raised a Christian in rural
Illinois, are one of many diverse pairings springing up since the Sept. 11
attacks. Kaleel heard about Al-Gizawi's plight through a hot line set up
to report hate crimes against Muslims and Arab-Americans.
City by city, many others have also volunteered to become escorts. The
programs are separate efforts in each area, and many groups are just
starting to pair volunteers with those who want escorts.
In New York, the Arab American Family Support Center said more than 500
mostly non-Arab volunteers will be screened and trained to accompany
people. A few, like a Japanese-American woman who walks Arab-American
children to school, have already started.
In Tulsa, Okla., a group formed in memory of those who died in the terror
attacks has attracted farmers, doctors and lawyers who are ready to
accompany people. Two volunteers watched over a 3-year-old Asian Indian
boy's birthday party at a video arcade.
Kaleel, who has been driving Al-Gizawi and her friend Douha Aliakbar, 13,
to school for more than a week, doesn't own a car. So she borrows cars
from her roommate, boyfriend and other buddies.
"No one else was going to do it and they (the teen-agers) were sitting at
home," said Kaleel, a third-generation Arab-American. "These kids have to
go to school."
San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange said it is training
150 other volunteer escorts.
In Pomona, Calif., retired elementary school teacher Shirley Boyer and
members of the La Verne Church of the Brethren station themselves at the
gates of the Islamic City of Knowledge School each morning.
"I felt a responsibility to let them know that not all Americans were
going to be mean to them," Boyer said.
In conversations about such everyday things as doughnuts and a boy's
struggle to master spelling words, Boyer's also found that people who once
seemed alien are really just neighbors like anyone else.
"It seems to really be a double blessing to learn to know each other," she
On the Net:
Global Exchange: http://www.globalexchange.org/
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