I was first introduced to refugees in a class I took my sophomore year entitled Citizenship. The class soon became one that not just introduced me to an entirely new perspective but also changed the rest of my F&M career (and to a large degree – my future career ambitions). In the class – I was paired with another student, Alegra, and together we were given the task of helping a newly resettled family. In class – we discussed the philosophical and political meaning of what it means to be a citizen, and in real life – we worked hard to ease the adjustment to life in America for the new immigrants. For the first time – I felt as though I was having a real impact on the life of another person. It was during my time as a volunteer that I witnessed the many struggles that refugee families face in Lancaster. It was clear that a few organizations were working around the clock – but it just was not enough. I could see my own refugee family – and the families that the other students had in the class – were struggling in employment, education, housing and so much more. It was clear that Lancaster was responding to a certain degree to the new influx of 600 immigrants but the specific organizations were not equipped to efficiently handle all of the culture-sensitive need.
So – the only thing I could think to do was to volunteer (maybe raise funds? Or coats?) and to ease the adjustment for one refugee or family at a time. A year and a half later (now the spring of my junior year) we were given an opportunity to help write a grant for a vulnerable population in Lancaster in another Professor Dicklitch course, V.I.T.A. Social In/Justice in Lancaster. So working along side a group of fellow VITA site coordinators and Church World Service, we created the idea of a refugee conference. We would use F&M resources of space and volunteers to create a space where all of the service providers that are helping address refugee needs are brought together and given the opportunity to discuss current methods and future. Once we were awarded the $15,000 grant from the Lancaster Community Foundation, we started planning the conference: It Takes A Community: Optimizing Refugee Resettlement in Lancaster. The conference will be the final event for Human Rights Week 2012 on Friday March 30th.
Working with some incredible THRI leaders (Anna(x2), Claire, and Katie) and a really great team of F&M volunteers we have spent this year planning the refugee conference. If you are intersed in volunteering please visit this site. If you are interested in finding more out about the conference, visit the website!