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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Volunteering at the International Rescue Committee (Vlog)

Over winter break, I had the opportunity to drive down to Atlanta with other students from Michigan State and volunteer at the International Rescue Committee. It was a week long trip with eleven other students through Alternative Breaks, a student organization on campus. There were many other options for other trips based on different social issues, but this one especially caught my eye with the situation in Aleppo and it being a topic during political debate. What's really different is that all students sign up for trips based on the social issue and not location, so I had no idea where I would be going.

After a twelve hour drive down south, we had one free day in Atlanta to explore the city a bit as the IRC was closed for that day. We first visited The Center for Civil and Human Rights museum which was by FAR the best museum I've ever been to. I highly recommend everyone go and learn more about the Civil Rights movement and also about human rights in other countries. We also visited the CNN headquarters, Centennial Olympic Park, and a little restaurant outside Atlanta called The Flying Biscuit (also would recommend).

The rest of the week was spent volunteering at the IRC, and having "reflection" every night to go over what we did and learned that day. It was so beneficial to hear how different things affected people, and their life stories - it was definitely one of my favorite parts of the week. 
There are different departments in the IRC in helping new refugees, such as employment, health and wellness, resettlement, etc. From what I learned in talking to some employees (shout out to Ali, Micaela, Ariana, and Jolie), all refugees have a 90 day schedule where they are set up with housing, enroll in ESL classes, apply for a social security card, and much much more. It was very VERY eye opening to see how much paper work is involved, and how tough it is to come to a new country not knowing the language. And few refugees are considered for resettlement. My heart just breaks thinking about how families are torn apart from conflict or disasters in other parts of the world - many of the refugees were from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Syria, etc.

Some of the different tasks that we were asked to do was file a LOT of papers (as refugees are , call refugees offering employment, find more resources in the area for them to apply for ESL classes or go to food pantries, and the biggest task was cleaning and organizing the store they have at the IRC where refugees can come and get what they need like clothes, shoes, books, kitchen items, etc. By the end of the week, tons of progress was made, but most importantly, we all learned so much that I know we will use wherever we end up in the future.

Both of my parents were refugees during the Vietnam war, and were sponsored by a church in Illinois decades ago. And to imagine that my parents, who were my age at the time, in a foreign place where they necessarily did not feel welcome really got to me. Seeing refugees come into the IRC in need of a winter coat or some canned food, it was not hard to imagine how my parents did the same too. 
On the last day, there was a little seminar by some of the employees on how we could help this issue in our own state, and what the future holds. The president elect was talked about, and how that would affect the IRC, where some refugees from certain countries could be paused/banned. 

Going into the trip, I knew it would be a good experience, but it really exceeded all of my expectations. It has made me think about what I want to do in the future in terms of my career and how to help others, I was able to meet so many new people from my school that I know I will stay friends with, and it was so important to me to see a part of my family history.

Alternative breaks has chapters at MANY schools, and I highly encourage you to check it out!! 
Lastly, here are some facts from the IRC's website that I think say enough:
-Only 17,000 out of 4,000,000 Syrian refugees have been re-settled in other countries.
-More than 800,000 arrived on the shores of Greece in 2015, 87% were fleeing conflict in Syria
-An average of 50 Syrian families are forced to flee their home, every hour

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