ECAR attends UN conference for refugees

Conference attendees discuss ideas between presentations.

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.

Angela Morrow asking the first question at the conference.

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.

From left to right: Brenna Carpenter, Caitlyn Councilman, Ree Ree Wei, Diya Abdo, Dylan Blowe, and Casey Graziosi.


ECAR receives the 2019 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award

Dr. Diya Abdo received the 2019 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award from Campus Compact for her work with Every Campus a Refuge. Campus Compact is “a national coalition of 1,000+ colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education.” They value civic engagement, democracy, and community development, and push students and faculty to become responsible and ethical citizens.

The Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award has been presented annually since 1995. The award recognizes “senior faculty for exemplary engaged scholarship, including leadership in advancing students’ civic learning, conducting community-based research, fostering reciprocal community partnerships, building institutional commitments to service-learning and civic engagement, and other means of enhancing higher education’s contributions to the public good.”

Every Campus a Refuge mobilizes resources on college campuses to support refugees. So far, the Guilford College chapter of ECAR has hosted 53 refugees. Additionally, ECAR engages students, faculty, and staff in curricular and co-curricular experiences and conversations around forced migration, displacement, and resettlement. With a wide range of families who have since resettled in Greensboro as well as 125+ volunteers, ECAR tends to the Guilford College community as well as that of Greensboro. Other universities all over the Eastern United States have adopted and adapted the ECAR model to assist refugees in their communities as well.

Nominated by the Director of Principled Problem Solving and Excellence in Teaching, Dr. Mark Justad and Guilford College President Jane Fernandes, Dr. Diya Abdo is the very first North Carolina-based scholar to receive the award. She will be honored at the Impact Awards Celebration in Seattle, WA in March 2020.

Related Links:

Dr. Abdo with students from her Forced Migration and Resettlement Studies course taking public transportation to visit a community partner in Greensboro.

ECAR class presents projects at GUS

This past Wednesday, April 17th at the Guilford Undergraduate Symposium, four students in PPS 250: Every Campus a Refuge II presented on their class projects. The goal of the project was to create something helpful for the refugee families hosted at Guilford College and the organization as a whole.

Sophomore Ree Ree Wei (who is minoring in ECAR) presented on her short documentary. She stressed that she wanted to create a platform for actual refugees to share their stories in their own voices. Her documentary was of an interview with a refugee from Myanmar. One of the key points the interviewee discussed was the struggle that comes with lack of citizenship and documentation in refugee camps. This very issue did not allow him to attend college. Wei stressed that the three month period that refugees are expected to get acclimated to a new culture should be at least a year long. She talked about language barriers and the physical and mental health needs that require more time to be addressed.

Wei expressed that she would like this to be an ongoing project where she or other volunteers interview multiple families and potentially come back years later to see how things have changed. The stories may be posted on the ECAR website in a series of documentaries. She argued that all refugee stories deserve to be heard.

Angela Morrow, who is minoring in ECAR, presented on her fundraising efforts. She reached out to many local businesses and raised awareness about refugee resettlement needs along the way. She reported that many did not know about the refugee crisis and did not realize that refugees give more to their communities than their communities give to them.

Along with vendors she had recruited, Angela tabled at Lake Fest, an event at Guilford College’s Serendipity. Vendors sold jewelry, lemonade, sunglasses, and more. She has plans to fundraise with Knickerbockers, a photography fundraising company that specializes in old fashioned portraits. The fundraiser should take place in May. She also will be having a Krispy Kreme fundraiser during finals week for hungry and studious students.

Senior Robin Bigaj and freshman Bree Diakite worked together to create an information booklet for pregnant people to be paired with a “toolkit” and left at the ECAR house (the house on Guilford’s campus where our guests live when they first arrive in the United States). Bigaj and Diakite conducted interviews with ECAR guests that have been pregnant and/or given birth since their arrival in the U.S. The interviewees highlighted challenges with miscommunication from language barriers and a lack of cultural sensitivity from healthcare providers. The booklet has resources and instructions on what to expect from the U.S. healthcare system. Diakite translated the booklet into French and is working on getting it translated into Arabic and Swahili in order to accommodate hosted guests. The toolkit will have diapers, baby food, sanitary napkins and more.

Each student took their passions and skills and created projects that will help ECAR and its guests for years to come.

Refugee and Migrant Education Network Conference at Manhattan College

From November 15th to the 17th, 2018 Guilford senior Kathleen Herbst — an English major and ECAR and Political Science double minor — attended the Global Initiatives in Refugee and Migrant Education conference at Manhattan College in New York City. The conference was hosted by the Refugee and Migrant Education Network and co-partnered with the Center for Interreligious Understanding, and Being the Blessing. Herbst proudly represented ECAR on the Student Best Practices panel.
“It was really exciting to talk about my experience with ECAR and afterward 3 or 4 people asked how they can start a chapter. They haven’t surfaced yet because it’s only been a couple of months, but it looks very promising. I think ECAR was especially exciting to people because it can be implemented at any school and can be adjusted to what the school has to offer,” Herbst said.
The keynote speakers included the president of Catholic University in Iraq, Dr. Stephen Rasche; the senior director of International Migration Policy at the Center for Migration Studies, Kevin Appleby; Archbishop Bernadito Auza; as well as the founder and chief executive officer of BanQu, Ashish Gadnis. The conference was inspired by Pope Francis. The Holy Father called on the Catholic community to learn about and assist refugees at a conference in Rome in 2017.
The goals of the Global Initiatives and Migrant Education conference were to 1) understand better the realities and needs of refugees, 2) devise strategies in order to assist refugees in furthering their education, 3) identify key potential research needs of relief agencies and devise ways of responding, 4) share best practices regarding education about migrants and refugees within the university context and ways of engaging university students in social responsibility, and lastly, 5) provide an opportunity to further build the Refugee and Migrant Education Network (source).
Herbst helped serve the purpose of the fourth goal by sharing ways other students and professors can implement ECAR just by utilizing the resources on their own college campuses. ECAR is very malleable and low cost, so it can be relatively easy to enact, whether it is at a university or a church.
“It was good to see that my peers are passionate about this work, and it’s not just the Guilford bubble. ECAR is spreading, everyone who works with us has this goal of making a more welcoming place,” Herbst said.

Kathleen Herbst speaking on the panel for Student Best Practices.

Way to go Amelia!

Way to go Amelia Wellman! She actively participates in ECAR through the new minor and volunteer work, this summer she worked at Church World Service in downtown Greensboro!

“Since ECAR receives new families through Church World Service, I felt as though I was getting a behind-the-scenes look at all of the work that goes into resettling refugees. I hope to use the knowledge that I gained from this special experience and exposure to help ECAR become even better than it already it is!”

Learn more about her experience here: Internship Match Made in Heaven https://www.guilford.edu/news/2018/10/internship-match-made-heaven

The Walls Event

On Thursday October 4th, Guilford College and the surrounding community listened while over 50 guitars conversed with one another. “The Walls” was composed of three parts: four solo pieces by William Kanengiser, a lecture series by Guilford College professors, and five pieces by a guitar orchestra. The evening began with a piece reminiscent of the rhythm of the Spanish Flamenco dance tune. Appropriate to the context in which the song would normally be heard, William’s fingers danced along the neck of his guitar, building slow crescendos and culminating with upbeat fortes. He opened the piece “Sevillana” by saying that anybody can play its intro: a simple strum on open guitar strings. This theme of openness and accessibility, of acceptance and ample opportunity, echoed not just in the cords played in this piece, but throughout the rest of the evening too.

Recognized as one of America’s most accomplished classical guitarists, William Kanengiser sits on the Board of Trustees for the Guitar Foundation of America. He is one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ), playing everything from jazz to classical on an international stage. In 2005, Mr. Kanengiser and LAGQ won a Grammy award for Best Classical Crossover album.

The second half of the program featured four guest speakers, each providing information about a different wall and its unique history. These introductions were made by Dr. Zhihong Chen, Dr. Heather Hayton, Dr. Dave Limburg, and Dr. Diya Abdo on the Chinese Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, the Berlin Wall, and the West Bank Wall respectively. Although walls are typically associated with isolation, these speakers beautifully and eloquently spoke of the ways these walls act as forces of unification, resilience, and exchange.

The last portion of the program consisted of guitarists of all ages from different parts of the triad. Conducted by Dr. Kami Rowan and produced by Sergio Assad, this performance was prolific. The orchestra’s emotive facial expressions and sure fingers sung the tale of the immigrant experience. Sometimes inspiring pain, inciting triumph, evoking fear, and igniting awe, the five pieces took the listener on a historical and cultural journey through centuries.

All proceeds of the U.S. premiere of “The Walls” went to Every Campus a Refuge. These donations will help settle another family on Guilford’s campus during the month of October, adding to the 42 refugees previously hosted by ECAR. A huge appreciation extends to all who attended this event; your support and presence were vital to this program’s success.

Monsters to Destroy Event

On August 23rd, Ben Tumin came to Guilford College to present his talk “Monsters to Destroy” (M2D). Tumin is a filmmaker and comedian from New York combining humor, wit, facts, and storytelling to counter the narrative that refugees are a danger to national security. Tumin has a B.A. in History from Pomona College and has worked with various U.S. and international organizations to better understand the lives and experiences of refugees. Of German Jewish descent, Tumin wove together his own stories with the stories of five Syrian refugees portrayed through amusing interview clips. By doing so, Tumin revealed the connections he drew between the violence that his family endured and the incessant violence that people with the status of refugees endure throughout their lives.

He began with a question: Do refugees threaten national security? Most people who ask this question assume that refugees are inherently dangerous and violent, feeding into the narrative of refugees as potential terrorists. Throughout his presentation, Tumin avidly answers this question with a “no.” He reveals that of the 3,252,493 resettled refugees entering the United States from 1975 until 2015 20 were “terrorists.” Of those 20, 3 of them killed a total of 3 people. As an alternate statistic, in that same exact time period, 16 cows had rebelled against their owners killing 16 people total, meaning that it is statistically more likely to be killed by a homicidal cow than to be killed by a refugee in America.

Not only do refugees not threaten national security, they help boost the economy. In a study released by the White House in 2017, refugees were proven to provide a positive net fiscal impact of 63 billion dollars. Net fiscal impact also takes into account the impact on wages, directly refuting the notion that refugees are stealing American jobs and, in fact, help produce a middle-class job force as many refugees are forced to take jobs in lower skilled labor. Statistically it could be argued that refugees strengthen national security because the more money a country has, the more money is invested in defense.

The second question that Tumin addresses—because it typically arises when talking about refugees—follows: Why didn’t they [refugees] stay and fight? For this Tumin begins talking about his family and how two SS soldiers knocked on his grandparent’s door earlier in the day on Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) and told them to report to the nearest police station so they could be sent to a concentration camp. Instead of reporting, Tumin’s grandfather convinced some parts of his family to flee and live; however, some of them stayed. All of his family members who stayed were killed in the Holocaust. This same narrative can apply to some of the Syrian refugees who think it wiser to leave and preserve their heritage than to die in a state that gave them the options of joining ISIS, the Syrian military, or be put in a prison and tortured. So the question “Why didn’t they stay and fight” which frames refugees as cowardly and lazy is almost equivalent to asking a Jew during the Holocaust “Why didn’t they want to be sent to a concentration camp?”

Narratives that fuel the War on Terror and narratives that vilify and deny help to refugees can in some ways be synonymous. In the same way that the reason 61% of Americans in 1939 wanted to refuse entry to Jews was the threat they would be Nazi spies. Indeed, it doesn’t become surprising that of 100,000 Jewish citizens that resettled to the United States during WWII, one was a confirmed Nazi spy. So clearly it is not facts that become the basis of public opinion, but the narratives created and distributed to the American people that denied aid to Jews in the Holocaust and continue to deny aid to refugees all over the world whose goal is the not-so-simple one of survival. The monstrous act of refusing to take refugees only feeds the narrative of ISIS that there exists a war between ISIS and America. As Tumin boldly asserts, through refusal and intolerance we become the “monsters we aim to destroy.” Indeed, our best defense against terrorism is remembering our humanity and practicing compassion, for these principles do not exist in the mantra of monsters.

Photo Credit: Fernando Jimenez

ECAR Student Experiences at the UN

Lakshmi Premysler:

It was an honor to represent Guilford College and the ECAR minor at a United Nations conference this summer. The conference hall was filled with experts, diplomats and passionate students who are all striving to include refugees in their communities. The projects that were presented at the UN demonstrated that I have much more to learn about refugees. The panel discussions, the talks and the presentations opened my mind to different ways to welcome refugees into our community. The project that resonated with me the most        was the project of the University of Pennsylvania to encourage universities to hire refugees. I look forward to seeing what Guilford will do for the refugees in Greensboro.
Kathleen Herbst:
I was honored to be able to speak about the Every Campus a Refuge minor at the UN, as well as for the opportunity to hear about other schools’ initiatives. At a networking lunch, we were able to share the story and mission of ECAR, hopefully planting the seed for the organization to continue to grow at these institutions already working hard in various ways to alleviate refugee issues.
Amelia Wellman:

One of my favorite parts of the UN Summit was being able to meet students from other universities and organizations and learning about how they run their organizations as well as how we can incorportate some of those ideas into ECAR. It was also incredibly humbling to be at the United Nations and hear such inspiring panels with distinguished speakers such as Maher Nasser, Daniël Prins, and Jonathan Allen. Being able to hear them speak also allowed me to see that working on an international level is not only possible but realistic.

Kathleen Herbst signing the UN Together Campaign Summit Charter on behalf of Guilford College.

At the Pre-Summit Invitational.

ECAR Shines at U.N. Together Campaign Summit

On January 9th, 2018 Every Campus A Refuge entered the world stage. The United Nations hosted a Together Campaign Summit in New York City to showcase different initiatives around the globe that provide a wide range of support to refugees and migrants. Guilford was among ten colleges and universities that were invited to attend the Summit.

Krista Clark, professor at Guilford College who also teaches in the ECAR minor, participated in the Summit. She says that “the environment was surreal. So many international voices and faces. I have always wanted to visit the UN in NYC and so I really just stood outside the main building and then inside the main building in awe.” The UN is a place for international conversation and collaboration — a place where solutions go to marinade in minds from around the world so as to look at an old problem with new eyes.

Another participant, ECAR program coordinator Hali Rose Kohls says, “Being around students, faculty and staff from universities all over the world who provided services to refugees was thrilling and inspiring. This work can be very draining at times, but I came out of the summit feeling rejuvenated and excited to get back to creating a refuge on our campus.” Kohls says that ECAR was one of the few organizations there that “offered a tangible spectrum of resources to offer to newcomers to Greensboro.”

Jonathan Maj, secretary of ECAR and digital media specialist, remembers ECAR standing out from the crowd. During Diya’s keynote, Maj recalls how “She also discussed how college campuses can do more than just spread knowledge by using the ECAR model as a means of experiential learning.” This aspect of experiential learning makes the program more adept at handling the complex problems that refugees face upon arrival. ECAR learns by doing, letting the talk in the classroom transmit into social impact. The ECAR minor shows rather than tells the dedication that Guilford College has to alleviating problems of refugees to Greensboro.

Clark also mentions Diya’s keynote saying, “I truly love hearing Diya speak about ECAR and why this program was so important to her in fulfilling the hopes and dreams of her lived experience.  She speaks with such eloquence and compassion.” In her speech, Diya spoke about the idea of radical hospitality. Krista Craven, ECAR delegate and Guilford professor, details the feeling of excitement upon seeing “that there were universities around the world committed to addressing the refugee crisis and engage in the idea of radical hospitality.”

New York City presented an entirely different set of challenges to Summit attendees. Maj walked “16 miles in basically 1 day around the city just so I could see as much of midtown in between obligations at the UN.”  This is no small task when taking into account inclement weather at the time of the Summit. On the other hand, Clark took a different approach and learned how to use Lyft saying “I loved learning something new about navigating a city.”

In the last moments of their trip, ECAR delegates had the opportunity to meet delegates of the Quaker UN. “I had no idea that Quakers had their own entity within the United Nations,” Kohls states, “connecting with other Quakers around the world to help foster peace and good relations. It was really neat to learn about what they do.”

The work of Dr. Abdo and dedicated ECAR supporters embodies true devotion to solving the refugee crisis. Craven is not alone when she says it is “great to see ECAR get the international recognition that it deserves.”

ECAR Recital and Reception

In celebration of Every Campus a Refuge, supporters, friends, and participants gathered at Guilford College to hear a beautiful selection of music and marvel in the artwork of Leila Abdelrazaq and Ali Khasrachi. The evening started with a performance from the Triad Tapestry Children’s Chorus. Led by choir director Melissa Burris, the Chorus sang five songs about hope, community, and diversity. The entire room joined in song at the last selection, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” leaving smiling faces and dancing children all around.

The next awe-inspiring performance came from mezzo soprano Sarah Love Taylor and pianist Radha Upton. Their first selection was in direct response to one of the first recent immigration bans. Most of their selections had a political undertone and spoke to the challenges and triumphs of the immigrant and refugee experience. They chose to perform a song cycle using quotes from people that came through Ellis Island. This cycle included a prologue, a six-part journey, and an epilogue that was musically sublime with some stories leaving the audience laughing and some with gloom.

After these incredible performances, friends were asked to take a look at the artwork of Ali Khasrachi, a refugee hosed by ECAR. His works are still on display in the Hege library next to photographs from the Red Sand Project.

The evening was filled with activism and resistance, urging people to become part of the movement to celebrate a beauty that only comes when cultures collide and differences are uplifted.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Alana Harrelson