Milwaukee childcare center celebrates the lessons and joy of Ramadan


By Christina Lieffring | May 3, 2022

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  • Nida Malik, a head teacher at Crescent Learning Center, talks with one of her students while he is coloring.

Nida Malik, a head teacher at Crescent Learning Center, talks with one of her students while he is coloring. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

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Muslims all over the world recently wrapped up the holy month of Ramadan, including at the Crescent Learning Center, an Islamic childcare center in Milwaukee. Founder and Director Rafat Arain said the center strives to help refugee children and their parents feel at home. 

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Crescent Learning Center is like any typical child care center. Kids play with clay, they make gifts for Mother’s Day, and of course, there’s Baby Shark.

But it’s also unique, because this is an Islamic child care center, the first one founded in Wisconsin. And it’s the month of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

Children’s Ramadan decorations line the walls at Crescent Learning Center in Milwaukee.

Children’s Ramadan decorations line the walls at Crescent Learning Center in Milwaukee. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

The kids get excited about Ramadan, said Rafat Arain, the founder and director at Crescent Learning Center.

The kids at Crescent Learning Center are too young to fast for Ramadan (which means no food or water from sunrise to sunset), but their families still wake up early to eat a big breakfast before sunrise and share a big feast at the end of the day when the sun sets.

The whole community gathers in homes and at mosques to celebrate. And for the kids who are old enough to fast, it is a joyous rite of passage.

“If the kids are fasting, their parents do put more effort in making their favorite things,” Arain said. 

Whether that means samosas or brownies, it’s an exciting time for the kids. It’s also a lesson in gratitude for what you have and empathy for those who have less than you, she said.

“We like to educate the kids that … there are so many people in this world that don’t have any food. We are giving up this food out of choice, but a lot of people have no choice,” Arain explained. “They just don’t have the food. So you feel that pain, too. You have to feel the pain of hunger that a lot of people are going through.”

That lesson may be closer to home than the children realize. Arain, who is originally from Pakistan, started working with refugees in 1993, when her family took in a family that had fled the war in Bosnia. Since then, she’s worked to help each wave of refugees resettle in Milwaukee: Somali, Burmese, Rohinga, and most recently, Afghan. 

Sagma Haroon, a teaching assistant and office manager at Crescent Learning Center, helps preschool children color Ramadan decorations.

Sagma Haroon, a teaching assistant and office manager at Crescent Learning Center, helps preschool children color Ramadan decorations. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

“I think I have a weakness for the refugees, somehow,” she said. “I was never a refugee myself. I came to this country, I spoke English, I was educated. I didn’t have to go through all of that.” 

“We are in this world for a purpose, not just to eat and drink and sleep and take care of ourself,” she continued. “We have to do it for others. If I have this education, it’s not for me to keep it to myself. It is to share it with others.”

Arain decided to open the child care center when she saw refugee kids were falling behind in schools. The center opens early and closes late to accommodate parent’s work schedules. During the pandemic, the center stayed open and staff helped the kids with virtual school.

Iqra Sagged, a head teacher at Crescent Learning Center, reads “My First Ramadan” by Karen Katz to her students.

Iqra Sagged, a head teacher at Crescent Learning Center, reads “My First Ramadan” by Karen Katz to her students. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

Her office is set up to welcome parents, with tea, snacks and a sofa where they can sit and talk. She’s also hired staff from several refugee communities.

“I have Burmese staff, I have Somali staff, I have Arabic staff, I have Moroccan staff,” Arain said. “When those people come to me, I have translators over here. So they translate for them. That’s how people come over here for help.”

Many parents depend on her when they encounter problems, she said.

“They come, every day, somebody’s here with some problem,” Arain said. “It’s a good thing. Someday I might need help. God will send somebody for me.”

Back in the classroom, children are encouraged to give to charity.

And as the teachers warm up their halal lunch, they remind the children to say “Bismillah,” a blessing, before eating their rice and vegetables. Most of these children are too young to fast for Ramadan or to remember what their families went through when they left their home countries.

But one day they’ll join millions of Muslims around the world, as they remember to be grateful for the roof over their head, the food on their plate and the people who’ve helped them call Milwaukee home. 

Christina Lieffring

Christina Lieffring

Christina Lieffring is a freelance journalist and lifelong Midwesterner living in Sun Prairie. She is a regular contributor at Tone Madison and the Wisconsin Examiner, and writes her own Substack, “No Final Drafts.”
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