South Florida is known for welcoming those fleeing economic and political strife in their homeland. Cubans, Venezuelans and Haitians arrive to an already established community with a shared language and culture.
But what about those refugees that come to South Florida from other parts of the world less represented in our area, like Syria?
Syrian families in the area are building that community through stuffed leaves and honey pastries at the dinner table. This month three families hosted dozens of strangers at the Coral Gables Congregational Church for A Taste of Syria, a special event featuring poems written by some of the refugee children resettled in South Florida.
"That's one of the ideas behind these dinners, that they can really bridge any kind of cultural, political, religious divides," said Kristen Bloom, president of the Refugee Assistance Alliance, a non-profit organization that helps refugee families who do not have a support network. They pitched the dinner idea to O, Miami, who included it as one of their celebrations of National Poetry month.
Since the civil war in 2011, 249 Syrians have been resettled in South Florida according to State Department figures.
"They're really struggling to find their way," said Kristen Bloom, president of the Refugee Assistance Alliance. She started the organization after she attended one of these Syrian dinners herself a year ago.
"I realized they needed help with English, but they also needed a local counterpart, somebody they could turn to," said Bloom.
Today, the organization provides at-home English tutoring and other services to 70 Syrian refugees living in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
They are now planning more events where the families can share their food and their stories.
"What is a nation?," said Ghuzlan Fayyad, a teenager who arrived with her family to South Florida a year a and a half ago. "Is a nation this pain that we experience? No, a nation is the sun and the shadows. Me and you. And Love."
The women spend days preparing the meal for these dinners and they get paid through the tickets sold and donations.
"It is very empowering for them," said Bloom.