Student volunteers resettle refugees
November 8th, 2013
Omaha, NE — Katy Salzman knows a lot about the struggles and triumphs that refugees face.
She used to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. Now she’s teaching a group of students at Creighton Preparatory School the importance of giving back to the growing refugee population in Omaha.
“My students go out into the community. They have volunteered at Yates Community Center and they’ve worked with some of the Bhutanese refugees there. In September they set up two houses for one family coming from Burma and another family coming from Darfur in Sudan,” Salzman said.
In the class entitled, Conflict and Refugees, students learn what classifies a person as a refugee, what organizations and services exists to help them resettle and they also take a look at the refugee population in Omaha.
Chandler Andrews, a senior in Salzman’s class, said he’s learned that refugees just aren’t people fleeing from country to country.
“When you think of refugee you think they’re just fleeing from a country and coming here, but in this class we learned about what they have to go through and the types of troubles they are going to have to overcome,” Andrews said.
Salzman said many people may not realize how difficult it can be for refugees to start new lives.
“It is so hard to settle here. There are so many new things they have to learn,” Salzman said. “Many of them don’t know the language. Many of them have never seen a light switch or even climbed a stair much less an elevator or escalator.”
Salzman and her students volunteer with Lutheran Family Services, a resettling agency in Omaha, and Yates Community Center. So far, the class of a dozen students has helped two families resettle in Omaha.
Senior Pat Morrison said it’s very rewarding to help a family get their start in the United States.
“It’s just very rewarding seeing what we’re doing in this class and setting up homes for refugees coming to Omaha and America for the very first time,” Morrison said. “When you’re done setting up the house and knowing that that’s going to someone’s life, that’s going to be someone’s future, that’s their beginning here in America. That’s pretty cool.”
Eighteen-year-old Walter Paul knows firsthand how challenging it can be to migrate to another country. He and his family immigrated to the United States from Uganda in 2001 when he was just six-years-old. Paul said he enrolled in the class to get a better understanding of why his family left Uganda and came to Omaha in 2004 after living in Dallas, Texas for three years.
Paul said he has enjoyed learning about resettlement and volunteering with Lutheran Family Services and Yates Community Center.
“One of the beautiful things about these refugees is their hope for an education—something that was taken away from them in their original country,” Paul said. “I think when I go to Yates that’s what I see- them enjoying that freedom that they get to exercise here in the United States and it’s a beautiful thing because they know they can express it. The future and the smiles that I see in their faces because now they have something to do here they don’t have a lot to fear is what makes me go there every single time.”
Salzman said she hopes her students take what they have learned during her class and apply it in every aspect of their lives.
“It’s looking around you in your community and knowing the makeup of the population there and being aware of that and being mindful of the fact that there are so many real needs in our community as well,” she said.
Salzman’s class is a new offering at Creighton Prep this school year. She said she would like to see the course evolve year after year.
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