Little did I know that when I decided to #Do1Thing for refugees, that my life would be set on a course to do multiple things – and to inspire others to take action that will further refugees’ plight to rebuild their lives upon resettlement in America.
As the Coordinator of Fairfield University’s Refugee Youth Mentoring Program, the one thing I have done for refugees has been to give the refugee youth in my local University community an opportunity to be American teenagers in a welcoming environment. I have accomplished this task with the help of Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life by turning the program, which began as a component to an African Politics service-learning course, into a University-wide initiative. This after-school program allows refugee students between the ages of 13-21 years old to engage in activities with Fairfield students including workshops, tutoring, college essay assistance, recreational activities and casual conversation. Now, in its second year of operation, this program has become a staple in the lives of several refugee youths who resettle in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
I believe that everyone in life is drawn to some type of call to action. In doing one thing for refugees, I have become a passionate advocate for refugees and education reform. In working with refugee youth from middle school through college age, I learned quickly the educational inequity they have had to overcome in their home countries and refugee camps. By doing this one thing and providing refugee youth the time and space to connect with Fairfield University students, I’ve learned that everyone in life also has the opportunity to use their past to help others build their future.
From my work with the Refugee Youth Mentoring Program on campus, I was inspired to help the refugee youths’ families as well. With the support of the Fairfield University community, Fairfield University’s Recycle for Refugees Program began. Over a span of three days in May 2017, Fairfield University volunteers visited student residences at the beach, townhouses, and residence halls and collected a variety of items including dining tables, chairs, beds, nightstands, desks, lamps, dressers, kitchenware, mattresses, and more. These goods were used to furnish the homes of incoming arrivals of refugees to the Bridgeport, Connecticut area from places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Columbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ethiopia through the Connecticut Institute of Refugees & Immigrants. This program has helped refugees who arrive with nothing.
When Fairfield University students mentor the refugee youth, they realize that, while each other’s pasts may be different, the futures they hope for are the same. Refugees, like us all, hope to one day be entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, and professional sports players. They want to live happy, fulfilling and purposeful lives. In doing one thing, I, personally, as well as my fellow students, advisors and faculty, understand that, while we all want to change the situation of refugees globally, little actions taken in our local community can have just as much of an impact.
Camille Giacovas is a Senior at Fairfield University and serves as Coordinator for Fairfield University’s Refugee Youth Mentoring Program.