In 2017, 53,716 refugees from around the world resettled into the United States. These individuals and families fled from war-torn countries seeking asylum. While California, Texas and New York are among the top states for refugee resettlement, there is a substantial population of refugees in Virginia — including the Blacksburg and Roanoke area. The Coalition for Refugee Resettlement (CRR), a Virginia Tech student-run organization, works with these refugees, tutoring elementary through high school kids as well as adults.
The CRR started as Virginia Tech’s Pilot Street Project — an organization created in 2005 by the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships, to work with refugees through their transition to the United States. With support from Roanoke Public Schools, the organization was able to develop an after-school program.
“It's more so a mentorship, which a lot of people don’t realize, because you are working with them one on one every week,” said Lian Joseph, senior international public policy major and president of the CRR.
After participating in mandatory training, volunteers with the organization visit the school in Roanoke, typically spending two hours with the students. They provide homework help and general tutoring, particularly in English. The relationship is mutually beneficial, opening up volunteers’ eyes to the reality of the refugees’ lives and experiences.
“You read about them, but I think it's a lot different to be in person and talk to them. To hear their story and realize what you see and hear in the media is not representative of who they actually are. I think that's really important for people who want to join our organization; they want to help out, but they also gain a lot of insight,” Joseph said.
The CRR also partners up with the Roanoke Refugee Partnership (RRP), a community nonprofit that gives local refugees access to resources necessary for sustaining their economic and social livelihoods.
The RRP provides families transportation to medical appointments, helps them find suitable housing and collects donations of common household items. Working with RRP allows volunteers more flexibility in scheduling. The organization volunteers who are not available earlier in the afternoon are able to visit the families in the late evening. These volunteers not only help the students, but assist adults with English, as well as studying for citizenship tests.
While the CRR has received support from these outside organizations, its repeated requests for support from Tech, specifically for help providing transportation, have been denied. Finding transportation for 30 to 35 student volunteers every week can be a daunting task, especially for an organization that relies primarily on percentage nights and fundraisers.
Nonetheless, the CRR continues to pursue the mission they were originally founded for, while constantly keeping in mind that they are not doing this to feel better about themselves, but rather to improve the lives of those they are helping in any way they can.
“You don’t want to put yourself on a pedestal, (our adviser) argues ‘the least you can do as a human being is help others,’” Joseph said.
The CRR is holding interest meetings on Sept. 10 and 11 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in McBryde 304.