Many Fletcher student clubs and organizations are designed purely with fun in mind. Case in point: Fermentation 101. But most students will also connect with an organization that links to their academic interests. Today, second-year MALD student, Dara, tells us about her work with an activity that goes beyond the walls of Fletcher.
Like many volunteers, I became involved with the Tufts University Refugee Assistance Program (TU-RAP) in my first year at Fletcher because of my general interest in refugee issues. TU-RAP pairs newly arrived refugee families in the Boston area with groups of Tufts University students. The students visit the families’ homes regularly to lend a hand with anything the family members may need to orient themselves to life in the United States. I learned that this may include assisting with bill paying, helping children with homework, practicing English, or teaching the family how to use public transportation.
Aware that refugees can experience a great deal of difficulty assimilating into a new life and culture, I was really excited to join the program as a volunteer. My group was paired with a small family from Chad: a father (Caleb), mother, and a newly born, beautiful little girl. While the family spoke very little English, luckily two members of the volunteer group spoke moderate French. After being cut off from the support of their resettlement agency, and with the father unable to work due to a medical condition, the family was having a hard time meeting their basic needs. Fortunately, they received government food assistance and were permitted to stay free of charge in an apartment. All other material necessities such as diapers and transportation fees were hard to obtain, though.
Despite their difficulties, the family did the utmost to welcome us into their home. Each time we visited, we were provided with fresh fruit, soda and water. While there was not much we could do to help Caleb find a job, because of his condition, we did what we could. We practiced English with the family, helped them sort through mail, and brought over a French driving manual in preparation for Caleb’s road test. Once, we even helped to read and translate documents to enroll the family in health insurance. Completing the enrollment paperwork took the entire visit, but it was very rewarding to be able to help with something they needed so much.
While I’m sure our assistance really benefited the family, I think we as volunteers gained the most from the experience. Having a close-up look at the difficulties refugees face gave us an awareness of the gravity of the problem, and helped us to appreciate the conveniences of our own lives. What really affected me was how this family — completely uprooted from their country, isolated from their relatives, and placed in a foreign country where they neither speak the language nor know the culture — remains positive. Until this day, I speak often to my Chadian family and am happy to know that they consider me a friend. For me, TU-RAP has been a life changing experience. For that reason, I joined TU-RAP leadership this year to ensure that more students and refugees in need benefit from this program.