Damascus – A group of 90 youths, aged 18 to 25, all descendants of Syrians, is currently in Damascus for the 1st Syrian Expatriate Youth Forum, among them 19 Brazilians. The trip is part of an exchange program, which also includes 60 native Syrians and aims to increase the contact between Syria and immigrant and descendent communities, as well as promote the country’s image abroad.
Up until August 2nd, the youths will visit the main cities, tourist spots and cultural hubs in Syria, and attend meetings with local personalities. On this Saturday (25th) the forum was officially launched by the Syrian minister of Expatriates, Joseph Sweid. The ministry is in charge of organising the visit. “With support from the government, the ministry has declared 2009 as the year of young expatriates and is promoting a series of cultural, intellectual and social activities,” said Sweid.
The opening ceremony was attended by local authorities and members of Syrian descendent communities in foreign countries, such as the president of the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce , Salim Taufic Schahin, the director of the organisation, Sami Roumieh, and the metopolitan orthodox archbishop of the city of São Paulo, Dom Damaskinos Mansour.
The theme of the forum “Syria: my home, my roots.” “It opens up great possibilities for dialogue, debate and exchange of ideas to enrich your lives and experiences,” said the minister to the youths. “This is certainly an arena in which you become familiar the features of life and society in Syria,” he added.
After the visit, the Syrian government expects the youths to become “messengers”, a “cultural extension” of the country, helping the dialogue with their countries of residence. In that respect, Sweid declared that those participating in the program must learn Arabic so as to “build bridges for interaction between countries.”
Speaking on behalf of the participants, the Spanish Linda Shabaani stated, in Arabic, that the program “is proof of the great expectations that Syria has for its youths.”
Among the Brazilians, some already know Syria and others do not. The largest group, with 10 people, came from the city of Belo Horizonte and is visiting Syria for the first time, as is the case with Roberto Salum. There are people from other states as well, such as Ivete Roumieh and Kaukab Sem Aan, from São Paulo, and Stephanie Hajjar and Bruno Massouh, from the Brazilian capital Brasília.
The Brazilian group is the largest, but there are also participants from Germany, austria, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Australia, the United States, France, Spain, Canada and the United Kingdom.
*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum