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Global Connection

Refugee crisis: Seattle Pacific University students take action

By Beth Douglass | Photo by Mary Campbell

Steve HaasSteve Haas of World Vision spoke to SPU students about the Syrian refugee crisis this fall.

Senior Danny Anderson remembers when he experienced a glimpse of what refugees face in a foreign country. He’d driven just 30 minutes away from Seattle Pacific University. Stepping through the door of a building in White Center, he felt a world away.

He stood inside a Shia Muslim community center, where SPU freshmen had previously volunteered during orientation’s CityQuest service day.

Surrounded by local Muslims — some of whom were newly arrived refugees, others who had been in Seattle for years — Anderson temporarily experienced what it is like to be a guest in another culture.

“I knew I was a guest,” he says. “I was among new social cues, gestures, language, food, and religious practices.” This experience, he says, helped him understand refugees in a new way.

This year, the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (ASSP) have chosen to focus activism efforts on the global refugee crisis. As ASSP’s vice president of ministries, Anderson hopes their events can help educate the SPU community and provide practical ways to get involved.

During a February 16 panel, six professors from a variety of disciplines gathered to discuss “Our Response to the Refugee Crisis.” Speaking from the fields of psychology, engineering, theology, geography, literature, and political science, each shared facts, personal photos and interactions with refugees, and encouragement for how students can take action.

Sitting in the audience at the panel, Elishia Chun recalled taking part in the Refugee Project. Through this World Relief program, SPU students step into the shoes of a newly arrived refugee: filling out paperwork, standing in line for food and medicine, and doing faux government interview.

Every interaction, every experience was difficult, Chun found, even without the language barrier many refugees face. “To live like that, every day, I don’t know how I could do it,” she says.

In the Cultural Companions program, every Friday, SPU students drive to World Relief’s headquarters in Kent, Washington. They’re paired with refugee families, often from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, or Somalia. In the family’s apartment, students answer questions about life in America, explain customs, and help families practice English.

“It's a friendship,” says sophomore April Johnson, who serves as the Cultural Companions coordinator. “You get to know them and they get to know you.”

Last year, Johnson played trucks with a 4-year-old Afghan boy and helped his mother, 24, practice her English. “We would laugh a lot,” Johnson says. “It was a little difficult to understand each other, but it was a cool experience to get to share each other's cultures.”

Back on campus, others are finding ways to raise funds. Bike Club has built a team to compete in World Relief’s Sea-Tri-Kan, a five-day bike ride across Washington beginning on June 10. Proceeds will support World Relief’s refugee resettlement work.

On March 1, SPU’s BEGIN club for business leaders held a “Family Feud” competition that raised more than $500 for World Relief’s efforts for Syrian refugees, and hope to donate more than $1,000 by the end of the school year. For a business club, senior and BEGIN President Jonathan Kwon says hosting a fundraiser felt like a natural way to take action.

He says, “We could just keep on talking and talking, but if we don't do anything, what's the point?”