Owing to an increase of global unrest, we have heard much about the global refugee crisis. Because our country is not physically connected to the countries most affected by this unrest (like Europe, which is connected to the Middle East where many refugees are fleeing from), we mistakenly assume that there is nothing we can do to really help. This assumption is incorrect. There is more you can do than just donate money to refugees in Europe. There are refugees here in the United States. There are refugees struggling in Utah. Dr. Stacey Shaw, one of our new professors and a collaborator with the International Rescue Committee, says that the IRC resettled 1,245 people as refugees in Utah in its last fiscal year. The main countries of origin for these people were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Burma, Syria, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi, Central African Republic, and Iran. Most of them are being resettled in Salt Lake County and a few are going to Ogden, but agencies are also considering possibilities for resettlement in Utah County and St. George. She advocates, as do others, helping them, not only because of their obvious need but also out of sheer empathy.
“If we could see, hear, smell, touch, and feel what people are experiencing, I believe we would live differently,” she says. “[Like] Cecilia Razovsky, who was a great advocate for refugee resettlement and services during World War II when Americans were resistant to immigration in ways that are very similar to what is happening today, [we should recognize that], ‘When you are asked to help in the cause, bear these things in mind and say with others- There but for the grace of God, go I!’ Elizabeta Jevtic-Somlai, visiting professor of political science, adds, in a recent BYU Magazine article, “Look at refugees as human beings, not as a service project. If you want to extend yourself, be a real friend and be there. Do small, consistent acts rather than a one-time project. Really assess, ‘What can I do?’ and ‘What am I willing to do?’ If you can do more, a practical way to help is to create opportunities for self-reliance.”
For that very purpose, a club has been organized at BYU, to help BYU students empower refugees.
Join the Refugee Empowerment Club
The Refugee Empowerment Club offers students the opportunity to become aware of the refugee crisis in Utah and around the globe. It also gives students opportunities to serve refugees. The goal of the club is to change the community in to a more understanding, unified, and empowering place to thrive. Dr. Shaw said of the club, “It is great to see students interested in learning more about refugee issues and finding ways to serve.”
Students Norma Villenueva and Rachel McAllister created the club to help students know where to start in supporting refugees.
“We realized there wasn’t one source for students who want to get involved in refugee resettlement and the issues with that,” says McAllister, “So we started researching and compiling those resources and were connected with some other individuals who wanted to create a formal organization.” The Refugee Empowerment Club meets twice a month on Wednesdays in the FLAC in the basement of the JFSB. One meeting will be the speaker series (mentioned below). The other meeting is an involvement activity. The club helped with the Spice Kitchen Incubator project for the International Refugee Committee. They also had a refugee cultural night. The club’s involvement activities are chosen based on the refugee’s current needs and the interests of the club members. The Refugee Empowerment Club has the following events in the works:
- a cultural night in collaboration with SID on Thursday, November 17
- a refugee-run catering service where participants can buy the cultural foods sold by refugees
- an evening to write letters to Congress and the UN to urge better human rights practices related to refugee resettlement
- a benefit concert to raise money for refugees (Fall 2017)
The Refugee Empowerment Club will begin a speaker series about the refugee crisis. In the series, a member of main organizations in refugee resettlement and assistance in Utah, or refugees themselves, speak about specific refugee issues, their organization, and how to get involved. The first speaker will be the director of the Women of the World organization, Samira Harnish. She will speak about what it’s like to be a refugee, and especially the experience of female refugees. Harnish’s speech will be on November 30 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. in Kennedy Center’s main conference room.
If participating in any of the club’s activities is not a possibility for you, you could consider these opportunities as well: