Refugees in Pittsburgh learn how Christmas is celebrated in United States
Gad Yava celebrated Christmas while living in a refugee camp in Mambia with his parents and two sisters before settling in Pittsburgh earlier this year.
But it was nothing like the celebration he experienced on Saturday afternoon when he and several dozen other newly arrived refugees learned a bit of how the holiday is marked in his new homeland.
“I like decorating the tree and the gifts,” the shy, 7-year-old boy said as he unwrapped a Monsters Inc. puzzle and a pack of Ninja action figures.
Gad and his sisters Blessing, 11, and Jenis, 9, were treated to their first American-style Christmas party sponsored by the group Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach — AJAPO — a nonprofit service that helps African and Afro-Caribbean refugees and immigrants to Allegheny County integrate into a new culture.
The event was in the St. Benedict the Moor Center on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District.
“Even though these families are from different countries, and some are of different religions, they've all heard stories about how Christmas is celebrated here,” said Alison Searle, a program coordinator for AJAPO. “This is an opportunity to bring them together to share each others' company, enjoy the food and experience some new ways to celebrate the holiday.”
While all the trappings of an American Christmas — from carols, a tree, presents and even a visit from Santa — were present, organizers stopped short of serving traditional dishes such as roast turkey and plum pudding.
“Kids love pizza, so that's what we went with for the menu,” Searle said.
With Christmas carols in the background, the party included trimming the tree, opening gifts, decorating sugar cookies and a chance to meet Santa.
“These are mine,” said Therese Kubwimana, 7, as she pointed to a pair of gold-painted glass ornaments on the tree while her sister Belize Nihorimbele, 9, and brother Jeanclaude Nsongiyumva, 12, looked on. “This is fun.”
Dismas Blzimana, a senior case manager for AJAPO, said introducing aspects of American culture is important to helping the refugees integrate into society.
“We tell them that it's OK for them to wear their traditional clothing, but that sometimes it may not be practical, such as when they go to work,” he said. “The same goes for holiday celebrations. We want them to keep their traditions alive, but at the same time, we think it's important to learn some new ways to celebrate.”
The Rev. Carmen D'Amico, who founded AJAPO in 2001 while pastor of St. Benedict the Moor Church to help Sudanese refugees, said the organization's mission has not changed.
“The goal is to help refugees navigate the American community,” D'Amico said. “But AJAPO also provides them with a place to meet and discuss their concerns with people who are willing to listen help. It also allows them to re-establish connections to their culture in much the same way ethnic churches did when European immigrants arrived here.”
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- University of Pittsburgh puts issue of Cosby’s honorary degree on agenda
- Advocates begin countdown to start of Pittsburgh’s sick leave law
- Western Pennsylvania population growth, in ‘exurban’ areas, bucks national trends
- Parents of Shaler girl fatally struck by suspected drunk driver will hold press conference
- Pizza delivery driver assaulted in Hill District
- Newsmaker: Elaine Luther
- Boy, 14, shot in shoulder in Sheraden
- Neighbor rescues woman from burning Penn Hills home
- Wilkinsburg minister raided for drugs and guns, charged with 18 felonies
- Cornell superintendent: Moon’s timetable for possible merger suspicious
- Animal Friends launches construction for 2-story wellness center