Minaret Academy Girl Scouts host their first iftar for refugee families in Orange County

In celebration of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a group of more than two-dozen Muslim Girl Scouts hosted an iftar dinner June 13 to welcome some of Orange County’s newest residents — refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“During Ramadan we always want to give back,” said Aisha Cabrer, the leader of Girl Scout Troop 3119, which is affiliated with Minaret Academy, a Muslim school in Anaheim. “This year, we thought because of the situation in the world, we wanted to have an opportunity to work with refugees coming here to California.”

While the troops at Minaret Academy regularly help to distribute food to local refugees, Cabrer said the group this year wanted to do something more personal, especially for the families who have daughters the same age as the Girl Scouts.

“One of the Girl Scout laws is to be a friend to every Girl Scout,” she said. “We’re taking it to a new level, to be a friend to every girl.”

Hiba Wagle, a 13-year-old Girl Scout from Buena Park, agreed.

“We wanted to integrate with these refugees because they’re in a lot of the areas that we’re in, like Anaheim and Garden Grove,” she said. “It’s like making new friends. We wanted to get to know all the other girls in our community.”

Nyla Surti, a 12-year-old Girl Scout from Cerritos, said she and fellow Girl Scouts learned of their similarities with the refugee girls after talking to them and hearing their stories of how they came to Orange County and are adapting to life here.

The event, held at the Brookhurst Community Center in Anaheim, included arts and crafts for the girls, as well as a donation table and information about resources for refugee parents, including social and health services, tutoring, therapy and food pantries.

Thirty refugee families with daughters ages 6 to 18 were invited to the event.

The iftar — the Arabic name for the breaking of the fast meal that ends a day of abstinence from food and drink — was the centerpiece of the evening program.

After 8 p.m., the crowd of about 150 people broke their fast on dates and fruit, then assembled for the evening prayer. By 8:30, a dinner of chicken, rice, lentils, salad, falafel and assorted desserts was served.

Aliza Ghandhi, a 13-year-old Girl Scout from Anaheim, said Ramadan is her “best month,” not only because it’s filled with social events like the evening’s iftar, but because it’s an opportunity for spiritual development.

“This is the month of our cleanse, to get more religious, to pray more, to be a better person, to try harder,” she said. “Usually people slack off, but this is the month where we need to get back into shape, to get back into our religion and try hard again.”

And a big part of that is serving others.

“My spirit, it feels much better now that I’m helping people get comfortable,” said Zaina Nasr, a 13-year-old Girl Scout from Tustin. “My spirit’s happy.”

Tamana Rahimi, a 27-year-old from Afghanistan and a mother of four, was one of the refugees in attendance. Her husband had worked in Afghanistan for the U.S. Army, and the family resettled in Westminster earlier this month.

The Girl Scout iftar was the first time Rahimi had left her house.

“It’s a good feeling,” she said.

Cabrer said she plans to organize more social events like the gathering so that her Girl Scouts can continue building relationships with the girls they met at the iftar.

Aliza said she hopes these programs will make a difference.

“If I was in the situation that they were in, I’d want someone to help me,” she said. “So I want them to know that there’s nothing wrong with being new.”

“Just thinking, like, ‘Hey, all these people are trying to help,’ might make them feel more comfortable and be more comfortable with the environment around them, that they’re like everyone, too, not alone or separated.”

CAITLIN YOSHIKO KANDIL is a contributor to TimesOC.

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