A renowned filmmaker is challenging staff and students to consider how well we welcome newcomers and those in need.
About 300 district staff members attended a screening of “Salam Neighbor” as part of teacher workshop on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The film, by Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple, follows Syrian refugees including a college student, a single mother, a young boy and others living in the Za’atari, Jordan, refugee camp located seven miles south of the Syria/Jordan border.
About 150 students in Advanced Placement Human Geography classes also attended and had a question and answer session with Ingrasci.
Ingrasci said he and Temple wanted to document refugees’ experiences after seeing news accounts that chronicled the violence but didn’t capture the human impact on the 4.8 million Syrians who have fled to safety.
They were the first film crew granted permission to live in a United Nations refugee camp. After some initial concerns, the refugees welcomed the team as new neighbors. Many had spent their life savings to hire guides to get across the border. Many had lost family members.
Initially, Ingrasci said he assumed refugees’ needs would center on food, water and shelter, which the United Nations provides. To create lasting peace, however, refugees need to be seen as individuals deserving human dignity. For that to happen, the displaced Syrians need opportunities for education and employment.
The camps have schools, but some children remain too afraid to attend because their schools were bombed, Ingrasci said. Though laws limit refugees’ abilities to work, Za’atari’s industrious residents are turning the camp into a city. The main commercial corridor has been nicknamed the “Champs Elysees” for its businesses and some intrepid Syrians even figured out how to create a pizza delivery service at the camp.
Ingrasci said most of the people with whom the team spoke said they wanted to return home to Syria. Two of the families the team followed recently learned they will move to Nova Scotia, Canada. Less than 2 percent of refugees get resettled.
Ingrasci said he hopes people who see the film will think about how the situations could be reversed. During World War II, refugees from Europe sought protection in Aleppo, Syria, which has seen some of the worst devastation.
“I could be Ismail,” Ingrasci said of the young college student they followed. “What if this had happened to us? We have a decision: We can let extremists divide us or make sure they won’t win. The reality is we will be judged through history.”
AP Human Geography teacher Susan Clark said she got the idea for bringing the screening to Lakeville North High School after watching “Salam Neighbor” and the team’s other documentary, “Living on One Dollar.” Clark said she approached LNHS’ learning team about having Ingrasci present after finding out they speak to schools.
“I get big ideas often but thankfully work in a school that makes them reality just as often,” Clark said.
Lakeville North Principal Marne Berkvam said they were excited and pleased to have Ingrasci speak to staff and students. She said the presentation is an important way to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and provide staff with opportunities to learn.