Interning at Al-Bustan: A Synthesis of My Passions and Interests


Playing the guitar (top center, next to cellist Kinan Abou-afach) with the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble.

As a junior double majoring in Music and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, it took me a long time to find a place where I could gain hands-on experience in both areas. Not only was I looking for an organization in which I could learn professional skills, but I also wanted to be engaged creatively and personally.  After an extensive search, I am very glad to have found Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

I first encountered Al-Bustan when I signed up to play the guitar in the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble class at UPenn.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I would be playing with their world-renowned resident musicians, as well as members of the broader Philadelphia community. It was even more surprising to know that we would play both canonical and original compositions (such as compositions by cellist Kinan Abou-afach), and perform alongside famous Arab artists, such as Oumeima El Khalil.


Preparing the City Hall exhibit with program coordinator Max Dugan and Mazin Blaik (seated)

Given my experience in tutoring and music, and how much I enjoyed playing Arab music, I decided to apply for an internship as soon as I learned about Al-Bustan’s many programs. On my first week I was assigned as a teaching assistant to the After-school Arab Arts Program at Moffet School. Working with children can be hard, but there is no better way to ensure that our efforts will be impactful and long lasting. In addition to helping our teaching artists, I had the opportunity to record the Moffet choir singing, which you can listen to on  Recording the kids was a great way for me to put into practice techniques I have learned at UPenn, while also helping provide a way for more people to hear Moffet students’ singing.

In addition to the year-long Moffet program, I have also worked with Al-Bustan helping implement various events, which range from exhibits of audiovisual works made by children, to concerts showcasing international stars.  In fact, many of these events involve our students as primary performers, showcasing their mastery of the materials learned.  I am glad to help this organization broaden the cultural experiences of the broader Philadelphia community.

Although I have just joined the Al-Bustan team, my long search for the right internship is certainly over. I am currently a student, a teacher, a musician, and an intern, and I feel fulfilled in every one of these aspects. I hope to give this organization at least as much as I am sure it will give me. Meanwhile, we all work together to spread understanding in this world that needs it so badly.

Henrique Nakamura
University of Pennsylvania
Class of 2016


Tears of Joy for the Moffet Ensemble at City Hall

Tears of Joy for the Moffet Ensemble at City Hall

The Moffet Choir singing Tik Tik Tik, with four soloists around the microphone. Photo by Pamela Yau-Art in City Hall

Anyone who came to the opening reception for Al-Bustan’s Art Exhibit at City Hall on February 25th probably saw me cry while speaking about the Moffet Arab Arts After-School Program.

My duty was to briefly introduce the Moffet Ensemble (choir and drummers) as well as our music teachers Hanna Khoury, Hafez Kotain, and Serge El Helou. As straightforward as that should have been, when I started speaking about the program—how hard everyone has worked, how inspiring the children’s effort is—I choked up and couldn’t speak without crying. People may have thought it a bit strange that I would be so emotional when speaking about the kids; then when the Moffet Ensemble actually performed, I think everyone could understood why I would be so emotional: this is such a special group of kids!

The next half of the performance — the percussion — really leveled the audience. The two Moffet drumming groups (advanced and beginner) performed individually, together, and finally with Hafez in a call-and-response style. During the performance, every action was done with amazement: people shook their heads with amazement; they audibly sighed with amazement; they expressed their amazement with exclamations like “wonderful” and ” At this point, you would think I am used to this; however, this wonder and awe always feels unique.

Tears of Joy for the Moffet Ensemble at City Hall

The Moffet Drummers before they amazed the audience. Photo by Pamela Yau- Art in City Hall

So, I cried because I am very inspired by how hard the Moffet Ensemble works to be better drummers and singers (and people!). In spite of the many obstacles that these kids face on a daily basis, they still do so much work in our program. I can’t wait to see what the Moffet Ensemble will do in their upcoming performances this Spring!


– Max Dugan, Program Coordinator

Interview with Rosalie Swana: Countering Islamophobia Through Art

Interview with Rosalie Swana: Countering Islamophobia Through Art
                                     Rosalie Swana

As a Muslim-American student, artist, and activist, Rosalie Swana works toward informing others about the harsh realities facing too many Muslims in the United States. One such example, her art show in December, Media Overload: Islamophobia of Muslims in the Media, tackled themes of identity and misrepresentation. As a classmate and friend of Rosalie’s, I had the pleasure of discussing her background, process, and recent exhibition. In our short meeting, I was able to feel the passion that she has for her work, and understand the connections between her personal identity and the grander question of how to address the issue of media discrimination against Muslim Americans.

Interviewer Kia: I loved looking at the art from your exhibition! Would you mind explaining the themes you had in mind when putting together the show?


Rosalie Swana: Well, the goal of the opening was to show how the media misportrays Muslim Americans. There are so many stereotypes about Muslims that have been fed to Americans by so-called “news” networks. For years, the media has made money off of Islamophobia.

K: Are there any messages that you want viewers to take away from your show and art?


RS: I want my viewers to just be able to see it [the Media’s treatment of Muslims] from another person’s perspective. I am not asking viewers to agree with my message; I only hope that they will listen before making up their minds.

K: What is the motivation behind this specific message? 


RS: Islamophobia in the media doesn’t just make me hurt because I am Muslim. Islamophobia upsets me so much because Muslims are not seen as Americans. We are seen as foreign; seen as animals and barbarians.

Interview with Rosalie Swana: Countering Islamophobia Through Art

K: Of all of the works in your exhibit, do you have a piece, or pieces, of which you are most proud?

 RS: I would say I am most proud of my pieces “American Enough?” and “Narcy”. I felt extremely connected with these two pieces; really put myself into them, and they were very personal.

K: What inspired this piece(s)?

RS: The inspiration for “Narcy” came from the political Iraqi-Canadian rapper the Narcicyst. A pencil drawing of him was one piece that was sold. A lot of his music has inspired me to discuss topics that most people are covering up, and to do it through an art form. He has inspired my artwork along with who I am as a person, and helped me express my feelings through something so beautiful.  

Interview with Rosalie Swana: Countering Islamophobia Through Art
                  “American Enough”

As for “American Enough”, this piece has a story. I was on the train with one of my close friends who wears the hijab. Two men got on and started to just stare at her. Soon after they were yelling things like: “Go back to your country”; “Take off that rag“; “Burn in hell“; “They shouldn’t let scum like you come into my country“; “People like you need to go back home.” As we left the train we turned to them and said: “This is our country just as much as it is yours. Our religion should not make us any less American.” That night I went home and painted a portrait of her titled “American Enough?” I put the word “label” across her eyes. I then drew her heart with words reading “made me bleed red white and blue.”

K: Very interesting. I’m wondering if you can expand a little more on your personal connections to your work?

RS: With most of my work there is always a personal connection. When I paint I am usually happy or frustrated. I started painting because I felt like no one was listening to me and no one cared. I wanted someone to just listen before they rejected my opinion. If I put what I felt in a painting, it would be harder for people to ignore. We can talk over each other’s opinion but we find it harder to ignore them when they are put in front of us.

K: Are there any overall themes that you’d like the reader to take away from this post about you, your art, or Islamophobia in general?


RS: All I see on these media networks are non Muslims speaking on Islam, saying how toxic the religion is. Most of these people have never read the Qur’an. You can not condemn an entire religion because of a few followers. It is up with the followers of that religion to interpret it. You cannot blame every follower for one’s mistake. We all interpret religion differently, some interpretations may be barbaric. But we cannot let those few barbaric followers blind people from the true meaning of Islam.

 Rosalie is a current 11th grade student at Science Leadership Academy, exploring Islamic identity and Islamophobia while inspiring her peers and the greater community.
– Kia DaSilva – Intern at Al-Bustan

Class of 2017, Science Leadership Academy