A Memorable Interfaith Picnic in Hopkinton Park
By Tahir Ali
Pictures courtesy Khalid Naseem

Hopkinton, Massachusetts : What do Homaira Naseem, Naushad Anwar, Yasmeen Ansari and Dr Shameem Ahmed have in common? They are activists and believe in meaningful get-togethers like the interfaith picnic they helped organize in Hopkinton Park this week.

The ladies worked closely together with the Refugee Immigration Ministry (RIM), which is an interfaith, community-based organization. The activists explained, “RIM's volunteers, many who are organized in community clusters, help integrate clients into their communities through job preparation programs, chaplaincy services to immigrant detainees, and other forms of assistance.”

Dr Ruth Bersin – RIM’s Executive Director – in her opening speech thanked the various groups that participated in the interfaith effort. “People are coming, seeking asylum from all over the world. We need groups that represent different parts of the world.” She made a reference to the community outreach program in terms of ‘clusters’ that, “are made up of representatives from several congregations in a given community that agree to work on a cooperative, interfaith process that offers clients community-based support. Participating congregations include: Lutheran , Episcopal , United Presbyterian , United Methodist , American Baptist , Roman Catholic , United Church of Christ , Unitarian , Ba'hai , Jewish , Buddhist , Sikh , Hindu , Muslim and the Society of Friends .”

Kawajit Singh of New England Sikh Study Circle (nessc.org) asserted that most of the refugees do not even have the basic needs. They cannot drive and that alone becomes a big impediment for them to lead normal lives. “Transportation is the biggest concern and I take care of that – picking them up and dropping them off to wherever they need to be at.” His son Angad Singh who also helps his father in his humane work said, “I am proud of what my father is doing - helping those who need it the most.” Kawajit could not forget when we attended and supported the Sikh community in the wake of the shootings by a hate monger at the Gurdhwara(Sikh Temple) in Milford. “ About 200 Sikhs and 30 Muslims attended the vigil in Milford Sikh Temple. The Sikh community felt honored when we prayed in their lawn and read a statement on behalf of our Islamic centers condemning the attack.” He recognized some of us who consoled and prayed at the Sikh temple. “We are there for each other,” Kawajit remarked.

Donna Blackstone has been involved with RIM for over three years with just one goal in mind: to bring faith groups together with one local community. Donna leading RIM’s Cluster program, said, “We are the local hand to place theses displaced individuals find employment, place their kids to school.” Although these individuals are free to begin their lives, but often lack the resources to effectively do so. “RIM's clusters aim to give them the tools to become self-sustaining members of their communities,” Donna explained.

Reverend Clint Barlow of Millbury Baptist Church mentioned that Dr Ruth spoke at their church last October. “Following up on that conversation our church is now getting more and more involved – what makes RIM different is that they are concentrating only on those who seek asylum.” The Reverend commended the turnout and noted the gathering consisted of many ethnicities and various groups. “This is the way the world should be,” the Reverend added, “if you can’t change the world, make the change where you are – at the local level.”

Dr Khalid Sadozai, the President of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester (ISGW) along with executive committee and board members - Dr Saleem Khanani and Mohammad Ilyas - met with Dr Ruth Bersin some three and a half years ago. They all agreed that Islamic centers should be represented in RIM.

Recipient of the Chime Award in 2009 for humanitarian service Dr Ruth was pleased at the turnout and the interaction among various communities. “We learn from each other,” she observed.

Dr Bersin received her BS in Education from Indiana University, an MA in Religion from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a DMin from the Graduate Theological Foundation. She received her PhD in Pastoral Psychotherapy– enough credentials to lead RIM in the right direction.

Homaira Naseem, talked of Sarpreet Singh, the leader of the Sikh Temple ‘Gurdhwara” in Milford who has been working with RIM for three years who urged Muslims to be part of RIM. Homaira now urges youth to be part of RIM and take lead, because she admitted that they bring new ideas to the table. “Actually the picnic idea came from my daughter Aesha.”

Donna, who was apparently very happy with the turnout, commented: “The picnic event is the first time. Yasmeen, Homaira, Shameem and Naushad are the key people and have really made this happen.”


Children enjoyed the nice day, the food and the water melon.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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