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Cleveland provides refugees, volunteers opportunities with Refugee Response program

Steven Schoenwald

Issue date: 12/3/10 Section: Opinion
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In the spirit of Case Western Reserve University Greek Life's recent annual Saturday of Service, I thought I might focus my column this week on philanthropy and service. CWRU students are always finding new ways to volunteer their time and help out the community, but I recently came across an organization that piqued my interest and I hope will pique yours as well.

Recently, a friend of mine told me about a field trip his SAGES class took to the Ohio City Farm. This unique urban farm is used by local establishments such as the Great Lakes Brewery, but the real story lies with the people that work at the farm. Many of these people are refugees trying to make a fresh start in the Cleveland area. Since 2007, Cuyahoga County has welcomed 862 refugees from countries including Burma, Bhutan, Somalia, Ukraine, Russia, and Iraq. Many of these people, including those at the Ohio City Farm, are part of a program known as the Refugee Response. The Refugee Response empowers refugees to become self-sufficient and contributing members of their new communities. They accomplish this in many ways, including employing refugees at the Ohio City Farm and teaching them farming techniques through the Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program (REAP).

However, learning a trade is only half the battle for these newcomers. Resettled refugees are expected to adapt to American culture, acquire English language skills, and become self-sufficient within three months of arriving. That's a tall order considering the challenges they face, especially the young refugees. Refugee students typically have had very limited academic instruction back in their native country, and it's common for them to be placed in school systems without the necessary support. The pressure to assimilate and the unrealistic academic expectations are compounded by a gap in family support due to language, cultural, and educational barriers.

This is where you have the opportunity to help make the transition to a successful life in the United States. Through the Refugee Response's home tutoring program, these refugees can acquire the knowledge and skills that will guide them on their way to making Northeast Ohio their permanent home and finally offer them and their families the stability they have been looking for. The Refugee Response looks for individuals to tutor refugees on a one-on-one basis for two hours per week. The relationships formed between students and tutors during these sessions not only build increased confidence in English language skills but also increased comfort in new communities. It's hard to believe that you can make such a profound impact in a mere two hours, but these sessions can make all the difference for the refugees.

If you're interested in participating, visit for further details and a volunteer application. The Refugee Response is always looking for volunteers to help out in any capacity, so if you're like me and have rediscovered the joys of helping those in need, I encourage you to find out more about this program. You'll have the opportunity to truly make a significant impact on the lives of these people, and I bet you'll discover that these refugees can teach you just as much as you can teach them.

Steven Schoenwald is double majoring in biology and business management. He currently works at the Cleveland Clinic and commutes daily from Hinckley Township
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