The Allbritton Spotlight is a Q&A series highlighting students engaged in the local community through the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Center for Community Partnerships, and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. These students dedicate their time to a diversity of projects from tutoring middle school students to advocating for sexual health education to providing translation services in Middletown!
I joined the Wesleyan Refugee Project (WRP) at the beginning of fall semester in 2015, just as it was getting started on campus. I’m involved with several aspects of the project, but mostly with IRIS, the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven, where several Wesleyan students volunteer two nights a week to help refugees fill out Resettlement applications and Energy Assistance forms. WRP does so many different things though: I also work remotely with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) to help Iraqi and Afghan refugees complete their applications to resettlement programs. WRP also organizes fundraising campaigns, panels on the refugee crisis, and a campus chapter of Paper Airplanes, a project started at Carleton College, where college students can tutor a Syrian refugee over Skype, to name a few.
How did you first hear about this program and what motivated you to become involved in it?
I first heard about WRP on Facebook when Casey, Cole, and Sophie (the founders of the project) were posting online to get people interested in an initial meeting. Around the same time, the global refugee crisis was worsening and getting a lot of media attention. I had been in Germany at the end of the summer visiting a friend whose father is a lawyer doing a lot of great work with refugees. Speaking with him really moved me to start educating myself on the state of the crisis and figure out what I could do to help. Hearing about WRP was a happy coincidence of my interests and a really productive opportunity.
How has the program had an impact on you? What is your most memorable experience in the program?
WRP has had a huge impact on me. Working at IRIS has contextualized so much of what is going on in the world today. It’s easy to get caught up in the headlines about this global refugee crisis and imagine it distantly as facts and figures. But working with the refugees has grounded me in the very scary reality that faces millions of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide. It’s not just about people fleeing Syria, though the Syrian refugee crisis is, of course, very real and important, and it’s not just about the refugees who get media attention. It’s happening everywhere and it’s happening in Connecticut, not even 30 minutes away from where we live. And an opportunity to help is just as close.
One of my most memorable experiences working with IRIS happened last semester on one of our typical late Thursday afternoon trip to IRIS. We were working through an Energy Assistance application, which is a pretty dense and tedious form, for this very kind and outgoing man. I don’t speak any Arabic, but some of the other Wes volunteers do. This man got it in his head that that was the night I would start to learn Arabic, and so he started teaching me how to count and say some basic phrases like “how are you” and “good morning.” He had me repeat after him over and over again, and every time there was a lull in the conversation he would quiz me by holding up fingers, waiting for me to utilize my new knowledge. He was so encouraging, and the experience inspired me to learn more. I hope to start learning Arabic this summer.
Have you met a lot of people through the program? What kind of relationships have you formed?
I have met so many wonderful new friends through working with WRP. The kind of person who works on this project is inherently aware, passionate, and motivated. One of the key elements of WRP is that we have many projects happening both on and off campus, but of course we’re dealing with issues that are totally external and that are happening on an infinitely larger scale than our Wesleyan bubble. So, the people I work with share an interest with me that could exist outside of Wesleyan, and that type of relationship creates an environment for some of the most fascinating and inspiring conversations I’ve had at Wesleyan.
Would you recommend this program to a prospective member? What advice would you give them?
I would absolutely recommend this program to any student at Wesleyan or considering Wesleyan, as well as students at really any school. What makes students such powerhouses of change is that we have the time, resources, and education to help others, and wonderful projects like WRP make it that much easier for us to engage with all the social issues that we’re passionate about. I would tell prospective students that if they are interested at all in the refugee crisis, which everyone absolutely should be because it is one of the most pressing issues facing our world today and the largest refugee crisis since World War II, they cannot pass up the opportunity every Wesleyan student has to make and see active change through working with WRP.
Any additional stories or comments about the program?
I need to thank Casey, Cole, and Sophie for their hard work getting such an important program off the ground at Wesleyan, and inspiring so many people on this campus to engage with and become educated about incredibly important issues.
Do you work with CCP, OCS, or PCSE and want to be interviewed for this series? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org