Frustrated recent with anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric in U.S. politics, in fall 2016 Noor Hamdy ’18 founded the 5C club Refugee Advocacy Network (RAN) to provide concrete ways for how students can make a difference in the lives of local refugees.
“I made the club with the vision that, although we may not be able to change the actions of the federal government, we should at least start with our local neighbors and do what we can in our capacity as college students,” said Noor.
RAN seeks to address the needs of refugee families recently relocated to Claremont and the greater Inland Empire. Recognizing that refugee resettlement agencies are often strapped for funding, time, and resources, it often falls on Islamic community centers to provide support by offering services that are outside of these agencies’ reach or capacity. To help, RAN partners with the Islamic Center of Claremont (ICC) to assist with and build on their efforts. RAN is organized into four external-facing committees—English Language Development (ELD) Tutoring, Legal Action, Individual Family Support and Case Management, and Fundraising—that work directly to support local families. A fifth committee works within the Claremont Colleges to raise student awareness of refugee issues.
In the largest committee of the organization, the ELD Tutoring program, students work directly with refugees at the ICC to help them practice their English. Acting president of RAN, Grace Richey ’19, emphasizes that this is one of the most urgent needs of resettled families and individuals.
“When we started looking at the big picture, the issue was that, despite having high-level skills, master’s degrees, and PhDs, these adults don’t have enough proficiency in English to get a job that matches their qualifications,” she said.
With the assistance of roughly 40 volunteers from across the five colleges, RAN holds informal drop-in hours during the week so that children can get homework help and adults can practice English one-on-one with a tutor. Tutoring sessions are not limited to grammar and conversation—participants can bring in specific materials that they may need help working through or translating, from a driver’s license exam, to study materials for a nursing degree, to tax forms.
Both the Legal Action and Individual Family Support and Case Management teams are working directly within the community to make a positive impact in the lives of local refugees. The Legal Action committee is composed mainly of politics students interested in immigration law. With an upcoming election for seats on the Claremont City Council, a member of this team is putting together a voter’s guide, with candidate and current council member stances on immigration and refugee resettlement. The group is also researching how local refugees can get access to legal counsel and compiling a list of immigration lawyers who would be willing to work pro bono. The Individual Family Support and Case Management Team consists of fluent Arabic speakers who help advocate for families, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, acting as translators, and going out to meals. For many, these volunteers are friendly, recognizable faces in an unfamiliar place. According to Richey, not only is this committee beneficial to those who are in the early stages of learning English, but it also is helping to foster a strong, confident, and cohesive refugee community within Claremont and the surrounding area.
Equally as critical to direct work with refugees is the work being done on the Claremont College campuses, which is the focus of the Fundraising and 5C Awareness committees. Around campus, RAN holds small events to generate funds for the group—from selling stickers, to having bake sales, to hosting tables at Challah for Hunger. Although nothing is in place yet, Hamdy and Richey have been discussing the creation of a scholarship fund for refugees to formally learn ESL or enroll in college as one of the long-term goals of RAN. RAN also plans educational events around campus for students to learn more about the current refugee situation, especially after the recent executive orders affecting immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries. For instance, in the hopes of getting students to think about the barriers that refugees face and the ways we can get involved, RAN recently held a screening of the documentary After Spring, which is centered on the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
The work that RAN is doing is multifaceted, making a difference for refugees in many ways. For Richey, providing students with opportunities to work within own areas of skill or interest is what makes the organization effective as a team, as well as the fact that members can get as involved as they want or are able to be.
“Whether you are able to volunteer for an hour at our bake sale or for four hours a week tutoring, you can be involved in this advocacy group,” said Richey. Those interested in finding out more about RAN or attending one of the group’s events on campus should join the 5C Refugee Advocacy Network page on Facebook to stay up to date on the organization’s efforts or get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.