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A Taste of the IRC Celebrates the Cuisine, Art and Culture of Refugees

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The International Rescue Committee in San Diego hosted the 12th Annual A Taste of the IRC dinner and welcomed over 300 guests to experience first-hand what refugees bring to the table – from international cuisine to art from around the world, the event celebrated the culture and contributions of San Diego’s refugees. Through ticket sales, sponsorships and on-site donations, A Taste of the IRC raised a total of $120,000, the most raised in the event's twelve-year history, to support refugee families in San Diego. 

Event Highlights: 2019

Guests enjoyed cuisine from refugee-owned restaurants based in San Diego, including Sahara: A Taste of the Middle East, Muqaddas Afghan Cuisine, Farida's, RED Sambusas and Shakira Pastry. Farida’s, a family-owned restaurant specializing in Somali cuisine, is a City Heights staple and a hub for San Diego's Somali community. Farida's was a featured vendor and in-kind sponsor of A Taste of the IRC - and Farida, who founded the restaurant in 2008, was resettled by the IRC over 20 years ago. Her daughter, Hanna, has since taken over the business on a mission to promote Somali culture through food and establish more restaurants in San Diego. 


Hanna from Farida's Somali Cuisine in City Heights at the 12th annual A Taste of the IRC dinner.

Photo: Emerald Lembe


Refugee artists from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria debuted their work across multiple mediums throughout the venue space. Elena Noroozi, originally from Afghanistan, brought ten life-sized paintings made at her home studio. Other artists included Mohammad Kouchi (Afghanistan), Mohammad Albawab (Syria) and Sahar K (Iraq). 

Elena Noroozi, originally from Afghanistan, says that all of her paintings, from representing her native homeland to highlighting feminist themes in the Middle East, have a message.

Photo: Elena Noroozi

Live music was provided by Iraqi singer Adnan Mansoor, who was resettled by the IRC over 10 years ago.

Iraqi singer and former refugee, Adnan Mansoor, performs at 12th annual A Taste of the IRC dinner.

Photo: Binzhong Li

Emerald Lembe, originally from the Congo, spoke about his work as a filmmaker in Uganda. He created a short video for the event called "A Day at the IRC," which gives viewers snapshots of IRC programs and their impact on refugees, immigrants and low-income San Diegans. Emerald, an IRC client himself, and his family were resettled to San Diego by the IRC earlier this year in February. 

Emerald Lembe brings his filmmaking skills from the Congo to San Diego at the 2019 A Taste of the IRC dinner.

Photo: Binzhong Li

"Since I came to the U.S., I’ve been working with IRC Youth Programs and making videos and soon I will work with the Media Art Center as well. My first project was documenting IRC clients on a trip to the Old Globe Theatre and I also helped the in-home childcare program with a video about their work. The video you are about to watch shows clips of just a few of the many IRC Programs that are going on in San Diego every day." Watch “A Day at the IRC” by filmmaker Emerald Lembe. 

Raghad, her family and Reem Faraj, Career Development Coordinator, pose in front of the "Refugees Welcome" step and repeat provided by El Cajon-based business, Sign Giant.

Photo: Emerald Lembe

Raghad Albawab, a Syrian refugee from Damascus, shared her story about her journey from Syria to San Diego: "My name is Raghad Albawab. I am from Damascus, Syria, and I lived there during the war, which decided to put its roots deeply in the Syrian land. And as well as many other people, I experienced a lot of things during this war. I experienced missing a lot of people, places, and memories.  This war is a big thief. It could steal anything from anyone in a blink of an eye. It stole everything from the safest place on earth." Raghad, who just graduated from the IRC's Pharmacy Technician Training Program, is currently working at CVS Pharmacy and is also a student at City College. When living in Syria during the war, Raghad said she found it hard to dream about the future. Three years later, she is working toward her dream of becoming a medical doctor.

Raghad also recognized her father, Mohammad Albawab, artisan and owner of Echo Arts SD for creating the awards for the evening.

Awards by Mohammad Albawab, artist and owner of Echo Arts SD. Mohammad was a designer, woodworker, and artist in Syria, but his factory was destroyed during the war. The IRC is proud to be Mohammad's first client and to support this refugee-owned business.

The IRC recognized Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) with the Visionary Community Partner Award, presented the Otto Family Foundation with the "Humanitarian of the Year" Award, and one of IRC's youngest supporters, Bellina Tricarico, with the Richard L’Heureux Young Leader Award.  The 'youth award'  was created to honor an outstanding young person in our community and was named to commemorate the incredible impact of a past volunteer with IRC Youth Programs,  Richard L’Heureux.

Recipient of the Richard L’Heureux Award, Bellina Tricarico, raised over $2,000 to support IRC programs and crowdfunded 54 hygiene kits for asylum-seeking families.

Photo: Emerald Lembe


The event program was hosted by Pedro Villegas, Director of Community Relations at San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and guests also heard program updates and closing remarks from IRC in San Diego's Executive Director Donna Duvin, providing the audience with an important note on the IRC's work with asylum-seeking families in San Diego. "The IRC is working with families to help them navigate our immigration system in applying for asylum, connect them with pro bono legal representation, enroll their children in school, provide trauma-informed counseling, ensure their basic needs are met including connecting them with limited sources for free housing while they wait for their cases to be heard in court.  We are also preparing them with job readiness training and help in obtaining employment which they also don’t qualify for until 6 months after filing for asylum."

Guests were also able to write postcards of support to asylum-seeking families in San Diego. 

Photo: Lida Dianti, Development Coordinator


We are grateful to the generosity of the San Diego community for supporting the work of the IRC and making refugees, asylum-seekers and all new Americans welcome.  Thank you on behalf of the International Rescue Committee to the 300+ generous individuals, supportive businesses and like-minded organizations that came together to enjoy international cuisine catered by local refugee-owned restaurants while raising critical funds to support families rebuilding their lives in San Diego!

Photo: Binzhong Li