Alternative Breaks holding refugee education event

GVL / Courtesy - 
Refugees and migrants get off a fishing boat off the Greek Island of Lesbos after traveling across the Aegean Sea to from Turkey in October 2015.

GVL / Courtesy - Refugees and migrants get off a fishing boat off the Greek Island of Lesbos after traveling across the Aegean Sea to from Turkey in October 2015.

Annie Giffels

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For those looking to learn more about refugees and what can be done to help them, there will be an event held at Grand Valley State University called “Salaam Supper: Refugee Advocacy 101” on Wednesday, April 18. This event is hosted by GVSU’s Alternative Breaks, and those who attend will receive a free dinner. All are welcome to join. 

This event will be held in the Holton-Hooker Learning and Living Center Multipurpose Room and will begin at 7 p.m. with a free dinner and dessert for attendees. Discussion and presentations will follow. 

When the GVSU Alternative Breaks club went to Texas over spring break to help local refugees, members of the group found themselves inspired to bring more awareness to this issue closer to home. One member in particular, Olivia Brown, a student and Alternative Breaks vice president of public relations and recruitment, took it upon herself (with the help of others) to plan an event to teach attendees how they can help refugees and advocate for them. 

“This trip taught me that the refugee crisis is politicized way too much,” Brown said. “The refugee crisis is a human issue, not a political issue.”

With the help of other Alternative Breaks members, Brown was successful in bringing this new knowledge back to Michigan to share with her peers. 

There are three speakers scheduled to present and discuss this topic with attendees on Wednesday. Following the dinner, one professor from GVSU’s Frederik Meijer Honors College, who is also a refugee himself, will be speaking on how the attendees, as college students and humans, can advocate for those who need help. Also scheduled to present are two speakers from the Refugee Education Center located in Grand Rapids. 

Brown is putting a special emphasis on the reflection that is planned once presentations have ended. For Alternative Breaks, reflection over what has been learned is essential in understanding the issue. 

“Reflection is a staple of Alternative Breaks,” Brown explained. “It’s not just about being educated; it’s also about reflecting on what you have learned and putting yourself in the refugee’s shoes. It’s important to have a sense of empathy and understanding.”

To promote understanding, Brown thinks it is important that attendees learn there is a difference between those who are immigrants and those who are refugees, and this will be another topic that will be expanded upon at the event. In the U.S.’ current political climate, topics regarding refugees can spark intense political debate. The event will present attendees with facts and statistics in a peaceful, non-offensive way.

“We want to show people that there is stuff to be done on campus to help refugees,” Brown said.

Attendees are encouraged by the hosts of this event to, if possible, bring in bulk items or money donations. All donations will be sent to the Refugee Education Center. This event is LIB 100- and 201-approved.