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Daughters for Life bring Middle East Interest Club to campus

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The first cohort of Daughters for Life (DFL) has just about finished its first year at New College. In that one year, the five students from the Middle East have been vocal and active members of the community, have made it a goal to bring awareness of Middle Eastern cultures to campus.

The Middle East Interest Club was officially drawn up in January, with more than 75 students expressing interest in participating in the club. “Basically what we want to do is educate people and students here about the Middle East, to show them it’s more than just politics,” first-year Loureen Sayej said. Sayej is one of the Daughters for Life and hails from Palestine. She is involved in both the Middle East Interest Club and its sub-project, the unofficial Arabic tutorial.

The club so far is balancing activist ideals and cultural introduction. In the past semester, two events have been organized. The first event, held on April 16, was a candle-lit vigil for the victims of ISIS held on Z-Green. Members of Hillel and Students Targeting Oppressive Powers (STOP) also joined them in the vigil. The second event was a three-night movie showing in the TA, held between April 30 and May 2. The movies covered themes such as religious relations in Lebanon, Israel/Palestine relations, and Egypt during the Arab Spring.

“It’s our first experience organizing events on this campus,” first-year Leen Al-Fatafta said. “So we’re going through the whole bureaucracy. Maybe next semester we’ll get the hang of it and probably have events on a larger scale.” Al-Fatafta, who comes from Jordan, is also the primary teacher of the Arabic tutorial.

“A lot of students approached us, expressing that they wanted to learn Arabic,” Al-Fatafta said. “We took the issue up with some of the faculty, but they said there isn’t anyone on campus who knows Arabic and can teach it. So [the Daughters for Life] thought collaboratively that we would work on an Arabic tutorial.” The Arabic tutorial is based on volunteer work. No official sponsor means the students who attend the meetings, held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, are participating out of self-interest rather than any tutorial credit. “It’s just us sharing our expertise in Arabic with students who want to learn it.”

More than 50 people expressed interest in an Arabic tutorial. “We had about 20 people sign up and ask to be in the class,” Sayej said. Due to scheduling conflicts, only 12 people were able to attend. “It’s time consuming, and it’s not for any credit,” Al-Fatafta said.

Al-Fatafta’s father is an Arabic professor in Jordan, and was able to send the members of the Arabic tutorial class materials. The textbook Al-Fatafta is drawing from, “Arabic from Scratch,” is one of three that her father sent.

“We haven’t gone so far,” Al-Fatafta said. “Some of the students can read and pronounce things in Arabic. We’ve covered long vowels, short vowels, numbers, the feminine and masculine forms … they can write their own names and have a short conversation in Arabic.”

“Hopefully next year we’ll have an Arabic professor on campus,” Sayej said.

Al-Fatafta plans on continuing the tutorial into next year. “With more [Daughters for Life] coming next year, we might be able to expand this. I would like for the Arabic tutorial to be something fixed on campus. Arabic is a critical language, and with more girls coming … I feel like there needs to be that representation for them.”

The Middle East Interest Club is hoping to expand over the coming years. “We’re trying to operate with other student clubs like Hillel, STOP, and Jesus Club, so hopefully it goes well,” Sayej said.

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