In recognition of World Refugee Day on Tuesday, June 20th, community members from high schools, colleges, and parishes around the country gathered for the 2023 JRS/USA Leadership Summit where they learned more about how they could help support those forced to flee their homes.
World Refugee Day is an important date on the calendar that allows us to pause and reflect on the experience of our refugee brothers and sisters, and the Leadership Summit was a chance for the greater JRS/USA community to kindle a flame of motivation and dedication that will sustain beyond June 20th.
Clara Sayans, the Outreach Officer at JRS/USA, organized and MC’d the virtual event. Throughout the afternoon, participants attended presentations focused on the current refugee situation as released in UNHCR’s recent 2022 Global Trends Report, how to spread the word about the experience of forcibly displaced people, and different advocacy strategies.
The Leadership Summit also fostered a space for people around the country to connect under a common mission and brainstorm ideas and solutions. As Sayans looked back on the event, a certain exchange between a high school teacher and a high school student stood out in her mind.
Near the end of the afternoon, just before the group split into different breakout rooms to discuss and create action plans, a teacher from Bellarmine College Preparatory School asked how he could keep his students, amid their school assignments, extracurriculars, and busy home lives, stay energized to advocate and accompany refugees throughout the school year.
Advocacy Officer, Josh Utter, offered helpful advice; then a rising senior at Georgetown Preparatory School added to it, speaking from experience as a leader of the JRS Action Team at his school. He reflected on how important it has been for his club to keep their events relevant with the student body and pay attention to where his school’s talents and resources can meet the greater global need.
At the center of the event, was a personal testimony from distinguished author and former refugee, Mondiant Dogon. In his book, “Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds,” Dogon details he and his family’s journey fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo.
His family stayed in a refugee camp in Rwanda where they encountered more violence. Dogon emphasized what JRS meant to him during these years. At this camp, he received his first pen and notebook from the teachers at the JRS school and attended his first class, sitting under a tree.
From there, Dogon learned how to read and write, and he began creating his own poems at the age of 13. Those poems served as an impetus for his future, successful book. Now, Dogon has founded his own organization, the Mondiant Initiative, with the mission of empowering, educating, and engaging refugees.
“His voice brings an important human dimension to the displacement seen across the globe and shines a light on the amazing courage and resilience shown by refugees in the face of dislocation and hardship,” Julie Mughal, the Associate Director of Humanitarian Action at Fairfield University said, reflecting on Dogon’s testimony.
The Leadership Summit was only the beginning for the nearly 70 participants who formed action plans and found a wider network to reach out to as they go on to accomplish their goals. Sayans hopes that this event was another great step in creating a sustainable approach to refugee advocacy and accompaniment.
Mughal’s campus plans to host the JRS/USA Walk A Mile in My Shoes refugee educational experience and participate in the 2024 JRS Advocacy Day next spring.
“It was an honor participate in JRS/USA’s Leadership Summit on International Refugee Day,” Mughal said. “I’m looking forward to working closely with JRS colleagues throughout the upcoming school year.”