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.


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.

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