The Refugee and Immigrant Well-being Project (RIWP) at the University of New Mexico is a nine-month program that pairs undergraduate students with immigrant and refugee families that typically begins in August at the start of the semester. fall. However, due to the current need for so many incoming families in New Mexico, the project will also accept another cohort of students in January at the start of the spring semester, which will go into the summer semester.
“We work with refugees and immigrants and bring them together with UNM students to learn from each other – because they can really learn from each other – and also work together to mobilize resources to help them learn from each other. ‘Helping newcomers achieve their goals,’ Jessica Goodkind, founder of RIWP, said.
Goodkind said this project is a good experience for the students to impact these communities.
“(RIWP) addresses two pressing issues: improving the health, stability and integration of refugees, and increasing the willingness of communities to accept them,” coordinator Martin Ndayisenga said in a statement. video about the project.
Mohammed Alkwaz, RIWP 2013-14 participant and current program organizer, said the program helps newcomers adjust to the new environment with resources that introduce them to the new language, culture, transportation and more. .
“When a person comes to new places, he will have a lot of difficulty in different things,” Alkwaz said.
Taghride Shawfan participated in the program during the 2019-2020 session. Originally from Damascus, Syria, she moved to America because of terrorism in her home country. The project helped her not only to familiarize herself with American customs and laws, but also to meet other refugees.
“It was a great experience and I benefited greatly from it,” Shawfan wrote to the Daily Lobo.
Goodkind said this project is structured as a partnership; the newcomer and the paired undergraduate can learn a lot from each other.
“People don’t want to come here and feel like everyone is helping them and feeling sorry for them. They want to feel that they have an important role to play in their community – and they do – and so we really want to create these valued social roles and value people’s knowledge and experience, ”Goodkind said. “And that’s why the Refugee and Immigrant Well-Being Project is structured the way it is – not as something that (only) helps refugees and immigrants, but as a mutual learning experience. “
Danielle Parker, a former participant in the program, said in the video of the project that the structure is not one-sided and that she “has learned as much or more from (her) refugee partners”.
According to Goodkind, the RIWP is currently preparing to welcome a new wave of families in need of assistance, especially given the current political situation in Afghanistan which has forced refugees to leave the country. New Mexico has caught at many refugees and continues to do so, and Goodkind said the organization has received a lot of support from community members who want to help. However, amid the “mobilization and preparation,” Goodkind said it was stressful not being able to help everyone.
“As soon as we all work on these issues, we know and hear every day about Afghans who have been arrested in Afghanistan and have not been able to get out,” Goodkind said.
The project also coped with the COVID-19 pandemic and had to adapt to a virtual environment over the past year with the rest of the University, Goodkind said. Along with this came challenges of equal access to technology and the Internet, but the social aspect of the program was essential enough that participants persisted nonetheless.
“The pandemic… has obviously had different impacts on different communities, and because refugees and immigrants are not only marginalized by their newcomer status and language, but often by race, ethnicity and religion, this has certainly been difficult for many refugee and immigrant families, ”Goodkind said.
Alkwaz said explaining what is true and what is not about the vaccine and COVID-19 has also been a challenge, especially as people entering have access to many sources of information. different.
“We are faced with these things and all these questions,” Alkwaz said. “It’s not easy to manage and convince people to take (the vaccine) to protect themselves and the community.”
In August, the National Institute of Mental Health awarded the organization a grant that launched a five-year study on the different impacts of the pandemic on Latinx immigrants and African refugees, which they are currently working on.
Originally, the project was only open to refugees, but the addition of the immigrant community began in 2018, according to Goodkind.
“We really wanted to build solidarity and understanding between refugees and immigrants because they share so many similar experiences and can really come together to support each other and learn from each other,” Goodkind said.
Goodkind began the project in 2000 as part of his thesis in Michigan, but continued the mission in New Mexico in 2006 after settling into a professorship at UNM which began in 2004. In the together she said that refugees are not appreciated because they should be in America.
“The people who come here as refugees are really resourceful people who have a lot to teach others,” Goodkind said.
Megan Gleason is the editor of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @ fabflutist2716