On a lovely Sunday afternoon in March, a group of community members gathered at the Charlottesville Cooking School to learn how to make authentic falafel pita wraps from two Syrian chefs, Heba and Nsreen Ghazoul. Heba and Nsreen, who are sisters-in-law, were resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville along with their families in 2016 and early 2017, respectively. For both of them, cooking is a passion and a way to stay connected to the Syrian culture they left behind.
The cooking class that Heba and Nsreen got to teach is part of a program called “Bridges through Bread,” implemented this year by Albemarle County Public Schools. The school division enrolls students from 95 different countries, and this program was designed to forge connections within this diverse population through a monthly cooking class led by adult family members of refugee and immigrant families. Each class starts out with a short presentation about the family’s home country—at the most recent class, Albemarle High School 9th grader Hayah Ghazoul gave a touching presentation about her home country of Syria—followed by cooking and food preparation. At the end of the class, all participants gather to share in the meal and conversation.
The idea for this project came from Renata Germino, a specialist in Albemarle’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Last summer, she wrote a project proposal and applied for a grant from the Social Emotional Learning Innovation Fund, created by the NoVo Foundation, in partnership with Education First and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The grant funding covers the cost of the teachers, interpreters, and class materials, and allows each class to be free for participants. Germino’s proposal was one of 30 winners, out of a pool of 328 applicants from all over the country.
In addition to Heba and Nsreen Ghazoul, other IRC clients have gotten to lead classes in previous months. In the fall, Zakia Mazaher and her daughter Batool, who were resettled here in December 2016, taught a class how to make Kabuli Palau, the national dish of Afghanistan. Additionally, for the very first class of the series, the organizers bought produce from IRC’s New Roots Michie Market.