Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflecting on World Refugee Day 2016 and @CWPFairfield's Small Contributions @FairfieldU via Ubuntu Academy

Yesterday was World Refugee Day and I spent a majority of my time planning for this summer's Ubuntu Academy and thinking about the reality of the world in 2016. At present, there are 65 million refugees worldwide, the largest since UNHCR has been keeping records...that means more displaced individuals than ever before in history (see also, Jesuit Refugee Report, 2014)

Locally, IRIS in New Haven and IIConn in Bridgeport have been supporting immigrant and refugee families in Connecticut (and by support, I mean providing only the basics to start families standing on their own feet and assisting them to pay back what they borrow for their flights into a new nation and the apartments they rent). Only 1% of refugees worldwide relocate into Western societies and even upon arriving the challenges are plentiful. They typically feel fortunate to have an opportunity for the chance of privilege that the United States provide. For them, young people are the hope.

In 2014, with my academic research behind me and a personal investment in K-12 schools, including immigrant and refugee youth, I started Ubuntu Academy - a literacy enrichment program for young people in Bridgeport who are typical not served through summer programs. The first year I negotiated funding for 12 young people and last year this increased and I was able to provide reading, writing, and speaking opportunities to 26 kids. This year, I'm hoping to do even better and I am thankful to Bridgeport Public School for providing transportation and my CWP-Family for embracing the vision for the work. This year, Ubuntu Academy will be paid for out of the yearlong work I did in more affluent school districts while providing professional development. The money made was donated to pay for teachers who will work with the young people and Ubuntu Academy materials.

I know many do incredible refugee work overseas, but my intention all along has  been to help young people in the U.S. to academically achieve so they can be financially supportive to their families who, more than likely, have never had educational opportunities. This summer, Ubuntu Academy kids will work with students taking a Marriage and Family Therapy course on multicultural issues, others enrolled in a young adult literature course, Fairfield University athletics, young people in a political writing course, my teachers in the Invitational Leadership Institute, and the artistry of Rick Shaefer whose Refugee Trilogy artwork will be featured in Walsh Gallery this fall. We're excited to read Kwame Alexander's Booked as the summer reading to go along with Lost Boy, Lost Girl, Outcasts United, The Crossover, and Home of the Brave which we've read in the past. I'm also thankful for students at Fairfield University who have taken my graduate courses the last five years and have helped build curriculum to share with ESL and mainstream English teachers in the region.

This summer Ubuntu Academy runs from July 18th - July 29th. I've hired a phenomenal team of educators and leaders to share their expertise with the students and, once again, I'm looking forward to the young people sharing their brilliance and philosophies with us.

At times, I grow cynical and jaded when I think about the opportunity and economic disparities globally, nationally and locally, but then I put the work of CWP-Fairfield, ESL teachers, and  scholarship  together and a hope for the world is rekindled. It may only be a small light (and a flame that is in constant threat for being blown out, watered down, and worse - forgotten), but it continues to flicker. As long as it has this glimmer, I have faith that the Great Whatever is looking out for us.

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