On Saturday night, people will gather in Duluth and dance to make a difference in the lives of people residing half a world away in the city of Kobane, Syria.

The party's organizer, Michele Naar-Obed, said the event also will double as a send-off for a delegation of six Duluthians who are destined to visit their sister city of Rania, Iraq, come January. During that same trip, the delegates plan to present a check to representatives of Kobane, a war-torn Kurdish city about 400 miles to the west, with the funds to be used for the construction of a public library there.

All proceeds from Friday's dance will become part of that gift.

Rania and Kobane share a connection beyond their shared Kurdish heritage, said Naar-Obed. She explained that when Kobane was overrun by the Islamic State group a few years ago, many of the city's residents fled and took refuge in Rania.

During her last trip to Rania, Naar-Obed visited a makeshift school that had been set up to continue the education of 62 children displaced from their homes in Kobane.

Those children were finally able to return after Kurdish forces united to drive Islamic State out of their hometown in January of 2015.

"It was quite spectacular to see the ISIS flag come down and the Kurdish flag go up," said Naar-Obed, who was there to witness the events.

But the city Islamic State left behind was largely in ruins. Naar-Obed said about 80 percent of its infrastructure had been destroyed, partly in battle and partly because of intentional damage Islamic State members inflicted during their retreat. Classrooms were among the casualties.

The people of Rania sought to help build the children from Kobane a new school, but Naar-Obed said they were already economically stretched to the limit. She explained that Kurdish Iraq has taken in about 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced people since war broke out in the region, boosting the Kurdish Iraqi population by more than 20 percent.

"When it came time to think about building a school in Kobane, they didn't really have the resources," she said.

Naar-Obed proposed that residents could offer support by funding a library for Kobane. She said the people of Kobane view the proposed library as more than a repository for books. They hope it will be a place where their history can be permanently recorded, as well.

"They're a people who have experienced genocide numerous times. Their identity has been almost swept away. They're a people of resistance. They're an open society. They're a pluralistic democracy. That's what they're building right now," Naar-Obed said, referring to Rojava, the de facto autonomous government that's been formed in Syria's Kurdish northern region.

Naar-Obed has a journal in which she is collecting comments from project supporters in Duluth and aims to donate it to the library's collection.

"These are words from our people of encouragement of hope and support that we can put into their library when it's built," she said.

People who attend Saturday's party will be invited to pen their own entries in that journal.

A previous fundraising dinner for the library drew about 200 people, and Naar-Obed said supporters have raised about $10,000 so far toward their goal of $15,000 to $20,000.

"This was a way we could do something concrete that would take a step toward justice, toward openness, toward a world where communities can live for the good of the whole," she said.

Naar-Obed acknowledged that the scale of the tragedy unfolding in Syria can at times make people feel a bit overwhelmed, but she said the suggested free-will contribution of $20 for Saturday's event can make a difference.

"That 20 bucks, which may seem like nothing, it's a spark. It's a connection. When this thing really flourishes - and it will because it's built on good will - people can say: I have a piece of that. My little 20 bucks went into something that was for the good of the whole, not for one organization or one party or even one nation. It went into the pot of good will for humanity, for our very existence on this earth," Naar-Obed said.

Tax-deductible checks can be made out to the Moorhead Chapter to the Kurdish Community of America, a nonprofit organization that is serving as a repository of funds for the Kobane library project.

Members of that same organization will provide music for Saturday's dancers. Naar-Obed said the Fargo-Moorhead area is home to a community of more than 1,000 people of Kurdish descent.

If you go

  • What: Party and dance for Kurds
  • When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
  • Where: UCC Peach Church Hall, 1111 N. 11th Ave. E., Duluth
  • Why: To raise money for a library in Kobane, Syria and to provide a send-off for a delegation from Duluth planning to visit the region