Posted by Ben Lowry

Last Friday, Portland Rotary was honored with a presentation from Zoe Sahloul, the president of the New England Arab American Organization (NEAAO). Despite technical difficulties, our club was able to see the ravages of past battles in Beirut, conflicts and violence that left Zoe scarred as a child. With most of the city destroyed, a majority of families took shelter in refugee camps, camps that remain intact to this day, accepting war-torn families from Syria and other regional battle zones. The videos that Zoe shared showed the gut-wrenching conditions that her family faced in the mid-90’s, with UN and local government funding inadequate to provide for the tens of thousands who were, and still are, crammed into these tent cities.

At age 20, Zoe was able to make her way to Canada and then to greater Portland, a decade later. Now, living in harmony with her husband and three children within a very accepting community in Falmouth, Zoe has turned her passions to helping those immigrants and refugees from Arab nations find hope within the New England states. In essence, her non-profit helps “bridge the gap” as both men and women look for work and a stable homelife after arriving in the United States. Working mostly with women and children, the Arab American Organization offers “sweet and highly contagious” support, with empowering programs that are based upon the results of surveys within the closed knit communities. 

The NEAAO assists Arab immigrants in social integration through training for better opportunities in the workforce, as well as advocating for women’s rights to prevent domestic violence and isolation. They also allow every child to live life to its fullest by minimizing the risk of child abuse and substance use, a cause that is certainly near and dear to our hearts. With an eye toward “service above self,” Zoe and her fellow immigrants can hope for brighter times during what can often be a difficult transition.



(Photo: President John Curran and Zoe Sahloul.)