Older Arab-Americans Find a Helping Hand
As if being expelled from Libya in 1995 because of his Palestinian heritage wasn’t hard enough, Mohamed Aboushaban said he faced isolation and prejudice when he settled in suburban Burbank soon afterward.
But Aboushaban has found a ray of hope in a support group for elderly Arab-Americans, run by Arab American Family Services, a social services agency in Bridgeview.
“I feel I am a person (now), not a number or ticket on the bus,” said Aboushaban, 69, a former accountant who was born on the Gaza Strip and lives with his wife, daughter and grandchildren. “This is something new for us.”
The agency started the Elderly Council support group about a year ago after noting increased depression in elderly clients who spoke limited English, longed for their homeland and were dependent on their children. The council of 10 women and 10 men, most who emigrated from the Palestinian territories, meets biweekly in separate groups, discussing their needs, hopes and taking field trips.
“We’re trying to bring programs to the elderly where they feel there’s a sense of community and respect,” said Nareman Taha, development director and co-founder of the agency.
On a recent afternoon, the men’s group discussed finding Arabic books and learning to use computers as they sat in a cozy room at the facility sipping coffee.
Ibtessam Assour, a caseworker who leads the group, told members about an upcoming trip to a library that has books in Arabic and suggested members bring books to donate.
“Everything is a give-and-take, really, and we should be as cooperative as possible with them and make it work because it will enrich the library,” said Assour.
Taha, the development director, urged members to volunteer to help clean up the Cook County forest preserves on May 15 as part of National Arab American Service Day.
“To gain respect, we have to respect ourselves and earn it. I don’t want you to just come to play cards or talk, I want you to act,” said Taha.
Though the agency has served more than 2,000 people 65 and older since its founding in 2001, the focus on mental health support for this age group is new.
“We’re a very private community, and depression is not something they talk about,” said Taha, who noted there were no social service agencies back home when most were growing up.
“I think (support group members) are very kind, and everybody who comes here asking for help, they help them,” said Talab Salem, 70, of Palos Hills.
The agency also helps residents obtain public benefits and offers domestic violence prevention and intervention, caregiver assistance, youth programs and other services.