Hozaifa, 7, hangs watercolor drawings and jasmine leaf cutouts he created at the Syrian Community Network’s afterschool program. Credit: Farah Salem for Chicago Reader

Jasmine isn’t the official flower of Syria, but many Syrians have claimed it as their own nonetheless. As the humanitarian crisis in their country has driven millions to flee, the flower represents a tangible connection to home. There’s perhaps no better place to see that connection than Syrian Community Network’s afterschool program, where children in kindergarten through sixth grade create jasmine-tinged art as a way to express themselves and cope with the challenges of displacement, all while exploring their individual stories and identities.

Syrian Community Network was founded in Chicago in 2015 and serves more than 3,000 refugees every year through chapters based here, as well as in San Diego, Phoenix, and Atlanta.

The Chicago chapter’s afterschool program supports students in overcoming the barriers that come with the experience of refugee resettlement, including language, social isolation, poverty, acculturation, and navigating a new school system. The program offers play, homework tutoring, and art making. 

Photographer and art therapist Farah Salem recently spent time with the children, their teachers, and their parents to document an art-making class and tutoring session.  v

An eight-year-old participant colors jasmine flower cutouts.Credit: Farah Salem for Chicago Reader

Fatima, 6, cuts out shapes of jasmine leaves from watercolor drawings she created. Fatima and her family moved to Chicago from Syria about three years ago.Credit: Farah Salem for Chicago Reader