The Shiksha Daan Project at the India Community Center

The first thing that we did on Saturday, August 23rd, was go to the India Community Center on Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights because there was an open house for their Shiksha Daan project. According to the website of the Federation of India Community Associations of Northeast Ohio (FICA), the objective of this project is “to get the India Community more involved with the education of the under-priviledged youth in the Greater Cleveland community.”
As it turned out, the starting time for this event was moved up an hour so we couldn’t stay for it but we had a good conversation with Mr. Giri Guruswami about what the program entailed. Mr. Guruswami said that the program has three parts. The first one is to help the students of selected schools with their regular studies. The second is a partnership with Youth Opportunities Unlimited to assist the young people with resume writing and interview skills. The third takes place for two hours every Sunday at the Presbyterian Church on Noble Road where 28-30 displaced Bhutanese kids receive assistance in “language integration” and in adapting to the educational environment of the United States.

Mr. Guruswami has quite a history himself. The United States is the fifth country in which he has lived since he left India in 1990. Before he came to the United States he lived in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Australia. In 2009 he immigrated to the United States and obtained his Green Card with the help of the company that he works for which is Avery Denison and is now going for his U.S. Citizenship.

We really like what the FICA website has to say about community involvement which is, “our adopted country has given us wonderful opportunities to grow and prosper. The Indian community is not only the most prosperous but also the most educated among the various communities in the US. The best way we can give back to our adopted country is to give the gift of education to those who desperately need our help.”

Next we drove to Edgewater Park for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party picnic which started at noon and went on until 3pm. We stayed until about 1:30pm and enjoyed some wonderful salad although there were also plenty of hot dogs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers for everyone. We give much credit to the three people who had the most to do with organizing this event who were Ms. Lillian Sharpley, Ms. Karen Connavino, and Ms. Wendy Balodis.

We had a good conversation with Mr. Rob Rivera, the Stonewall Democratic Club President about the possibility of putting an initiative on the ballot in 2016 to make Marriage Equality a reality in Ohio.

We also got to visit with some elected officials that we are friends with including Ohio State Rep./County Executive Candidate Armond Budish, former Ohio State Rep./State Senate Candidate Kenny Yuko, Ohio State Senator Michael Skindell, Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio, and South Euclid City Councilman Marty Gelfand who brought his lovely young daughter Eden with him.

Just arriving as we were leaving were Ms. Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO; Mr. Rick Nagin of “People’s World”, Mr. Stuart Garson, Chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party; Ms. Cindy Demsey, Chair of the Cuyahoga Democratic Women’s Caucus; and Ms. Anastasia Palacios, Reporter for EcoWatch. By any account, it was a good gathering that promised to get even better but we had to leave to get to our next event.

And that next event was the annual Egyptian Festival at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Seven Hills which has been taking place for 25 years each August following the feast of St. Mary. As the church website indicates, St Mark’s Egyptian Festival “prides itself on being one of the few outdoor festivals in the area. The majority of the menu is cooked and assembled outdoors” and the attendees are treated to delicious Egyptian food with plenty of vegetarian options.

We arranged to table there for Margaret W. Wong and Associates on Friday and Saturday with Ms. Layla Rizk, who has been coordinating the festival since 2000, who was an excellent supervisor because she and her assistant, Ms. Mervat Eldabh, made sure we had a good location for our table and plenty to eat.

Over the two days of tabling, we obtained several leads for possible new cases and spoke to quite a few people including:

***Dr. Stefano who used to refer clients to Margaret W. Wong and Associates. He told us to be sure and say hello to Ms. Wong.

***Dr. Wafaie Selim whose daughter is an asylum attorney in Washington, D.C. and has a couple of friends who may have used our services.

***A man who immigrated to the United States from England about three years ago who now has his green card but still wishes he had used an immigration attorney instead of working the process himself because a good attorney would have spared him a lot of hardships with the paperwork.

***Pierre and Mary Bejjani from CAMEO who were there on Friday night while Mary tabled for the Board of Elections

***Mr. Stanislaus Zadnik who was very active in fighting the church closures several years ago and is now instigating the successful “mass mobs” that call for people to come together to enjoy and support local parishes. Ms. Zadnik says that these actions “open a window for different communities to learn that there is more than one way to experience worship.”

Another reason that this weekend was so special for the St. Mark’s congregation was that its beloved Father Mikhail celebrated his 40th anniversary of being ordained. Fr. Mikhail immigrated to the United States from Egypt in 1975 and obtained his citizenship in 1981. Indeed a genuine icon, he spent most of the weekend joyfully greeting his parishioners and guests to the church. He is also the father of Ms. Sherrie Miday who is a candidate for judge on the Court of Common Pleas in Cuyahoga County.

All told, we had a very good time at St. Mark’s and hope to come back next year. We certainly think that the festival website is correct when it says that “with games, food, fun, and friends the Egyptian Festival has become one of the major blessings of our church and community, as it offers something special for each person.”