On Monday, January 7, a group of Guilford College students and faculty represented ECAR at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The conference consisted of dozens of organizations, speakers, and panelists all working towards a common goal: creating initiatives, apps, and programs to help refugees and other underrepresented people find success. “The guiding foundation of the conference was to bring together these hundred partner universities and colleges to talk about what they were doing around the world to support refugees in their communities,” said Guilford Teaching Specialist and Program Coordinator Dr. Sonalini Sapra.
Guilford College student Angela Morrow (who is minoring in ECAR) asked the very first question of the conference. “I had heard young people here at the conference, as well as back at our school, talk about how they as individuals can’t make a difference,” Angela stated. How would the speakers challenge these individuals and help them realize they can make a difference as well as point them towards some solutions, she asked. The panelists pointed out that they themselves were able to make a difference, and that individuals can use similar methods as the speakers or even start simply by volunteering locally.
Guilford Senior Caitlyn Councilman thought the conference was “inspirational” and helped “broaden [her] ideas of the world.” It was a diverse line-up that tackled all kinds of issues from sustainable food to education. “Being able to connect with so many like-minded people that were all working towards a similar goal was very valuable,” Councilman said.
Junior Brenna Carpenter, among other members of the group, shared similar feelings of inspiration and empowerment. There is, in fact, room in the movement for all kinds of people — leaders and followers alike.
“[I gained] a greater sense of my own power. We all have our limitations, the awkwardness we feel when out of our comfort zone or area of expertise. The truth is, yes the world needs experts and masters, but we also need humble volunteers and a critical mass of people willing to show up and learn. The world feels smaller and I feel larger,” Carpenter said.
While the conference had a plethora of presentations and speakers, some presentations really stood out to the group. Sophomore Ree Ree Wei (who is minoring in ECAR) found that a university in Rome was making a big impact.
“One organization I found very valuable was an institution in Rome that helps refugees get college degrees so that they can reintegrate into society. They can even take classes in their own language,” Wei said.
Senior Casey Graziosi (who is also minoring in ECAR) enjoyed a presentation on the importance of farmers in China.
“I really liked this presentation by a woman going to school in Beijing who talked about problems people face in rural communities where people are abandoning those areas to go to cities. Farming is decreasing more and more because they are not getting paid as well and are not considered as valuable. Her project was about working with farmers so they could have a market where they could name their own prices and sell directly and make more money that way,” Graziosi said.
One particularly heartening presentation for Dr. Sapra involved an app that helps refugees find resources in their area.
“A graduate student group at UMass Boston called ‘Refugees Welcomed’ are using their tech skills to create a migrant service map that helps immigrants and migrants in the area to see what kinds of services are available to them like health, legal, employment, education, and housing services. It was really inspiring to see young people use the skill-set and knowledge that they have and channel that into issues that they care about,” Sapra said.
At the same time, there were some parts of the conference that could be improved. Wei noted that more time could have been dedicated to interaction and networking among attendees. Others, including first-year Dylan Blowe, felt that a more intersectional approach, one which took into consideration race and class, was needed in discussing and tackling the major issues of the conference.
Overall, the group left the conference feeling empowered.
“Nation-states are not leading the future. Our cities and institutions are leading the future. Individuals are large and the groups we form are steering our collective course. Leaders from universities in Russia, China, Armenia, all continents committed to continuing to work together and deepening their relationships with one another. I’m glad to have been a part of this opportunity,” said Carpenter.