A new Registered Student Organization on the University of Arkansas Campus resettles refugees to the Northwest Arkansas area. By partnering with Canopy, a local non-profit organization, U of A students are helping some of the first refugee families to move to Arkansas during the current crisis find a home in the natural state.
The idea for this organization was created after two girls, Jamie Nix and Jessica Garross, returned from Lesbos, Greece after a study abroad program centered around helping in a refugee camp. After coming back to Arkansas, they sought out ways to help refugees without flying 6,000 miles away. Fortunately, Canopy was undergoing the application process to make Northwest Arkansas a refugee resettlement site. By the fall semester of 2016, the U of A had a new organization with eight officers and 40 members dedicated to making Arkansas a better place for refugees.
Unfortunately, in order to protect the families, not all of their information could be published in this article. Cofounder Jessica Garross explained, “Usually people are either really for it, or they’re misinformed and are really against it. We don’t want to run the risk of people protesting the families because it could keep the families from being able to come here.” We do know, though, that the refugees could be coming at any point from December 12 to March 12. It is also evident that an extensive vetting process for these newcomers is already in place, outlined here on the Canopy website.
Fundraising officer Thomas Morita, a Computer Science major in his junior year, outlines the thought process that lead to his involvement with the organization.
“I took issue with the fact that Germany, a single country a fraction of the size of America can take a hundred thousand refugees in, and we are just thinking about taking in a thousand.”
The club spent November 17 and 18 encouraging students outside of the student union to become parts of the solution. They sold coffee and tea, handed out information sheets, and engaged anyone who would stop to talk in conversations about helping refugees because “We can’t be upset with people’s fears if we don’t try to educate them and open up their hearts to refugees.” Their main goal was to raise awareness and recruit new members with their own skill sets and resources that could be of assistance.
Image Credit: Club Facebook Page
Even the volunteers who were handing out flyers were surprised by the impact of the new organization. One worker said she was originally only there for volunteer hours, but that she would now be joining the club because it seemed “really interesting and important.”
People involved with Students for Refugees are asked to help with advocacy and the transition process for the displaced refugees. They will create welcome baskets, be language partners, and act as tutors for the children. Additionally, the whole group will come together and write letters to their Congressional representatives requesting funds for Canopy and letting them know that the community of Northwest Arkansas supports refugees.
Garross also mentioned big plans for the spring semester, after the refugees move in. In early April, they will raise money with an arts festival where people submit pieces of refugee-themed art to be purchased by the attendees. Then, they will host a mock refugee camp on May 3 in order to raise awareness and promote empathy for refugees. New members will be asked to help host these—and any other—events.
Students who attend universities other than the U of A can contribute in plenty of other ways, outlined here by Canopy.
College is often a harrowing, stressful, and confusing experience, but it is still important for students to find time to express their beliefs and advocate for the things about which they feel passionately. What is the point of all of the knowledge and skills that we learn if we don’t use them to make the world a better place? Thomas Morita put it this way.
“We see what’s happening in Syria is really bad…We see it on the news, we see it on Facebook, and we share it. And that’s great, but people think that they’ve done their job after they click the share button. What they can do is actually get involved, join clubs like this…Money helps, but so does their time. If you want to address the issue, you’ve got to be part of the solution.”
Image Credit: Club Facebook Page
Lead Image Credit: Club Facebook Page