While I studied abroad in Thailand, one of the highlights was volunteering with JRS. As a volunteer, I had the opportunity to work with JRS employees from all across the globe, who taught me a lot about the situation of refugees in Thailand. I quickly learned that the situation was by no means ideal for refugees, as their presence (outside of refugee camps) is considered illegal, therefore many have no path to citizenship or resettlement. However, JRS worked hard to provide opportunities that were otherwise lacking in Bangkok and throughout the country, such as community engagement and job opportunities.
Something I played a part in was onboarding refugees who were interested in classes that JRS planned to offer starting in May. The classes offered include an English language course, a Thai language course, a computer course, and a beauty salon course. The goal of these courses is to provide refugees with the knowledge they need to pursue work, additional educational opportunities, etc. Because these courses were offered free of charge, we had limited spots available and had to fill them by conducting interviews with those who applied. As someone conducting the interviews, I was really interested in hearing why people wanted to join this program. Across the board, I heard from many people that learning would give them something to do (as many refugees do not have jobs available to them), but more importantly, that learning English opens the door to so many more opportunities in life. A few of the people I interviewed spoke English very well, and when I asked them where they learned it, they replied they were self-taught.
There was one girl in particular who stood out to me. She was only about 17 or 18 and had not been to school in a few years since migrating to Thailand from Afghanistan with her family. She told me she made it a point to read her older brother’s English textbooks and watch Youtube videos in order to teach herself the language. If she would not have said this, I would have assumed she had taken in-person English classes based on how well she spoke the language. She also said she wanted to continue to learn the language so she could continue her education and eventually become an activist for women in Afghanistan and around the world who are treated poorly. It was truly inspirational to see the sheer determination this young girl had towards her future plans, and despite how crazy her current situation was, she was not going to let it stop her. Her story is what reaffirmed for me the important work that JRS does, especially during these times when we are faced with a pandemic. It is the refugees and migrants JRS serves that are most vulnerable to losing out on what they currently have, such as an opportunity to receive an education that they plan on using to benefit others.
I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to serve with JRS, and I look forward to witnessing the good it will continue to do in our world.
Mallory Murphy is a junior student (Class of 2021) at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.