Category: Media


By Cincinnati Enquirer


Published 5:00 a.m. ET June 26, 2017 | Updated 8:49 a.m. ET June 26, 2017

Clarence Howell believes everyone needs a chance. That’s why a Syrian refugee is now employed at his shoe repair business.


PLEASANT RIDGE – The storefront smells of fresh leather, glue and rubber, circulated into a mixture by the small industrial fan above the door.

An older man, a life-long Christian who worked with his parents in the cotton fields of the Jim Crow South, takes an unblemished pair of men’s soles and heels from a shelf.

He hands them to a younger man, smaller and bearded, who speaks no English beyond basic greetings, he says through an Arabic interpreter. He is a Muslim from Syria, a refugee displaced by his country’s civil war.

The men wear identical blue golf shirts and full-length aprons. The older man holds out a well-worn pair of dress shoes. With a thick, almost muscular right index finger the color of dark chocolate, he taps the heel and the sole, twice each. The Syrian man nods. From beneath the bills of their matching baseball caps, they make eye contact, smile and head toward opposite ends of Clarence Howell Shoe Repair.

The relationship of Clarence Howell, 78, and Bassam Osman, 36, is built on shared expertise in shoemaking and repair and shared experiences as outsiders looking for a safe place.

“When I met him, he reminded me of myself,” Howell said in a deep voice still dripping with rural Georgia after 57 years in Cincinnati.

Bassam Osman, 36, right, shares a moment with his boss and mentor Clarence Howell, 78, at the Clarence Howell Shoe Repair in Pleasant Ridge. Osman is a Syrian refugee who came to Cincinnati with his family in July of 2016 by Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio. Though Osman and Clarence Howell don’t speak each others language, they share a deep bond and communicate through hand gestures. Before fleeing Syria, Osman worked at shoe factory.

Osman, the married father of now five children – the latest a U.S.-citizen son born earlier this month – came from the city of Aleppo, where war has claimed 31,000 lives and destroyed 33,000 buildings. He worked in a shoe factory before it was bombed.

Osman fled first in December 2011 to Turkey with a seriously ill daughter, before uniting his family in a United Nations camp there. After two years intense vetting involving five interviews and document searches, the family arrived in July in Cincinnati.

Osman and his family members are among the 86 Syrian refugees resettled here since July 1, 2016, by Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio.  The agency celebrated World Refugee Day locally June 17.

Men find refuge in Cincinnati, five decades apart

The Osman family arrived six months before the Trump administration announced a ban that seeks to prevent most travel from Syria and six other predominantly Muslim countries.

The ban, almost all parts of which have been blocked by federal courts, also seeks to suspend the U.S. refugee program for 120 days. It was spelled out in an executive order called “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” that Trump signed Jan. 27.

Despite some strong opposition to Syrian refugees entering the country, Osman said he has experienced a positive reception here. “It is a very kind nation. In Turkey, my kids were called scavengers and dirty,” he said.

Howell can relate to name-calling and second-class citizenship. He grew up with it.

“If you met a white lady, you had to turn your head and look away, or they would hang you,” he said of his years in Georgia. “We had to sit upstairs in theaters. I remember being 11 or 12 when my mother was working in the fields. She said we couldn’t be playing when Mr. Charlie – he was the white man in the truck – drove past.”

So when a Catholic Charities volunteer introduced Osman and Howell in November, the shop owner decided to give him the same chance he received when he came to Cincinnati in 1960 and landed a factory job.

“I had to cross the same kind of line he had to cross,” Howell said. “I try to help people who gone through what I gone through. I know when you’re shuckin’ and jivin’ me. Bassam ain’t doing that. Some Jewish people helped me when I got here and didn’t hold nothing against me.”

Three hours a day in the shop turned to four and quickly to full-time work for Osman. Howell switched a former full-time worker to part-time to make room for him.

Osman’s salary rose from $9 an hour to $10 to $10.50 and finally to its current $11.

“He’s a hard worker. He’s very grateful. He gets the job done, He’s not lazy,” Howell said. “At 6 o’clock, the American workers stop, sometimes at 10 minutes of 6. Bassam is working at 6:20 to finish a job. He works fast. I have to tell him he doesn’t have to work so fast.”

“I have nephews and grandkids who don’t work like that.”

Sometimes, Howell will fix one shoe and have Osman repair the other. “Never need to show him twice,” Howell said. “He can do everything I can do if I show him.”

Howell worked the front desk on a slow summer morning. Osman was in the back of the shop at a machine called a master finisher that resembles a standing, encased power sander. He inked and polished a new pair of men’s heels. He put the shoes on a shelf in front of a box fan to dry.

Job central to long-term independence

Osman’s job complements the web of supports he has received since resettling here.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides $1,075 for each refugee to use upon their arrival. Catholic Charities administers that money to help families set up a household.

The local Syrian American Foundation provided the Osman family with furniture for its Roselawn apartment. They attend services at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester Township.

He said his children’s teachers at Roselawn Condon School have helped them learn English and adapt to American culture. A Catholic Charities volunteer tutors them.

Osman saved enough to buy a used car. By the eighth month here, he had to start to repay the U.S. State Department for the airfare and travel loan.

For all of the assistance, most of Osman’s affection is directed toward Howell, whom he calls “Uncle” in English.

“He is a great man. I can tell he cares about me and my family,” Osman said.

Osman’s children decorated eggs during their first Easter season in the United States. They gave some to Howell.

“They love him, too. They run up to him and hug his legs,” said Osman, who smiled at the memory as he rubbed his thin, dark beard with his right hand. “My kids know I am happy when I come home from work.”

For all of his good fortune, Osman faces challenges. Two of his children, a son and his oldest child, a daughter, Zulekha, have Wilson’s disease. It is a rare inherited disorder that causes copper to accumulate to dangerous levels in the liver. They are treated with medication by doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Zulekha was twice misdiagnosed in Turkish hospitals with liver cancer and given chemotherapy. Another Turkish doctor said she needed a transplant.

Howell, a grandfather and the married father of three adult daughters, understands Osman’s need to be with his children at the hospital. Sometimes, visits can take four hours. The children will require lifetime treatment for the disease, which can worsen and have serious side effects.

No such complications exist at the shoe repair shop.

“The way he treats me, he makes me want to give 100 percent to him all the time,” Osman said. “We do not speak the same language. We know we love each other.”

Said Howell, matter-of-factly, “I feel like he’s a family member. I love him like he’s one of my brothers.”



We were joined Monday morning by the head of the Syrian American Foundation in Mason, Ashraf Traboulsi. (WKRC)

 CINCINNATI (WKRC) – There is still a lot of debate over the U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

It was in response to alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians by Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.


CINCINNATI — When Syrian native Dr. Ashraf Traboulsi heard about the United States’ missile attack, his first thought was, ‘Where and who is going to die?’

President Donald Trump cast 59 U.S. cruise missiles at a Syrian air base Thursday night in response to recent chemical gas attacks against civilians. It was the United States’ first direct attack against the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office.

Traboulsi, president of the Syrian American Foundation, knows of the violence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime all too well. The lifeless faces of children and civilians following Syria’s chemical gas attack, he said, hit close to home.

WCPO_Traboulsi_1491602973540_57960080_ver1.0_640_480“It’s very difficult to talk about reactions,” Traboulsi said. “It brings memories back. It brings their (Syrians’) own suffering back.

“They went through this. They went through bombings.

“They went through their homes being destroyed, losing families, loved ones, and basically it reopens that story every time they see it … they see it everyday and it becomes part of their daily life.”

People are desperate for a solution, Traboulsi said, but he isn’t sure the attack Trump ordered is the answer.

“What President Trump has done is a slap on the hand,” he said. “What we are looking for is a more robust policy and comprehensive strategy that leads to the end of this conflict, to the peaceful resolution of this conflict.

“It leads to holding Assad, and his cronies, and the people who are supporting him accountable to the war crimes they have committed in the last seven years.”

Public officials expressed mixed opinions on the strike. About two dozen lawmakers were briefed on the strikes, but Trump approved the action without consulting Congress or the United Nations.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, praised the attack but said the U.S. needs a “comprehensive strategy.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the strike was a “proportional response” to Assad’s attacks, but he also said the strike poses many questions, including how it will impact troops and long-term military engagement in Syria.

MORE:How did public officials respond to Syria strike?

Dr. Rebecca Sanders, assistant professor of political science at University of Cincinnati, said it’s unclear at this point what the attack will impact the United States’ image.

“Missile strikes without a larger articulated strategy of political and possible military engagement don’t send a particularly clear message,” Sanders said. “So I think we need to learn more about what the Trump administration is intending to do vis-a-vis Syria before we can really gauge what the reaction of the international community and the American public is going to be.”

But she said one thing is for certain: The attack will prompt debates in many political circles.

“Politically over the next few days, we’re probably going to see Democrats raise significant concerns about the lack of congressional approval for the strike … we’ll probably see a debate within the Republican Party over whether the United States should continue to be more aggressive, or whether they should use this as an opportunity to negotiate with Russia,” Sanders said.

“And of course we’ll see anti-war protesters and people who are really concerned about the United States being embroiled in another unsolvable conflict in the Middle East like we saw in Iraq. And then we’ll probably see people who are really concerned about the humanitarian situation saying, ‘Look, this might look good on television to have this strike against chemical weapons, but what are we actually doing to help refugees?'”

The first step to some kind of a solution in Syria, Sanders said, is a public discussion about what the policy is.

“In the absence of that discussion, we don’t have a strategy, we just have a one-off use of force against another sovereign state,” Sanders said. “Now, the Assad regime is an atrocious regime — I think it needs to go at some point — but how we’re going to get there is something that we need to have a discussion about.”

Traboulsi agrees a clear strategy is needed to begin to resolve the situation.

“I’m not looking for more casualties, more victims,” Traboulsi said. “I’m looking for a strategy that would hold Assad accountable for his crimes, stopping the import of weapons into his regimes, holding the powers that are supporting him accountable to their actions … more war is not the answer.

“More bombing is not the answer. Unless there is a strategy, it’s not the answer.”

The United States’ strike was not a particularly sad day for Syria, Traboulsi said.

“Everyday’s a sad day for Syria. For the past six years,” he said.

By:Rose-Ann Aragon, Abby Anstead


t doesn’t change anything, said Ashraf Traboulsi, head of the local Syrian American Foundation.

1378394916000-syria2Syrian civilians died yesterday. They’re dying today. They’ll die tomorrow.

One airstrike – where a reported 23 of the 59 missiles fired by the U.S. reached the Syrian military base – doesn’t change that.

It gives U.S. President Donald Trump a way to say, “We have resolved,” Traboulsi said, “we’ve been tough on this.”

But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still in power.

Syrians are still dying.

This is not a long-term plan.

“It looked and it sounded like a slap on the hand,” Traboulsi, of West Chester, said Friday morning, a little more than 12 hours after the strike.

“I mean, Assad has been bombed before, and his forces have been decimated by the opposition. It’s not the first time he got hit. And it doesn’t hit anything that is instrumental for his existence.”

Traboulsi, a Syria native, has been in the U.S. since 1990 when he came to earn his Ph.D. in pharmaceutical science. He’s worked for Procter & Gamble since 1999. He loves his life here, but he grieves for his home country.

Daily, he sees photos of dead children and devastated neighborhoods. He craves a long-term solution to the war. A systematic, worldwide shift instead of a one-time airstrike.

“If we are only to punish (Assad) for using chemical weapons, then we are giving him the green light to use any other kind of weapons,” Traboulsi said. “Are we saying, ‘It’s OK to kill them with rockets and bombs but not with chemical weapons’? Is this the message?”

Shortly before the suspected chemical attack that prompted the strike, a hospital in another Syrian city was attacked, Traboulsi said. It went largely unreported, he said. An afterthought.

One airstrike won’t fix that.

And Syrians continue to die.


Cincinnati Enquirer




A group in the Tri-State is working to promote freedom and human rights in Syria.

The Syrian American Foundation in Cincinnati already sent one sh23295867_BG1ipment of clothing, school supplies, and children’s toys back home last winter. Now they’re working to fill a new container, but say that until lately it has been difficult to explain the need.

They say people often didn’t  know what was happening in Syria while their own families lived in fear and uncertainty.

“They have been screaming for two and a half years,” said Dima Almeniawi with the foundation. “They have been aching and weeping and no one was listening to them. I think it’s about time people know what’s happening in Syria.”

“I believe God put me here for a reason that there’s something I can do still even though I’m away from my family and my country,” added Dr. Maram Khabbaz.

Both Almeniami and Dr. Khabbaz have lived in the United States for over ten years. While they and their children are safe – it simply isn’t enough. They feel a responsibility to be the voice of those still back in Syria, but they also share a desire to be the arms and legs of hope with the help of neighbors. Thursday friends from Morocco and Palestine helped the effort by filling boxes.

“Sometimes you cry until you think there are no more tears and then that’s what makes you work. You say ‘If I cry, I’m not helping. It’s not going to solve the problem, it’s not going to ease their suffering’. You pray and you work,” Almeniawi tells FOX19.

Currently they have over 60 percent of the filled boxes they need to make the shipment which will likely take six weeks to deliver.

“We are just trying to ease the suffering of our people,” Almeniawi explained.

“I want to put a smile on somebody’s face. Maybe a child there. They’re still children,” added Dr. Khabbaz.

They hope their neighbors here in the United States will soon join in their effort to end the suffering.

“The distance is far but we are still human. We have the same feeling,” Dr. Khabbaz said.

“Finally people are starting to get the message that somewhere people are being killed, and we have to do something,” Almeniawi told FOX19.

Dr. Khabbaz says they aren’t asking the United States to get involved in a war, but simply want help bringing international pressure and aid.

When they get all the boxes filled, they’ll be sending them to Turkey where many refugees have fled.


Copyright 2013 WXIX. All rights reserved.

Dan Hurley is joined by Dr.Ashraf Traboulsi to talk about Syrian refugees issues.


The first ones here: Syrian family settles in


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