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Volunteer Profile: Father Meletios Zafaran

Many of the enrichment opportunities and extracurricular programs at Burrell would not be possible without an actively engaged network of caring parents and community volunteers.  Father Meletios Zafaran is a shining example of how district volunteers selflessly dedicate their time and talents to expand learning opportunities at Burrell.

Father Zafaran, however, might be best described as an “accidental volunteer.”  Following a routine freshman conference with guidance counselor Sandy Oskin regarding his son Mark, Father Zafaran expressed an interest in Arabic language studies at the school.  All four of the Zafaran children speak Arabic fluently, but none, including the eldest child Mark who came to the United States from Syria at age 6, know how to read and write in the language.

“In his studies here he did not retain the reading and writing in Arabic – it was lost,” says Father Zafaran, who heads the St. George Orthodox Christian Church in New Kensington, part of the Antioch Diocese of North America.

Although an Arabic language course is not offered at BHS, Mrs. Oskin suggested forming an Arabic Club, and Father Zafaran agreed to volunteer to teach after school on Tuesdays.  When the initiative was announced it attracted about 30 members, including four teachers.

“Many of the kids said that the reason they wanted to learn Arabic was that they were interested in international jobs,” explains Father Zafaran.  “And with our Armed Forces in the Middle East, they will need a lot of translators and people who know the language so they can communicate with the people there.”

Burrell’s new Arabic Club met for the first time in early spring of 2013.  Father Zafaran began by teaching the Arabic alphabet, which has 28 letters.  According to him, Arabic is a challenging language for Americans to learn.  “The letters are difficult to pronounce, and it is difficult to differentiate between the sounds because some of them are very similar,” says Father Zafaran.

“I have learned a lot in the class,” says sophomore Emily Shaheen (pictured above).  “I am Syrian, and I go to church camps with other Syrian people, so I wanted to learn the language more.”  She says getting used to the writing, which flows from right to left, is the most difficult part of the learning experience.  She hopes to someday be able to teach Arabic to members of her family.

In addition to language instruction, the Club also incorporates various cultural elements such as music.  BHS World Literature teacher Darcy Holtzman, one of the teachers who attended Arabic Club meetings, comments: “the students need to understand they are global citizens, not just citizens of the United States.  The more we as teachers grasp that, the better we can convey it to the students.”

Father Zafaran was born is Syria in a small town near Damascus.  He studied Theology in the United States and returned to Syria in 1996 and served as priest until 2005.  He says that many Americans with Syrian roots are deeply concerned by the civil war that has devastated the nation over the past several years.  “We need more awareness of what is going on there, and especially with the churches there.”  He says that 16 Christian churches have been destroyed in the Syrian conflict to date.

The Arabic Club will once again be offered to high school students during the 2013-14 school year.  Interested students can sign up in the high school office.

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