Nostalgia for Cultural Heritage: Spending a Day at Al-Bustan Camp

Young campers learning verses from Ghanili Shiwayi
and other Umm Kulthum songs 


My name is Lisa Ibrahim and I moved to the US from Palestine a year and a half ago. As I felt nostalgic for my culture, I began to look for organizations that do work in Arabic culture. Nowadays social media makes it easy for us to find the information we seek, that’s how I found the non-profit organization: Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture! I contacted Hazami, the founder and executive director, and she was very kind to invite me to spend a day at Al-Bustan Camp.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect yet I went there with an open heart. I was excited to find a very positive environment that offers classes to kids in: Arabic, drama, art, science, and music. The theme was none other than Umm Kulthum! Like most people who are from the Middle East, she is one of my icons! I was excited to discover that she will be the focus of camp and couldn’t help myself from thinking: “Let’s see what these kids are going to learn about the diva…Yalla… “ The diversity of the students was amazing, they were Arabs and non-Arabs which fulfills the mission of Al-Bustan: to reach out to all and spread the Arabic culture regardless of your origin.
The tour began with the Arabic class, where I got to see students learning the “Raa’” and “Zein” letters, they were about 5 to 7 years old and were able to pronounce the letters clearly. Then I went to the drama class, where the teacher asked some students to perform a play discussing their thoughts of having a baby (Umm Kulthum). What shocked me were the answers from the young kids, one of the boys in the class said: “I want the baby to be a boy to provide for the family”! And one of the girls said: “at least we are having one”! That was a striking moment for me, as I got to see how young kids were able to relate and understand the views of Middle Eastern culture tracing back to the era of Umm Kulthum.
Camper Islam’s interpretation of
Umm Kulthum’s iconic image

After that, I got to check out the art class where I saw a room filled with paintings that students made of Umm Kulthum.  It was great to see how they perceived her through their imagination and their choice of vivid colors in her portrayal. Most of the paintings were unbelievably reflective of the diva in an amazing way, one of them stood out to me as it looked like Elvis Presley!!  It’s wonderful to see how far kids’ imagination can go.


The most touching moment for me came in the music class.  I was amazed to see students who were dancing to the beats of the drums, then singing songs from Umm Kulthum’s repertoire in a beautifully harmonious way. As a music lover that was the highlight of my day!
As someone who is looking from the outside, seeing non-Arabs and Arabs who are living in the US, getting the opportunity to experience such a rich culture and take part of it, made me realize how Al-Bustan is contributing to the shift of people’s consciousness towards Arabic culture through art, language, and music.

Al-Bustan made me understand the importance of its mission and gave me the passion to explore an opportunity to take part in it. I feel a desire to do my best to take Al-Bustan’s message and spread it out to as many people as possible in order to bring a positive perception of Arabic culture in the U.S as well as around the world!

Lisa Ibrahim


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