As Ali Alazab, 10, shoveled food onto his dinner plate, he paired a traditional Syrian chicken and rice dish with a good old American heap of macaroni and cheese.
It was a taste of home and a taste of his new home, he said.
Ali, a refugee from Syria who moved to Winston-Salem with his family of 10 nearly a year ago, remarked on the many differences.
“They speak English here,” Ali said. “Oh, and the potatoes and the Pepsi. Those are my favorite.”
Ali and three of his siblings were some of the more than 100 refugee families and community members to attend Winston-Salem’s first Triad Refugee Festival Saturday in Corpening Plaza.
Although the event was cut short by a thunderstorm, attendees made the most of their time by enjoying the music, live performances and potluck style meal.
“The people here are so welcoming,” said Somali refugee Sofia Aden. “It’s a big difference from home in safety and the people.”
While Saturday was the inaugural event for Winston-Salem, the festival has been held in High Point for about seven years, said World Relief executive director Jennifer Foy.
World Relief — a nonprofit organization that has integrated thousands of refugees into Triad communities in the past 10 years — hosted a refugee festival in High Point on Friday night.
“Traditionally, we’ve done this as a way to celebrate and build new friendships,” Foy said. “One year we had a Pakistani child singing a lullaby. It’s just a beautiful expression of different cultures.”
Each year, the festival coincides with World Refugee Day, which is held June 20 as a global celebration of the strength and resilience of the millions of people around the world forced to flee their homes due to war or human rights abuses.
“This is such a great introduction into different cultures and seeing the different puzzle pieces that make up Winston-Salem,” said volunteer Amy Archambault. “We celebrate diversity here and celebrate our different roots.”
Attendees, many of whom donned traditional garbs, enjoyed a variety of food including Persian soup, a sweetened crepe native to the Congo and pizza.
“I like the bread and the rice, it’s all so different,” said Adaya Masamba, a refugee from the Congo.
Many shared in the talent of refugee sisters from Pakistan, Yasmeen Musarred and Sahrish Nasir, who drew Henna designs on people’s hands.
Attendees also each contributed to a world map, scribbling words like “love” and “hope” within the contours of the continents.
The interactive art piece, which began at Friday night’s festival in High Point, will be displayed in the World Relief office.
“Many things are good here,” said Kalthom Alazab, 12. “The people are wonderful. They help us.”
Syrian refugee Kalthom attended the festival with her brothers, Ali, Osama, 7, and Anaas, 4.
Irene Bantigue, who moved to Winston-Salem from London two years ago, accompanied them.
Bantigue volunteers with the family to help them learn English.
“I love that this festival celebrates the diversity of Winston-Salem,” she said. “Things like this bring us together and show us the world isn’t so big after all.