Volunteers work to assist local refugees
blog by The Buffalo State Record • April 14, 2011 @ 4:57pm
Buffalo Sate Record Reporter
With Buffalo experiencing a growth in the number of refugees seeking asylum here, Buffalo State has become involved with providing services to the refugee community. Student Patty Ceravole, for one, is happy to have the opportunity to work with refugee families, and not just for the school credit she receives.
“I have learned so much through my experience with the refugees and have had a wonderful time working with them,” she said. “I have come to understand cultures outside of my own and the daily struggles that these individuals face, not only in their country of origin, but also the many struggles they face once they come here.”
Buffalo State works with the refugee community in several ways, providing education, tutoring and direct support of groups like the Buffalo Immigration and Refugee Empowerment Coalition (BIREC), said Marian Deutschman, interim director for the office of college and community partnerships.
Mini-grants are used to fund some of the projects being worked on in the refugee community. These are important, Deutschman said, because they encourage cooperation between the school and the community.
“The whole idea of the mini-grant is to persuade faculty members and encourage them to partner with some organization in the community,” she said. “It’s mutually beneficial for the community and the faculty.”
Most of what Buffalo State does for the refugee community is done through service learning, said Gary Welborn, chair and associate professor of sociology. When refugees arrive here, they struggle to understand basic concepts, like paying bills and understanding laws.
“(When) you come from a refugee camp, you don’t know how to deal with a landlord, you may not know what your rights are,” he said.
This leads to an opportunity for students to become directly involved. Working out of refugee assistance programs like Jericho Road Ministries, students assist refugees with everyday tasks like grocery shopping and setting up doctor appointments, Welborn said.
Ceravole, an intern at Jericho Road Ministries Drop In Center, helps families navigate the public transportation system in Buffalo, as well as pointing out important places along the way.
“I generally have a map with me that highlights the route we are taking, so they can better understand, with relation to the city as a whole, where we are going,” she said. “We are going to mark places of interest (like) hospitals and grocery stores and then take pictures of these places so they have a visual reference and can be more will be familiar with the surroundings.”
Students who are involved with the refugee community look at the world differently, Welborn said.
“It’s a very good thing for students,” he said. “It helps students get a different view of the world, and in doing that, look at themselves somewhat differently.”
While the issues refugee families face may seem overwhelming, Deutschman sees a larger role for Buffalo State in the future, while continuing the work that is already being done.
“We have a problem,” she said. “It can be turned into a real opportunity.”