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 coordinator attends First Annual Southeastern Immigration Studies Association Conference

Program Coordinator Kathleen Herbst represented Every Campus a Refuge at the First Annual Southeastern Immigration Studies Association Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. The conference was held at the College of Charleston on February 21st. Participants, presenters, and attendees gathered to discuss “current trends in immigration research and activism.”

Herbst held a panel titled “Dignity and Justice in Refugee Resettlement” and explained how attendees could implement ECAR chapters and find other ways to assist refugees in their resettlement. 

“I spoke to a group of about fifteen students, professors, and resettlement professionals during my session. The session was very interactive, and participants were engaged and interested in ECAR. I went through the process of how to start an ECAR chapter, and many wanted to know how they could contribute to their community if there wasn’t a program like ECAR. It was great to be reminded that, with a little information and direction, people want to support their local communities.” Herbst said.

Other presentations focused on issues around anti-immigration, detention centers, education equality, and asylum-seeking, as well as the strengths of youth organizing and advocacy. Herbst was especially drawn to a presentation about youth organizing.

“I attended a variety of presentations and panels, but my favorite was one by a group of middle-schoolers. They worked together to create an exhibit about immigration based off of interviews they conducted with immigrants and refugees in the United States. They spoke to people from a variety of different countries and regions. They shared, in an interactive part, that this project taught them about immigration as an ongoing process. These young students had a nuanced and compassionate view of immigration.” Herbst said.

All in all, Herbst was able to explore organizations who share similar missions to that of ECAR: “to call on every college and university in the world to partner with their local refugee resettlement agencies to house refugees on campus grounds and assist them in resettlement.”

“The conference was a short, but valuable, program. I networked, and we have a few more colleges interested in starting an ECAR campus or collaborating in some way. It’s important that we continue to share information, because people often want to help, but don’t know where to begin.” Herbst said.

Ben Tumin presents “1954” at Guilford College

On Thursday, January 16, Ben Tumin presented his “talkumentary”1954 at Guilford College as part of the Shifting Worlds Institute. Tumin is a comedian and filmmaker hailing from New York. He mainly uses history and humor to explore current socio political issues in order to uncover the truth not always found in a textbook. On this visit, his second time speaking at Guilford College, he asked the question: “Are we living in a post-truth era?”

He explored this question through the national coverage of the 1954 U.S.-led coup in Guatemala, exposing the flaws in journalism through first-hand accounts. He analyzed many articles that claimed the coup was warranted to stop the evils of communism. 

In reality, the United Fruit Company (the one that owns Chiquita bananas) was responsible for the falsities in reporting. In order to keep their hundreds of acres of land for banana farming, the company exploited the “red scare” to dismantle the Guatemalan government. The government at the time wasn’t even communist — it was a democratic government with socialist elements, and they wanted to buy their land back for the low price the company claimed it was really worth.

The U.S. intervention actually destroyed the democratic government in Guatemala. 

“We’re now living in a post-truth era, where it is hard to tell fact from fiction,” said Tumin.

Tumin came to this conclusion with the help of his mentor, historian Stephen Schlessinger Jr., who assisted him in uncovering the discrepancies in truth in the news at that time, and inspired him to pursue this topic. His documentary featured interviews with Schlessinger, as well as Oscar Augusto Rodas Rivera, a Guatemalan citizen who lived in Guatemala in 1954 and remembers the effects of the coup. 

Tumin also exposed the truth about false or watered-down information in history textbooks. Textbooks are produced by giant manufacturers that send their drafts to the Texas Board of Education, and those are who decides on what it emphasized. The Texas Board of Ed are not trained in history, and they are likely conservative. It is in their best interest to portray the United States as victorious and moral to raise patriotic citizens.

As a result, other countries are villainized. 

What does this mean for refugees, asylum-seekers, and im/migrants coming to the U.S.?

Tumin explained that the coup in 1954 led to some of the factors that caused forced migration of Central Americans. The U.S. instated Guatemalan government was a militaristic dictatorship in which the leader, Carlos Castillo Armas, banned other political parties and imprisoned those who went against him. The coup set the groundwork for the widespread instability seen today in many Central American countries.

Of all the refugees that came to the U.S. in the 1970s, only 3 of them committed murder. He noted that statistically, cows are more likely to kill than refugees are. In a time where news is often manipulated for political or capitalist gain, it is important to thoroughly do your research.
To learn more about Ben Tumin, visit his website here.

The Second Annual Shifting Worlds: Displacement and Forced Migration in Modern Times Institute


Guilford College Academic Dean Frank Boyd introducing the conference.

On Friday, January 17, the Second Annual Shifting Worlds: Displacement and Forced Migration in Modern Times Institute took place on Guilford College’s campus. The conference was moderated by Guilford’s own Drs. Diya Abdo, Mark Justad, and Christian Matheis as well as the Center for New North Carolinians’ Dr. Nneze Eluka and Kelsey White, and UNCG’s Naglaa Rashawn.
The conference focused on the mental health aspects of refugeeism, im/migration, and asylum-seeking. The morning session speakers delved into policies and practices. Law professor Dr. Margaret Taylor, Immigration Law specialist Helen Parsonage, and pediatrician Dr. Shruti Simha discussed the conditions of detention centers on the United States’ southern border. The speakers spoke of their experiences at the border, unjust reasons for detention centers, and the sometimes-irreparable damage to one’s brain due to exposure to constant toxic stress. Simha’s research highlighted the physical damage to a child’s neurons and their inability to develop and form properly under stress. While the conclusions were harrowing, the presenters inspired attendees to assist those who are in detention centers.

In the latter half of the morning session, Director of Immigration Law Clinic Katherine Reynolds and attorney Devon Senges explored U.S. policies regarding refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers, while anthropology professor Dr. Heide Castañeda presented on the migration determinants of mental health. Discussions revolved around the decreasing number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. each year, unconstitutional and inhumane policies, as well as the health issues that are present in families with mixed-citizenship-status. In 2016, 85,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S., whereas the cap for 2020 is only 18,000.

During the lunch session, students presented on their own research regarding refugee and immigrant issues. Guilford College senior Raina Baier discussed her own experience working with a refugee family. Also from Guilford, seniors Kentaro Nakajima, Carina Holmes, and Daisy Arguello displayed their research on FaithAction IDs and whether or not they are accessible and useful for immigrants and refugees (surveys show they are!). Additionally, UNCG MPH students Saif Al-Amin and Caroline Wells examined the HIV/Aids crisis in Myanmar regarding refugeeism.

Baier was grateful for her opportunity to present.

“It was really very humbling and exciting to be able to present my own work in tandem with the work of the organization. I felt like the key presenters were speaking from a place of more experience and listening to their work was equally as encouraging as it was disheartening because even though there are people being hurt by this crisis every hour, the encouraging part is that we can meet here and exchange with those who are doing the actual work. I also appreciated that the conference made a point to include the voices of people who have first-hand experiences instead of just academic voices,” Baier said.


Raina Baier presenting her research.

Presenters at the afternoon session of the conference delved into community support and initiatives. Capt. Curi Kim, UNCG alumna Siddiga Ahmed, and UNC MSW student Tamesha Clark explored the mental health needs of refugees and migrants in the United States. The speakers engaged with common mental disorders that result from migration and the studies around the Bhutanese suicide epidemic. Multiple presenters expressed the importance of mental health screening for refugees and shared testimonies from people who found it helpful.

Yoga therapist Mona Flynn, IAC Director Jose Bernal, NAI’s Leilani Roughton, ECAR Program Coordinator Kathleen Herbst, Refugee Coordinator Vung Ksor discussed community-based support initiatives for refugees and immigrants in NC. Initiatives included free community yoga, the Faith Action International house, English classes, education, and job counseling at NAI, ECAR chapters at colleges and universities, and healthcare access at the CNNC. Flynn even got attendees engaged in a much needed yogic stretch during her presentation. Anonymous questions indicated school representatives wanting to implement ECAR on their campuses.


Institute attendees participating in a quick yoga session.

Guilford College senior Allie Eigsti attended the conference and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon session.

“I found the information on community support to be incredibly useful to gain an understanding of the wide variety of stressors people may face when resettling in the Greensboro area. It was interesting to learn how immigrant-led initiatives are working to empower recently-settled people and the steps community members can take to get involved,” Eigsti said.

Toward the end of the conference, attendees heard powerful testimonies from refugees. Guilford College junior Ree Ree Wei, CNNC’s Raouf Ousmane, and UNCG alumna Noor Ghazi shared their personal stories. Stories ranged from begging for resettlement anywhere but the United States to embracing the skills and resilience learned from translating for one’s family. Those who attended were grateful for the openness of the speakers. 


Raouf Ousmane speaking about his personal experience with resettlement.

After the presentations, attendees were invited to browse tables featuring art, jewelry, clothing, and food crafted by refugee vendors. The institutes represented at the conference tabled alongside the vendors so people could find ways to get more involved. Canadian and Latinx musician Quilla performed at the reception. Of Peruvian descent, Quilla is an avid supporter of im/migrant and refugee rights. She performed songs inspired by themes of migration, climate change, and personal transformation.


Quilla performing at the reception.

Special thanks to Guilford’s Center for Principled Problem Solving and Excellence in Teaching, Office of Advancement, the Anthropology, Sociology, Justice and Policy Studies Departments, as well as Peace and Conflict Studies Departments, Every Campus a Refuge, University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Center for New North Carolinians, and Elon University for coming together to create this conference. If you would like to learn more or get involved, the organizations that attended the conference will be listed below.

New Arrivals Institute

FaithAction

LifeFit Yoga

Church World Service

Siembra NC

ECAR and “Shifting Worlds” featured on The State of Things

On Tuesday, January 14th, Dr. Diya Abdo spoke on WUNC 91.5 about the upcoming Shifting Worlds: Displacement and Forced Migration in Modern Times conference this Friday, January 17th. Hosted by Guilford College, Elon University, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the conference will be examining the cultural and economic barriers regarding refugee and migrant access to mental health resources.

Dr. Abdo and executive director of New Arrivals Institute Leilani Roughton discussed the myths surrounding migration and refugeeism with the host of The State of Things, Frank Stasio.

Listen to their discussion on WUNC 91.5’s The State of Things here.

The New Arrivals Institute

UARRM Conference

On November 1st, Dr. Diya Abdo and Guilford College junior Ree Ree Wei attended the University Alliance for Refugees and At-Risk Migrants Second Annual Gathering at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Wei is a Forced Migration and Resettlement Studies minor, as well as an ECAR volunteer. The conference focused on ways students and other university personnel could support refugees and at-risk migrants through safe and sustainable means.

Dr. Abdo and Wei facilitated a session on ECAR’s practices. Wei expanded on her experiences as an ECAR volunteer.

“Volunteering for ECAR is rewarding and fun. I get to build trust and friendships in a short amount of time with our guests, and we stay connected to them once they leave campus.” Wei said.

Ree Ree Wei takes notes during a presentation.

Wei was also in attendance at the UN conference in January of this year. She found the UARRM conference to be more hands-on and interactive. She was impressed with the attendance of deans and other administrative university figures and felt hopeful that they were willing to learn from students.

Students involved in Lafayette College’s ECAR chapter (located in Easton, PA) were in attendance, among many other refugee and migrant support organizations. The ECAR founder spent time talking to Lafayette’s chapter about best practices, problem-solving and learning about how they sustain a completely student-run organization. Wei was particularly impressed with another student-run organization at Rutgers University, RU Dreamers.

“The organization received $3 million from a New Jersey state legislator to fund the educations of undocumented students at Rutgers. I was impressed with the ways they were able to work with not just the school’s community, but the broader community of parents, business owners, and other community members. They did a good job of utilizing community powers and not just the institution’s powers.” Wei said.

ECAR is an asset-based community of practice that harnesses the power of community resources and organizations to support vulnerable communities. To learn more about our work and how your campus can become a refuge, please email everycampusarefuge@gmail.com.

Imagining America Conference at the University of New Mexico

Dr. Diya Abdo and Program Coordinator Kathleen Herbst represented Every Campus a Refuge at the 20th Anniversary National Gathering of the Imagining America Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The gathering took place on October 18th at the University of New Mexico. The theme of the conference was “Mighty Dreams: Designing and Fostering Belonging in ‘America’.” 

Dr. Abdo and Herbst presented on how to implement ECAR on private versus public campuses, as well as how students can engage with refugee communities in their area without necessarily hosting families on their campuses. 

“At a private college, we have a little bit more freedom than public universities may have. At public universities, they may have to host off but near campus or volunteer with local refugee communities.” Herbst said.

They helped attendees brainstorm ways they can start an ECAR chapter that is personalized for their campus or just support their local refugee communities. The primary goal of ECAR is to create a softer landing for refugees so they can strongly re-establish themselves in their new homes. Some things to consider before implementing an ECAR chapter is who in your community can provide what resources as well as looking into local resettlement agencies.

The conference featured many local organizations in New Mexico, as well as those from further away. Herbst was particularly struck by filmmaker Michelle Angela Ortiz’s documentary “Las Madres de Berks.” The documentary was about Berks family detention center and the oppression and abuse that resides in its walls.

“That was something that really reminded me of the way in which ECAR can also be every campus a sanctuary; we need to fight against family detention centers as well.” Herbst said.

Ortiz presented her documentary over Skype and talked about hands-on activism. She advised finding and protesting local detention centers as well as mobilizing art to spread awareness. Herbst was moved by her presentation and believed that this creative problem-solving method could be applied to ECAR as well.

“We should be finding ways in which we can use our own strengths to support change.” Herbst said.

ECAR is in itself a hands-on organization that implores others to assist refugees in their communities. Our volunteers range from driven artists to passionate fundraisers and those with a variety of strengths. What skills do you have? How can we hone our own skills and resources to create change and support refugees?

ECAR attends the 68th United Nations Civil City Conference

From August 26th to the 28th, 2019, Guilford College student Angela Morrow — who is an ECAR minor — represented Every Campus a Refuge at the 68th United Nations Civil City Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference centered around “building inclusive and sustainable cities and communities.” Morrow presented on the practices of ECAR and highlighted ways other colleges and universities could implement their own chapter. 

“I feel like it is a wonderful way to get the word out to many other colleges or universities that might not have heard about ECAR and to show them that they too can make a difference.  There were other organizations that were also interested in learning more about ECAR and how they can become involved. It is a wonderful way to find new partners to collaborate and network with to allow ECAR to grow and become stronger,” Morrow said. 

The conference focused on Sustainable Development Goal 11, which was to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable by 2030.” (source) Morrow noted that while explaining the ways in which ECAR is sustainable, she was able to see sustainability in a new light.

“I had not really thought in depth about the sustainable aspects of ECAR as well as how we reuse and share resources to make the ECAR program a success until going to present for this conference,” she said.

Universities produce far more than what their students, staff, and faculty need in terms of food, shelter, and other resources. Resources that may have otherwise been wasted or remained unused are given to refugees who are settling into their new lives. Federal work-study is another collegiate resource that can allow volunteers to be paid for their work with ECAR.

Morrow presented on ECAR as a part of De Montfort University’s (DMU) panel. Guilford College and De Montfort are partners in the United Nations Together Campaign. Guilford’s ECAR program was recommended by the United Nation’s Department of Public Information and was invited by DMU to the United Nations Together Campaign Summit. (source)

The international event typically attracts over 3,000 participants who represent over 700 organizations from over 100 different countries. Representatives from organizations come together to workshop and share the best practices for sustainability and inclusivity.

Angela Morrow presenting at the conference.

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.