Our Team


Mohannad Ghawanmeh: Executive Director

Mohannad Ghawanmeh

Mohannad is a scholar, cineaste, educator, and culturist intimately at large. A teacher of communication and media for twenty-five years, Mohannad’s instruction has centered on the cinema, for which he has also written, produced, acted, consulted, programmed, and curated. He is co-founder of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival produced by Mizna. Mohannad curated the first editions of the Arab American National Museum’s film festival and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Italian Film Festival, as well as the series Melnitz Movies at University of California, Los Angeles. Mohannad is well awarded and published, having earned in 2020 his PhD from UCLA in Cinema and Media Studies. His research of the cinema decidedly examines such intersecting fields as governmentality, migration, nativity, religion, theater, music, literature, industrialization, and modernity typically in the mold of cultural history. Born to Palestinian refugees and an immigrant to the United States, Mohannad has also lived in Egypt, Japan, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Mohannad thrives on conjoining education and cultural production, connecting people and places, enriching and inspiring.

To contact Mohannad please email: mg@albustanseeds.org

David Heayn-Menendez: Director of Education & Civic Engagement

David Heayn-Menendez

David, a Philly native, is an educator and scholar of socio-religious and cultural history of the Middle East North Africa region. As a former artist, musician, and actor, David has a passion for the history and aesthetics of Middle Eastern culture which have been a driving force through his education and career. He attended Villanova University for his B.A. and M.A. in History and went on to the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City for his M.Phil. and Ph.D. in History. He studied Arabic at the University of Jordan in 2009 and has traveled broadly across the region for research, pleasure, and family. He has taught at various after-school and tutoring programs for elementary, high school, and college students and has given numerous talks at conferences about the Christian and Islamic History of the premodern and contemporary MENA region. After teaching History at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY and working at City College, CUNY, David taught History and Religious Studies at the Pennsylvania College of Technology and at Susquehanna University. David is excited to join the Al-Bustan team, having first encountered the organization in 2008 when he and his wife lived in Philadelphia and participated in multiple events and programs.

To contact David please email: david@albustanseeds.org

Bridget Peak: Programs Coordinator

Bridget Peak

Born and raised in Montana, Bridget grew up watercoloring wildflowers and hiking mountains. Her Iranian heritage and love for art created an intense interest in the artwork of diaspora. She graduated in 2019 from Wellesley College with a BA in Political Science and minor in Art History. She wrote her senior independent study on the role of traditional embroidery in keeping Palestinians culturally together even when physically apart. As the 2019-2020 Susan Rappaport Knafel Travel Fellow, Bridget explored the relationship between artwork and the “diasporic” identity across six countries. She has helped deliver arts programming in places such as Greece, Indonesia, and Ghana and is excited to bring her passion for arts and cultural education to Philadelphia with Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

To contact Bridget please email: bridget@albustanseeds.org

Sarah Rebl: Communications & Marketing Coordinator

Sarah Rebl

Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Saudi Arabia, Sarah grew up immersed in many different backgrounds. Having traveled the world at a young age, she has come to fall in love with travel and cultural enrichment. Growing up amid the rise in popularity of social media, she became interested in learning about media and cultural theory. In May of 2021, Sarah graduated from Temple University with a BA in Communications & Entrepreneurship with an added concentration in International Communications. Mixing her love of culture and media she hopes to continue learning about and working with media in different contexts.

To contact Sarah R. please email: rebl@albustanseeds.org


Sarah Trad: Operations & Technology Coordinator

Sarah Trad

Sarah is a Lebanese American artist, curator, and film programmer who was raised just south of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Having earned a BFA in Film from Syracuse University, she is a recipient of the Syracuse University Postbaccalaureate Engagement Fellowship, Plyspace Residency Fellowship, and Carole N. Schmuckler Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film. Working in fibers, video, and computer art, her art focuses on themes of how Arab identity intersects with queerness, mental health, feminism, memory, and future alternate realities. Her curatorial practice also centers around promoting femme and queer artists from the SWANA region who work in new media. Sarah’s work has been screened at the Arab Film Festival, MENA Film Festival, Antimatter Media Art Festival, Rendezvous With Madness Festival, SuperNova Digital Animation Festival, William Way LGBT Community Center, and Everson Museum of Art. Stepping into her position as Operations and Technology Coordinator, Sarah is excited to help foster arts initiatives that center on Arab culture and make media arts and technology education accessible to the community.

To contact Sarah T. please email: strad@albustanseeds.org

Hafez Kotain: Master Percussionist

Hafez Kotain

Hafez is a master percussionist fluent in both Arab and Latin rhythms. Born in Venezuela of Syrian heritage, he grew up in Syria until the age of 16 years. He began playing the doumbek at the age of seven years, made his first stage performance at nine years, and went on to study with master Syrian percussionist Hady Jazan, winning the national percussion competitions in Syria for five consecutive years. In Venezuela he studied percussion at the TMV Institute for Music in Valencia, where he also taught a variety of percussion styles blending Arab and Latino music to youth. He works with Al-Bustan throughout the year, teaching music at summer camp, weekly percussion classes at several Philadelphia schools, and a weekly percussion ensemble class at University of Pennsylvania. Hafez is a recipient of the prestigious 2013 Pew Fellowship in the Arts, which is awarded each year to 12 Philadelphia artists who are of exemplary talent.

Kinan Abou-afach: Musician/Composer/Arranger

Kinan Abou-afach

Kinan, a Syrian-born cellist and composer, is a recipient of the 2013 Pew Fellowship in the Arts. He received his Bachelors degree in cello performance with a minor in oud performance from the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus. He relocated to Chicago in 2000 to pursue a master’s degree at the DePaul University School of Music. Kinan is also a composer, writing music that is influenced by Eastern and Western traditions. Al-Bustan has commissioned him for several new compositions, notably: “Roads to Damascus” with visual artist Kevork Mourad premiered in February 2013; {De}perception with digital artist Ayman Alalao premiered in May 2015, “Of Night of Solace: Fantasia on Andalusian Muwashshah Poetry” premiered in December 2015, and “Nur: A Musical Journey in Sufi Poetry” premiered in April 2016. Visit his website.


Lisa Volta: Teaching Artist

Lisa Volta
Lisa Volta

Lisa Volta is a Philadelphia-based artist with a background in herbal studies. Her interests include investigating interventions in between spaces, playing with the botanical and the structural, medicinal and poisonous, and points of passage. She has worked in Philadelphia area classrooms as a lead artist with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Center for Emerging Visual Artists, Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia Arts and Education Partnership, and the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art. With a focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) education, Lisa has worked with school principals and teachers to develop integrative curriculum designed to enhance core curriculum learning through the arts. Since 2014 she has been a teaching artist with Al-Bustan at summer camp and public schools. Through her teaching practice with Al-Bustan, Lisa spotlights contemporary Arab artists as a way to explore history, cultural context, and specific artistic techniques. Her travels in the Middle East region gave her first hand experience of the generosity and beauty of Arab culture. A graduate of Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Lisa is currently pursuing an MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.


Ayman Alalao: Digital Designer

Ayman Alalao
Ayman Alalao

Ayman is a digital designer with over eight years experience in the design field, focused on web and interactive projects. Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, Ayman studied Visual Communication at Damascus University School of Fine Arts and in May 2011 completed his Master of Science in Digital Design at Philadelphia University. Ayman has been working part-time with Al-Bustan since fall 2009. Visit his website.




Ashley Choukeir: Illustrator/Animator/Graphic Designer

Ashley Choukeir
Ashley Choukeir

Ashley is an experimental director, illustrator, designer, and animator. With a BS in Computer Graphics and Animation, Ashley has 12+ years of experience working in studios, inspiring university students, and collaborating with stand-alone artists, major clients, and agencies. Having lived and worked in diverse cultural and artistic milieus between Beirut, Dubai, and the US, Ashley has gained a rich awareness of varying styles of communication, body language, and humor – all of which informs her professional practice. Since 2015, she has been working with Al-Bustan providing creative support on numerous projects. Visit her website.


Hazami Sayed

Founding Executive Director Hazami Sayed ended her tenure on December 31, 2020, eighteen years after she began Al-Bustan in July 2002 with a language and cultural day camp.  You can read her concluding reflections here.