Two years ago when I was a freshman, the new immersion program had been established and my freshman studies class was assigned to fundraise for the Refugee Dream Center. I didn’t know that much about the center until the founder and executive director, Omar Bah, came to speak to us about Moses Brown’s strong, long-lasting partnership with his non-profit organization. After meeting Mr. Bah, I did some research on the Refugee Dream Center’s website and was very captivated by the mission statement: “The Refugee Dream Center offers services targeting gaps within the refugee community by ensuring the continuation of services in their efforts towards self-sufficiency and integration. The Refugee Dream Center does referrals, social level assistance, and skills development such as English language education for adults, health promotion and cultural orientation, youth mentoring, and case management” (Bah). Once learning about the center’s goal to help thousands of refugees assimilate into American culture, I immediately wanted to learn more about their programs and the specifics of their work. I was mainly interested in becoming more involved in the education and youth mentorship aspects of the organization, because I wanted to learn more about the experiences of refugees my own age. Therefore, when my class visited the Refugee Dream Center on a field trip, I was eager to listen to the diverse experiences of refugees who I would’ve never met if it wasn’t for Moses Brown’s partnership with the Dream Center.
Before that day, I had only read - through secondary sources - the stories and perspectives of refugees, specifically Syrian refugees because approximately five million refugees fled Syria in March of 2017 (World Vision). However, to be able to witness firsthand the various narratives from African and Middle Eastern refugees was an experience I will always remember. As a Moses Brown student, I often forget how privileged I am that I have a private school education, a safe home to live in, and a nice meal waiting for me at the dinner table every night. Thus, when I visited the center I was reminded of how thankful I am that I attend a school like Moses Brown, especially because our community is very involved in the refugee crisis through the Partnership through Advocacy club. Although Moses Brown is very proactive in addressing this issue, Rhode Island as a whole needs to be just as proactive, if not more. As the smallest state, we can fortunately develop and spread realistic social change throughout Rhode Island, not just within a few cities or towns. We, however, need to start being more vocal as a community and initiate change rather than expect change to happen on its own. For example, like Moses Brown, schools throughout Rhode Island - whether public or private - should be responsible for promoting and eventually enforcing refugee integration programs across the state, similar to the international programs offered for foreign exchange students.
Additionally, middle and high schools throughout RI should develop multiple partnerships with the Refugee Dream Center and Dorcas International Institute. These connections would help refugee youth, in particular, become acclimated to secondary school environments within Rhode Island. Moreover, the government needs to be involved in the crisis as well, and specifically focus on the establishment of non-profit organizations in towns across southern and northern Rhode Island.
Overall, the way our state can address the refugee crisis is through education and communication. As a community, we need to further educate students about the global refugee crisis and its relation to Rhode Island. For example, in my Religion, Conflict, and Identity in the Middle East class, I have chosen to continue my research on the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis. Some things that have stood out to me were the experiences of Syrian refugees living in Rhode Island. Writer for the Providence Journal, Kevin G. Andrade, addresses these stressful, often scary experiences in an interview with one of the 136 Syrian families who fled to Rhode Island last year: “We were hoping to reunite with the rest of our family here. But then, gradually, we are finding that this reunion is becoming more difficult every day. At this moment, we are very sad... After this, there is not much hope” (Alshawaf). Omar Bah has continued to work with families similar to the Alshawafs, whose loved ones remain in Syrian refugee camps. However, the process has its challenges since the Trump administration declared that the U.S. would only except 30,000 refugees in 2019 (Andrade).
Rhode Island must therefore do its utmost to welcome the refugees who are able to come to the U.S. and most importantly, provide them with a safe, stable community and home. Truthfully, if it weren’t for my Middle Eastern Studies class, I wouldn’t have learned about the legal struggles Rhode Island refugees are facing. This is precisely why it’s crucial that Moses Brown and other schools in the area promote classes about the refugee crisis throughout the world, not only in Northern Africa and the Middle East. The more knowledgeable my generation is about the refugee crisis, the better we can help refugees at Dorcas and the Dream Center in the long run. Ultimately, Rhode Island needs to adopt the same vision and outlook as Omar Bah. We need to both welcome and support the refugee community and most importantly, celebrate their diverse cultures and backgrounds with open arms.
Staff, World Vision. “Syrian Refugee Crisis: Facts, FAQs, and How to Help.” World Vision, 19 Aug. 2019, www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-facts. Accessed 13 Oct. 2019.
Andrade, Kevin G. “Syrian Refugees in R.I. Feel Strain of Family Separation.” Providencejournal.com, 11 Nov. 2018, www.providencejournal.com/news/20181110/syrian-refugees-in-ri-feel-strain-of-family-separation. Accessed 13 Oct. 2019.
“MISSION + VISION.” Refugee Dream Center, 9 May 2017, www.refugeedreamcenter.org/mission-vision/. Accessed 13 Oct. 2019.