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Artwork by Guilford College student Laura Todd for Every Campus a Refuge

One woman’s dream to provide safety for refugees on college campuses spread its way from North Carolina to NCC.

“People have said, ‘Do you think we’re going to get some negative feedback?’ We probably will but that’s not a reason to [avoid] doing something,” Biology professor Dr. Charles Rinehimer said.

Rinehimer first heard about Every Campus a Refuge on NPR while traveling to work. As a result, he invited founder Diya Abdo, a child of refugees and professor at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina to NCC. She spoke to about 100 students and staff members at the end of August.

The program asks colleges and universities around the world to host refugees and aid them in resettlement. For 90 days, the refugees are provided with basic necessities until they can become self-sufficient.

After Rinehimer spoke with NCC President Dr. Mark Erickson and the board of directors, NCC began preparations for its involvement with Every Campus a Refuge.

“For me, a lot of this is about stretching students, as I say, to be their ‘best selves.’ We all have certain gifts and talents and responsibilities as citizens in the community,” Erickson said.

“What we want to do is both lift students up and allow them to be ‘authentically themselves,’ but also push them out into the community so they can engage in that community in ways that have meaningful impact.”

NCC is working with Bethany Christian Services in developing various committees. The refugees will need a welcoming committee that will introduce them to the local culture, a housing committee to solicit donations and fundraisers, an education committee for tutoring if children are in the family, and a transportation committee that will take them to doctor appointments.

The origin of the refugees will not be revealed until one or two or weeks before their arrival. The aid agency has in the past helped refugees arriving from Syria, Congo, Ukraine and the small northeastern African country of Eritrea. An interpretation committee will also assist arrivals.

“One of the things they say at the agency is that you have to find somebody that speaks their language if they don’t speak English,” Rinehimer said. “Well, I know from my students that I can find somebody that speaks any language in the world on this campus.”

On top of these committees, Rinehimer encouraged students to be involved in any way that appeals to them.

“If they have kids, people in Early Childhood Development [could do something] to give the kids entertainment to make them feel welcomed and not so isolated,” he said. “If you’re a Business major, maybe you can get involved with the fundraising part. If you’re a Marketing major, how can you help us market this so we can get funds in? Our Art department could get involved [by creating artwork for Every Campus a Refuge.]”

Anybody can be involved, but only a select few will be able to interact with the refugee family to protect their privacy.

“We’ve talked to the people who have done this before and Bethany Christian Services,” Rinehimer said, “Maintaining the respect and anonymity of the refugees is going to be vital.”

“We’ve been advised by the agency to keep this as quiet as you can. Probably only a few people will know where their apartment is and deal with them on a daily basis, but the college community has to provide the things they need.”

Volunteers that work with children will undergo criminal background and child abuse clearances, FBI fingerprinting and take online tutorials for mandatory reporting for suspecting abuse. Background checks run $30 to $40. Students can contact Debra Bohr, director of Civic and Community Engagement, for help with the cost of clearances.

“These can be folks that in their countries were doctors, lawyers, teachers or professionals and have been forced to suffer and live in poverty in the refugee camps for a minimum of two years,” Bohr said. “[We hope to accomplish] greater awareness of this global, international crisis. [To] open our eyes and realize that these are our fellow human beings. They’re not terrorists.”

NCC will host its first family on Feb. 1.

“We encourage our students to be civically engaged, whether it is to solve problems with homelessness or working in a soup kitchen or working with the local boys or girls club,” Erickson said. “There are millions of different ways that you can do this. Working with refugees is simply another example of such engagement.”

NCC has students attending from 45 countries, 24 states and 53 counties. This can demonstrate that the campus is no stranger to diversity.

“I hope that every year, we sponsor a family. I think what we’re going to see is that it’s going to be such a positive experience in the first year, that it’s going to be a no-brainer,” Rinehimer said. “It’s going to be a way of the college really showing its commitment to diversity. I think it’s going to be an incredible learning experience for our students and I don’t think it will be a problem to do this on a yearly basis.”

 

*Interested students can contact Dr. Charles Rinehimer at crinehimer@nullnorthampton.edu, Deb Bohr at dbohr@nullnorthampton.edu, or Dr. Paul Pierpoint at PPierpoint@nullnorthampton.edu for more information

**You can learn more about Every Campus a Refuge at http://everycampusarefuge.org/