Global Guides From Iraq and Syria Offer Unique Perspectives Through Middle East Galleries Tours at the Penn Museum

As Global Philadelphia previously reported, the Penn Museum has recently opened its Middle East Galleries. A very interesting portion of these galleries – and something that certainly shows how global our city is – are the Global Guides that contribute to tours throughout the galleries. These Global Guides in this instance are people who grew up in Iraq or Syria, and share their personal experiences and stories connected to the current exhibition in the galleries. These guides are particularly insightful in providing various lights to the politics and cultural shown in the exhibition, Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq.

Items in the exhibit range from as old as 10,000 years ago, and the four guides are uniquely qualified and trained to show visitors the connections between life now and in the ancient past. Some featured stories include tales of jewelry passed throughout generations, contemporary visits to Iraq historical monuments, and even memories of sleeping on warm moonlit rooftops. Each guide’s tour is unique.

These new guides are the first recruits of the Penn Museum’s Global Guides: Immigrant Stories Tour Program, a model that not only provides unique insight into pieces in the Museum, but also one that recruits and trains area immigrants and refugees. Additional Global Guides are being recruited as the new Africa and Mexico and Central America galleries open in 2019.

Catherine Miller-Wilson, Executive Director of HIAS Pennsylvania recently commented:

“The Global Guides project offers humanizing opportunities during times of racially-driven and culturally-driven fear and stereotypes. Opportunities for newly resettled people to talk with others about their histories can be a healing and unifying experience, both for the guides and for the general public.”

Learn more about the current Global Guides:


Abdulhadi Al-Karfawi recently moved with his family from Iraq to the United States. His previous employment with the United Nations mission in Iraq provided him with extensive opportunities to help people. Abdulhadi has always been interested in ancient settlements. His deep love of history led him to visit many of the archaeological sites in Iraq. This gave him tremendous motivation to work with Penn Museum as a Global Guide. His accumulated personal experiences enable him to reflect and share memories with visitors and folks who are curious about the past. Abdulhadi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from the University of Baghdad.

Ali Arif has a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Al-Mustansiriyah University. He has eight years of experience working as a regulatory and governmental affairs manager for Fanoos Telecom, the biggest wireless operator in Iraq. He also served as a translator and language teacher for the United State military in Iraq. He recently came to the Unites States, establishing a new life in Philadelphia with his family. In Iraq, Ali was surrounded by precious, historic relics from Mesopotamia and Babylon. When he first came to live here, he discovered the similarities between contemporary Philadelphia and the Mesopotamian historical images he had in his memory. Ali is glad that he will be able to share his connections to ancient cultures in the Penn Museum’s new Middle East Galleries with the public.

Yaroub Al Obaidi was born in Iraq and has lived in Philadelphia since June 2016. He has worked as a designer, researcher, author, and also lectured at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad from 2004 to 2007. Yaroub worked for five years as a community leader organizing between the Iraqi community and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). He was inspired to work at the Penn Museum because he feels that history and archaeology shed light on our ancestors. As an artist and designer, he loves the visual arts and is always considering the past and present to build a stronger future. He holds a Master’s Degree in Design from the University of Baghdad, and is currently Ph.D. candidate at the University of Science Malaysia. His motto is, “Life is full of joy and opportunities; we should be at the right place at the right time and meet the right people.“


Moumena Saradar is a professional medical interpreter in Arabic, working for several interpreting agencies in Philadelphia. She is originally from Syria. Her travels to several countries in Asia and Africa and her experiences viewing popular Egyptian monuments motivated her to share her cultural understanding as a Global Guide at the Penn Museum. Moumena has worked with newly resettled immigrants in Philadelphia, including her work as a translator for resettled people as part of the recent Photo Voice project at Jefferson University. Her great passion is spending time with her five kids, reading American adventure tales, and swimming. She holds an Associate Degree in Laboratory Sciences from University of Damascus.

For more information on touring with the Global Guides:

Public Global Guides Tours

Global Guide public gallery tours begin with the opening of the Middle East Galleries, and are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. The tours are free with Museum admission and there is no need for advance reservations. Additional public tours and experiences throughout the summer are listed on their Tours page.

Group Global Guides Tours

Private Global Guide tours of the Middle East Galleries can be scheduled for groups of 10 or more. Discounted group rates are available, and tours are available in English and Arabic. To schedule a tour (allow at least two weeks advance notice), visitors can contact Amanda Grady, Group Sales Manager, at 215.746.8183 or

The information for this article was provided courtesy of the Penn Museum. The article is from the Emerging International Journalism Program archives.