Noor: a charitable ray of light

Natasha Franks previews Noor, an upcoming spring charity festival.

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Many events endeavour to emulate the world outside of St Andrews. Our Oktoberfest rivals the Munich-based affair as a celebration of beer and German culture, our fashion shows take inspiration from the runways of London and New York, and our line-up of balls and dinners, while classically St Andrews, are smaller versions of big city events. As a festival, Noor may be viewed as an offshoot of the names that are now synonymous with daytime revelry: Burning Man, Coachella, Tomorrowland, Firefly.

Noor intends to embrace, however, the natural small town feel of a St Andrean event. Hosting only a few hundred people on St Mary’s Quad, the self-described spring charity festival presents a day spent absorbing the cradle of civilisation: the Middle East. Priced at £7, tickets allow guests access to traditional Arabic dance, visual arts, and music. Affordable and lacking the unruly crowds of most large-scale events, Noor offers an intimate vibe that will complement the culture on display. The first event of its nature in St Andrews, Noor models itself in part after Szentek. Both events emerged from beneath the umbrella of the Fellowship of St Andrews, an incubator of startup events.

Yasmin Bou Hamze, the Fellow who first developed the idea of Noor, emphasised both the culture and the charity in her initial pitch. Although the majority of local events feature the “charity” descriptor, these philanthropic goals are sometimes lost in the focus on champagne and canapés. At Noor, the goal is education.

“I loved St Andrews For Syria” says Yasmin, of last semester’s conference. “It was very academic, and as a result it attracted a very academic crowd. I thought, ‘How can we make this more accessible?’” The result: Noor, meaning light in Arabic. The event seeks to educate its guests via cultural immersion, an interactive display of Middle Eastern beauty.

In every aspect, Noor exemplifies its message of peace and unity. The Middle East Society, Refugee Action St Andrews (RASA), and the British Red Cross Group have all cooperated to organise the event. Other student groups, such as Inklight and the Accidentals, have also become involved in the day’s festivities. Each group shares a common passion for the event’s chosen charity, Dundee Refugee Support, a grassroots volunteer organisation in Dundee. DRS is the second largest distributor of international humanitarian aid to Syria, a topical choice considering Yasmin’s inspiration for Noor.

She emphasises the creative outlet that Noor provides. The day allows student individuals and societies to come together in a social setting, rather than an academic conference. Singers, dancers, and artists will all have the opportunity to display their talents on behalf of a good cause. Alongside a variety of musical performers, guests can treat themselves to a range of Middle Eastern-themed activities. Arabic restaurant Tahini will be supplying food, available for purchase throughout the day. Henna, live painting demonstrations, a photography display, and belly dancers (courtesy of Shimmy Soc) will also be present at the Quad.

In keeping with the festival’s interactive feel, there will be several demonstrations of dabke, which Yasmin describes as a “Middle Eastern ceilidh.”

“In the media, when we talk about the refugee issue, we see it as a political entity, rather than a group of people, a culture,” she says. “This is about accessibility.”

The day’s festivities will be opened with remarks from Alasdair Gordon-Gibson, a PhD student at St Andrews. He has worked with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement planning and managing humanitarian programmes in emergency relief and economic security for nearly twenty years. Furthermore, the Red Cross will be operating a booth in the Quad, allowing guests to approach at will to learn more about the charity and the movement.

The sheer variety of the acts demonstrates the ultimate theme of the event: unity. Be they a singer or a dancer, a lover of food or a lover of music, everyone can unite in the name of charity. Yasmin hopes to welcome both students and locals of all ages, crafting an event that bonds town and gown together.

“This is such a pressing issue,” she says, of the refugee crisis, “that knowing about it is not really a choice at this point. In the current climate, everyone should know a little bit about it.” Noor can be the gateway to a much larger understanding of the Middle East.

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