Students help Bhutan refugees settle in new homes

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You can really clean up with $700. Just ask the students in economics professor Nicole Simpson’s Immigration course.

The first-year seminar analyzes the causes and consequences of immigration in America, and Simpson often looks for opportunities to give her students service-learning experiences that reinforce what they learn in class.

She gave the class a recent Syracuse Post-Standard article about a new community in the city of approximately 450 refugees from Bhutan, a small nation in the eastern Himalayas, sandwiched between China and India.

In the early 1990s, Bhutan’s government stripped the country’s minority ethnic Nepalis of their citizenship and forced them into exile, according to the independent nongovernmental group Human Rights Watch.

bhutan map
(Map courtesey of CIA World Factbook)

As part of what is described by the United Nations as one of the world’s largest resettlement efforts, the United States recently offered to resettle 60,000 of an estimated 107,000 Bhutanese refugees.

The first wave of refugees arrived in several U.S. cities, including Syracuse, last March.

The article put out a call for assistance for the refugees, who need help in a variety of ways. One category: cleaning supplies, which might be staples on a typical American shopping list, but for refugees present an overwhelming — and unaffordable — array of unfamiliar options for those setting up a new household.

The students decided on their own to do something.

“I feel that since we are so privileged to be able to go to Colgate and have many luxuries that they may have never experienced, we are obligated to share our resources,” said Elizabeth Ramsey ’12. “We wanted to donate something tangible, so we would know where the money was going and how it would help.”

The students raised money on their own, set up a fundraising table in the Coop, asked area stores for product donations, and shopped for supplies. Each kit, packed in a Colgate Bookstore bag, included rags, sponges, laundry detergent, general purpose cleaners, toilet cleaner and brush, dish detergent, and a mop or broom.

The project, Ramsey said, also helped the resettlement organization, Catholic Charities in Syracuse.

“They are dealing with a huge number of people who need housing, food, jobs, and to be integrated into everyday life in upstate New York. The amount of time we spent putting together this project was minimal, and I saw by visiting Catholic Charities and meeting other immigrants how far that little effort can go to help someone.”

In all, the class raised $700 — enough for 35 families to clean up.