The Refugee Educational Empowerment and Recreation program serves refugee high school youth from Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The program is an academic manifestation of Eleanor Roosevelt College’s and UC San Diego’s engagement with and support for San Diego’s refugee community. Working collaboratively with the International Rescue Committee, the program familiarizes refugee students with UC San Diego, its faculty and students, and the university experience, and creates a pathway to college application, while fostering greater awareness and inclusion among undergraduate students. This program is run by Eleanor Roosevelt College’s Making of the Modern World Program and is delivered through the efforts of undergraduate volunteers and student organizations, campus departments, and faculty supporters.
In 2009, the International Rescue Committee, the largest of the four San Diego refugee resettlement agencies, founded its Peacemakers program for refugee high school youth who attended high schools in San Diego’s mid-city region and who were primarily from Africa and Southeast Asia. Peacemakers emerged as a response to students’ desire to increase awareness and understanding of the situation of refugees in the community and around the world. The program empowers refugee youth, focuses on the development of public speaking and leadership skills, and fosters multi-cultural understanding and cooperation, while highlighting issues affecting refugees. The youth craft poems, creative projects, and personal narratives, which they share publicly to educate and advocate for a more inclusive environment. In 2015, UC San Diego’s Making of the Modern World (MMW), Eleanor Roosevelt College’s core general education world history and cultures program, translated its intercultural knowledge into direct service by providing assistance to this group. MMW’s mission of improving intercultural understanding aligned well with the Peacemakers, which made it an ideal partner for collaboration. In 2017, IRC and MMW expanded this work to include refugees from El Cajon, who are from the Middle East (Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq), and MMW began to host the Peacemakers on the UC San Diego campus. Out of these beginnings emerged the Refugee Educational Empowerment and Recreation program.
The Refugee Educational Empowerment and Recreation program provides an inclusive space for educational empowerment and recreational programming for under-represented and under-served refugee youth. This program helps refugee youth to envision college as a viable possibility and creates a pathway to college application, while fostering greater awareness and inclusion among UC San Diego undergraduate students through a variety of activity and refugee high school student-to- UCSD student interaction.
In AY16-17, MMW began to collaborate with the UCSD Recreation Department to enhance its work. Peacemakers visited the UCSD campus, which they have described as a welcoming environment, where they feel safe and even inspired. MMW hosts the program, which exposes refugee high school students to UC San Diego and university life and helps them to envision attending college as a viable possibility. The students experience recreational activity, while learning about campus resources, interacting with students, hearing from faculty, and visiting campus facilities. The day’s program concludes with a group meal and discussion.
The Refugee Educational Empowerment and Recreation program provides:
- A Pathway to the University: The goal of this portion of the program is to make the university and the college experience tangible and to help refugee youth envision this as a real possibility. This will include tours of UCSD campus and its facilities, including the Library, the colleges, Biology laboratories, Stuart Collection, etc. There will be regular interaction with faculty and staff from a wide range of campus departments and offices. There will also be frequent interaction with UCSD undergraduate students, who equally benefit from the interaction with the Peacemakers.
- Recreational Activity and Community Building: The goal of this portion of the program is intentionally recreational, to provide a venue for positive activity and to strengthen community connections. This portion of the program is offered through a strong partnership with the UCSD Recreation Department and Outback Adventures. This recreational activity provides leisure, team building, and personal empowerment opportunities for refugee youth, which opens new areas of activity, such as rock climbing, hiking, ropes course, kayaking (for some, simply seeing the Pacific Ocean itself). Participants explore and enjoy new activities, which result in learning new skills and overcoming challenges in a safe and extremely supportive environment. Each session ends with a group meal, with refugees, undergraduate volunteers, and faculty, and a reflection on the day’s
- Educational Enhancement: The goal of this portion of the program is to leverage campus expertise on public speaking and presentation to enhance the effectiveness of the Peacemakers program. This involves faculty workshops on the art of public speaking, crafting stories, and presentation. These skills are of value for participants’ work as Peacemakers, but also for job interviews, writing development, and college application (personal statements). There will also be a group art project, a gallery walk of photo stories and other creative projects, which exhibit the resiliency and uniqueness of the San Diego refugee community which could be showcased in a campus venues such as the UCSD Library. The program will host a culture and poetry event in the ERC Great Hall for UCSD students and the Peacemaker community, co-sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt College and International House. Finally, as mentioned above UCSD students will provide tutoring for the Peacemakers.