Reclaiming our resettlement | Art Feature | Chicago Reader

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Reclaiming our resettlement

Syrian Community Network’s afterschool art program helps refugee children stay connected to home.

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Hozaifa, 7, hangs watercolor drawings and jasmine leaf cutouts he created at the Syrian Community Network’s afterschool program. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Hozaifa, 7, hangs watercolor drawings and jasmine leaf cutouts he created at the Syrian Community Network’s afterschool program.


Jasmine isn’t the official flower of Syria, but many Syrians have claimed it as their own nonetheless. As the humanitarian crisis in their country has driven millions to flee, the flower represents a tangible connection to home. There’s perhaps no better place to see that connection than Syrian Community Network’s afterschool program, where children in kindergarten through sixth grade create jasmine-tinged art as a way to express themselves and cope with the challenges of displacement, all while exploring their individual stories and identities.

Syrian Community Network was founded in Chicago in 2015 and serves more than 3,000 refugees every year through chapters based here, as well as in San Diego, Phoenix, and Atlanta.

The Chicago chapter’s afterschool program supports students in overcoming the barriers that come with the experience of refugee resettlement, including language, social isolation, poverty, acculturation, and navigating a new school system. The program offers play, homework tutoring, and art making. 

Photographer and art therapist Farah Salem recently spent time with the children, their teachers, and their parents to document an art-making class and tutoring session.  v

Sami, 7, presents a butterfly he made using mixed-media materials. Sami moved to Chicago from Syria with his family about three years ago. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Sami, 7, presents a butterfly he made using mixed-media materials. Sami moved to Chicago from Syria with his family about three years ago.
An eight-year-old participant colors jasmine flower cutouts. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • An eight-year-old participant colors jasmine flower cutouts.


Ms. Amanda leads an art activity that guided the children through exploring ethnicities and origins. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Ms. Amanda leads an art activity that guided the children through exploring ethnicities and origins.
Hozaifa, 7, and his mother present a heart he drew using salt and watercolors. Hozaifa’s mother is also an employee at Syrian Community Network. They moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Hozaifa, 7, and his mother present a heart he drew using salt and watercolors. Hozaifa’s mother is also an employee at Syrian Community Network. They moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago.
Ms. Amanda and Ms. Sara work with Hamza, 7, and Fatima, 6. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Ms. Amanda and Ms. Sara work with Hamza, 7, and Fatima, 6.
Fatima, 10, presents a flower she drew using salt and watercolors. In the background, her brother Sami learns from Ms. Amanda. The siblings moved to Chicago with their family about three years ago. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Fatima, 10, presents a flower she drew using salt and watercolors. In the background, her brother Sami learns from Ms. Amanda. The siblings moved to Chicago with their family about three years ago.
Hamza, 7, holds up a drawing he previously created at the afterschool program. Hamza moved to Chicago from Syria with his family about three years ago. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Hamza, 7, holds up a drawing he previously created at the afterschool program. Hamza moved to Chicago from Syria with his family about three years ago.
Nour, 9, presents a bird she drew using salt and watercolors. She and her family also moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Nour, 9, presents a bird she drew using salt and watercolors. She and her family also moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago.
Ayoub, 7, studies English grammar in the homework tutoring room. Ayoub and his family moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Ayoub, 7, studies English grammar in the homework tutoring room. Ayoub and his family moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago.
Fatima, 6, cuts out shapes of jasmine leaves from watercolor drawings she created. Fatima and her family moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago. - FARAH SALEM FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Farah Salem for Chicago Reader
  • Fatima, 6, cuts out shapes of jasmine leaves from watercolor drawings she created. Fatima and her family moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago.

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