by Public Relations Office
April 17, 2002
Cedarville, Ohio—Imagine life as one of the world’s 22 million refugees. Traumatized by horrific persecution in your homeland, you are selected by the United Nations to be moved to one of eight available countries. After undergoing at least seven screenings, you find yourself transplanted into your new land. You don’t speak their language. Your educational credentials may not be valid there. Driving a car, finding a job or house, and doing even mundane daily tasks in this new culture seem mind-boggling. And, you have a limited time to get on your feet before all government assistance is removed. Caught in a whirlwind of emotion, stress, and confusion, you will, without a doubt, need help.
Deeply concerned by the struggles refugees face, four Cedarville University social work seniors spearheaded a project to encourage action on the local level. Calling themselves Cedarville Advocates for Refugee Empowerment (CARE), they began by researching the refugee system and interacting with refugees and refugee assistance agencies.
The group members—Erin Knowles, Kelly Neer, Ben Nesbitt, and Janelle Muoio—found their perspectives and assumptions about refugees challenged. Knowles, a
native of Bourbonnais, Ill., said she was surprised by “the things that refugees go through before they come” and “how resilient they are when they get here.” She noted that refugees are often educated people who are “excited to be here and excited to become self-sufficient” in their new country.
Neer, from West Liberty, Ohio, added that for her, meeting Sudanese and Rwandan refugees in their homes was an eye-opening experience. “I learned that they are the same as us, only from a different culture,” she stated. “They are not stupid, nor are they here manipulating the government. They are human beings just like us.” Equipped with a fresh understanding of refugees, CARE began working with the non-governmental resettlement organization Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) of Columbus.
CRIS and similar organizations around the nation would normally help an estimated 70,000 refugees settle into the United States each year. (However, this year’s scheduled refugee admissions have been slowed dramatically due to the September 11 terrorist attacks.) Even with fewer refugees entering the country, assistance organizations are stretched thin to aid those already living in the U.S. For example, there are an estimated 35,000 refugees in the Columbus area alone.
With facts like these making their project all the more urgent, CARE developed a presentation for churches from Greene, Clark, and Fayette counties which 1) informed area churches of refugee needs, 2) encouraged them to action with biblical support (such as the story of the Good Samaritan), and 3) offered opportunities for churches to make a difference.
CARE encouraged churches to consider full sponsorship, which involves striving to meet the whole of a family’s adjustment needs. Groups who are unable to offer full-sponsorship can partner with another church or organization to meet needs. For example, they can donate material goods or money, tutor in English or other skills, locate housing,
offer transportation, give tax or legal advice, or give practical life training (how to drive, use public transportation, use a kitchen, shop for groceries, form a budget, etc.). The goal is always to help refugees achieve self-sufficiency.
CARE also shared their vision with Cedarville University student organizations.
One student group has already assisted Sudanese refugees in Dayton, and another group is forming to tutor Rwandan refugees in the Miami Valley. In addition, three campus student organizations have committed to raising money for CRIS’s refugee assistance projects in Columbus.
Reviewing their project and their experience at Cedarville, the CARE members commented that Cedarville’s social work program, under the direction of Xenia resident Cindy Sutter-Tkel, has had a tremendous impact on their lives. Knowles noted, “I’ve grown so much and have been challenged to take action, not just talk about things. … The social work program and Cindy have helped me become more like Christ and a better person.” Several CARE members indicated that they are interested in working with refugees after graduation.
For more information on how you or your church can help refugees, or to find out more about the Cedarville University Social Work Program, call the social work office at 937-766-7676.