Amid Protests in Middle East, Iraqi Visitors Build Friendships in Duluth
Posted at: 09/16/2012 6:21 PM
| Updated at: 09/16/2012 11:06 PM
By: Laurie Stribling
A group of people from Northeastern Iraq visited Duluth as part of a cultural exchange event. It's called the Duluth-Rania Friendship Exchange Project and it started in 2007. The relationship between the two cities is meant to shatter stereotypes while sharing experiences.
“Our city can enter in their world; their city can enter in our world,” Founder Michele Naar-Obed said. “Together we can find out what we have in common. We can find out what our different talents are and we can better the state of our world because of that.”
Obed said the relationship between Rania and Duluth is growing. The people from both cities have each visited twice in the last five years. During this trip, the Iraqi visitors toured Lake Superior and held several events around the area. Obed said both groups learned about their different cultures during the visit, but the biggest priority is nurturing friendships.
“We meet each other face to face and look into each other eyes,” Obed said. “We can share, on a very human level, our hopes and dreams.”
One of the events, hosted by the two groups, was a potluck September 15 held at the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports. A 16-year-old girl from Duluth was at the dinner, and she had another message she hoped to send her community.
“I think it's important to see the person and not just the stereotype that surrounds them,” Samiha Dib said. “As a Muslim teenager growing up in America, it's hard to face the misconceptions. They hurt sometimes.”
With protests taking place in the Middle East after an anti-Islamic movie was released by a California filmmaker, Dib, who has roots in Lebanon, wanted to send a message of tolerance.
“That was one person in America who did that, and he did it to cause trouble,” Dib said. “There are so many more people out there who are good, than the people who are bad.”
The group from Rania will continue to tour Duluth this week. They will stop by the UMD library on September 18, tour East High School on September 19 and visit the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Duluth on September 20.