Al-Bustan Camp went by in an instant, one brief and sweltering moment of drumming, Arabic, geometric patterns and soccer in 100-degree heat. Now, a few days after the final performance, I’ve had the time to reflect more deeply on what these two weeks, and this past year, have taught me.
I’ve learned so much from our incredible teachers and from the children who bring such kindness, curiosity, and intelligence to our educational programs. I cannot speak their praises enough, but, to be honest, I expected great things from both groups going into this year.
At our Moffet Arab Arts After-School Program, our community percussion ensemble, and at Al-Bustan Camp, the biggest surprise was the dedication and the support of the families who entrusted their children to Al-Bustan. My appreciation grew steadily throughout the year as I noticed countless moments of care and love.
It is a truism to say that all across Philadelphia families care about their children’s education. However, in the context of an alleged crisis in the public importance of the arts, it may come as a surprise to learn that parents and families of all backgrounds eagerly enroll their children in Al-Bustan’s Arab arts programming, and in fact go to great lengths to support us (unlike those who drastically cut the budget for art and music class in Philadelphia schools).
There were the parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends who formed a dedicated and enthusiastic audience at our many performances, even those that lasted late into the night or required a trip across the city, transforming our performances into celebrations. There were the extensive networks of shared transportation that arose in response to long hours at work or snarled commutes. In the end, though, what impresses me most is that families made it a priority every day to put their children in our programs, no matter what it took.
While Al-Bustan strives to – and succeeds at – making our programming logistically and financially accessible, this year I began to understand how hard it is to raise a child at all without adding in the complexities of art class, music class, trips, performances, or camp.
Regardless of neighborhood, family structure, and race and class background, these families recognize the value of the arts and of Arab culture. They make our programs possible, and I am immensely grateful to them.
Al-Bustan is small, and Philadelphia is big. We can only serve so many. But I have a vision of a Philadelphia where all children are artists, and all children have a rich understanding of Arab culture. Our work is not done yet.