Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Soup for Syria’ talk held at Bowker Auditorium

By Josh Raposa

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Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

A crowd of students, professors and community members gathered Monday night at Bowker Auditorium to attend the “Soup for Syria” talk.

The event, hosted by the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, featured Barbara Abdeni Massaad, a photographer, writer and humanitarian whose award-winning cookbook, “Soup for Syria,” has touched the lives of thousands of Syrian Refugees.

Also present at the event was internationally renowned oud player, Kinan Idnawi, who performed an intense solo composition titled “For Syria”.

Massaad spoke of her experiences at a refugee camp just 45 minutes away from her home in Beirut.

A screen projected the faces of those she had photographed in Syria. Among those were young and old faces smiling, covered in dirt and wrapped in shawls.

“The vast majority of those in the U.S., in the world even, have never met a Muslim, a Syrian,” Massaad said.

“This leads us to a type of ignorance, a fear, and then a misrepresentation. These are people.”

Massaad began her discussion by tracing the origins of her book and subsequent project “Soup for Syria.”

“Two years ago, an influx of refugees began entering Lebanon. I began seeing the pictures in the news and I decided I needed to visit one of these camps,” Massaad said.

Massaad visited the camps more and more frequently, where she began occasionally taking pictures.

“I wanted the photos to give dignity and beauty to these refugees,” she said.

Eventually, Massaad gained a collection of photos and created a Facebook page. Her love of food, she said, influenced her to make a cookbook.

“I began contacting people and friends on the Facebook, trying to get the best recipes for the best soups,” Massaad said.

After whittling down the list to about 80 soups, Massaad took the book and her idea to Interlink Publishing, a local publishing company in Northampton.

“I wanted to take all of the profits and donate them to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),” Massaad explained.

Since its publication, the book has raised $300,000 for Syrian Refugees in the Middle East and has received critical acclaim for its recipes and photography.

After the discussion, the floor was opened up to questions. Many asked what they could do to help.

“If you have an idea, you need to just do it,” Massaad said.

“However, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: They need money. They need donations for food and medicine; things that aren’t available to them right now.”

When asked if Massaad had received any backlash from her project, she replied,

“Oh yes. Many say ‘why don’t you help Lebanese instead? They need help. Aren’t they your people?’”

Despite this popular nationalistic sentiment, Massaad said she didn’t care where the refugees are from.

“I see them. They are filled with hope,” she said. “They say ‘even if my home, my village, everything is destroyed, I want to go back and rebuild it. I want to go back because this is where I belong.’”

Josh Raposa can be reached at [email protected]

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