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From the staff: Learning about Ramadan & Eid

October 13, 2009
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Ashley and Kim celebrate Eid with students in Cedar Rapids

Ashley and Kim celebrate Eid with students in Cedar Rapids

Ashley Heffern is a YES Coordinator with IRIS. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (Aug. 22-Sept. 19), Ashley fasted each Tuesday in honor of the Muslim students from Nigeria and Tanzania who are studying in Iowa through the U.S. State Department’s Youth Exchange and Study Program.

As an employee of IRIS, you can get some pretty strange requests, but I don’t think any of them compared to our request from our YES kids this year to fast with them during Ramadan.

Since working at IRIS, I have enjoyed learning about Ramadan, but I guess I’d never really thought about participating in it personally. Right away, I agreed to fast for a day. I kept thinking that doing 30 days would be tough, but I didn’t think that it would be hard to do one day. I got up before the sun, had what felt like my last meal and then did the only thing I wanted to do – went back to sleep.

I woke up, got ready and walked to work. As soon as I arrived, all I wanted was a drink of water. I put my water bottle away so I wouldn’t have the temptation and continued on with my day. I really didn’t think it was bad during the day. It was a lot easier having the support of my coworkers and, more importantly, the support of my kids. They were so wonderful.

It got a lot harder after I left work. I was alone, so no one would know if I had a sip of water. Plus, watching TV doesn’t help, because every ad seems to be about something I can’t have! Breaking the fast as a group was wonderful, and I ended up fasting 5 more times throughout Ramadan.

It is amazing to me the commitment that these students demonstrate through fasting. They are in a new country with a new family, and no one would say anything if they didn’t fast, but they do it anyway. And they give up so much more than food. It’s hard to interact with others while abstaining from food and drink!

Eid, celebrating the end of Ramadan

After my meager 6 days of fasting, I didn’t really feel that I had earned myself anything. However, the students thought we really needed to participate in an Eid ul-Fitr celebration. It was very hard to decide where to go, but my co-worker Kim and I finally decided to go to Cedar Rapids and visit several kids who would be celebrating at Mike and Faye Healy’s home.

Eid (meaning ‘festivity’ in Arabic) is the Islamic holiday celebrated at the end of Ramadan. Eid begins by Muslims around the world having a small breakfast (not fasting) and going to mosque to attend the sallah prayer. There are different traditions throughout the world, but this Iowa Eid seemed to me to be a great celebration.

We got up very early and were lucky enough to visit with several students who were celebrating in Ames. Seeing the smiles on their faces was worth every hungry or thirsty moment I’d experienced. After our quick visit, we got on the road for Cedar Rapids.

Kim, Omar and Ashley taste the apples at the orchard

Kim, Omar and Ashley taste the apples at the orchard

When our long journey finally ended, we were greeted by lots more smiling faces and many more hugs. We were served a very eclectic, delicious meal. It was so great to relax and celebrate their success and happiness. We also appreciated the Iowa autumn by visiting an apple orchard and pumpkin patch near Cedar Rapids. It was a great opportunity to see some of the students and celebrate this wonderful holiday with them.

These students continue to open my eyes and mind every day. Their dedication and passion are clearly unmatched by any American teen I’ve ever met. They are the best teachers most of us will ever encounter. I enjoyed my experience with Ramadan and Eid, and I feel blessed every day to have these students in my life!

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