Seven graduate students enrolled in ALEC 644 (The Agricultural Advisor in Developing Nations) participated in a three-day High Impact Experience (HIE) with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Dallas, October 11-13, 2016.
The IRC is an 85-year old, world-wide humanitarian non-governmental organization that was started by Albert Einstein and is focusing on resettling refugees from all over the world in Dallas.
The purpose of the HIE is to enable the students to learn about the prevailing crises related to over 65 million estimated refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world today. It is felt that students with interests in development work must have knowledge and insight to the resettlement process and challenges faced by refugees and IDPs both in the countries from where they come as well as in the United States.
The seven ALEC students were joined by 18 students from the Bush School of Government and Public Policy and 25 online students from the College of Education and Human Development. The charge for the students was to produce ideas for IRC that could be developed into proposals for funding.
While in Dallas the students learned about the history, mission, programs, challenges, and future directions of the IRC as it relates to refugee resettlement. The students received briefings about the programs from IRC Department Heads including: (1) helping refugees find jobs, (2) helping refugee school-age children adjust to their first year in Texas schools, (2) providing health checks and services, (3) helping refugees learn English, and (4) helping refugees to integrate and develop with the community.
Within these programs, the students received detailed information about the many projects that IRC has underway. An example of one such on-going project is the “Bundle Drive.” This project allows individuals, organizations, schools, or any other group of people to prepare bundles of items that can be distributed to new arrivals as a package of items or individual items. Options for bundles are for personal hygiene (e.g., body wash, deodorant, shampoo, etc.), closet (laundry detergent, plastic hangers, drying rack for laundry, etc.), fall/winter (gloves, warm socks, umbrella, etc.), adult work bag (backpack, insulated lunch bag, notebook, etc), and gift cards (Walmart, Target, grocery store, etc.).
The students were guided in a tour of a nearby community where many of the refugees have settled. They visited a storefront location where refugees may express themselves through art and through a raised bed garden that allows them to plant and grow vegetables and fruits with which they are familiar. They also visited a church project located in a former hospital. It offers child care while adults engage in a variety of educational activities, including learning English as a second language. It is slated to become a community market for locally produced fruits and vegetables and processed products and an outlet for arts and crafts from the various countries represented by the refugees.
A highlight of the tour was a visit to a project called, “New Roots.” This is a food security and agriculture program which strives to empower families by ensuring their access to affordable food though community gardening and nutrition education. It uses sustainable and organic practices that currently, through eight gardens, annually produces $55,000 worth of fruits and vegetables and 82% of the gardeners are women who are becoming self-reliant and strong contributors to their communities. IRC feels that these gardens are hubs for not only developing hope among the refugees but also as foundations for broader education, improved family life, and youth development. Already they are seeing these gardens have on improving the neighborhoods in which they are located, e.g., removal of dilapidated housing that has been havens for illicit purposes.
Texas has participated in the federal refugee program for nearly 40 years and resettles more refugees than any other state. In 2015, 69,933 refugees settled in the U.S. Of these, 7,479 (10.7%) settled in Texas and 2,155 (3.1%) settled in Dallas. In Texas, (a) 850 Syrians have settled and of these 603 (71%) have been women and children and (b) annually there are 14,000 individuals eligible for refugees services. Other populations eligible for services include Cuban entrants, asylees, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, unaccompanied minors, and special immigrant holders from Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Cuba.
Data from four refugee groups (Somali, Burmese, Hmong, and Bosnian) that comprise one in five refugees in the U.S. show that refugees (a) ages 25-64 are joining the labor force, (b) have wages that are improving over time, (c) have home ownership rates that are increasing with time, (d) are becoming U.S. citizens, (e) are starting families, and (f) are learning English.
Before departing from the IRC, the students presented seven potential ideas for development into proposals. Three ideas from the ALEC students included the following. (a) Promoting awareness of the trajectory and time it takes for a refugee to arrive in the U.S. through a 5-K run with stations depicting the many required check points (the average time is two years with vetting taking place in a refugee camp). (b) A complementary social media campaign to create a greater public awareness of the thoroughness that is currently being practiced to vet refugees for coming to the U.S. (c) A bolstered famers’ market enhancement project to include corporate and community partnerships; income generation from supplementary activities, e.g., rents from tables and food trucks, live music, and ethnic dances; expanded sales items, e.g., plants and seedlings, arts and crafts, and jams and jellies; collaboration with programs for low-income families, e.g., WIC, Lone Star, and SNAP; and technical support from Texas AgriLife Extension Service for gardening, adding value to produce, and family and youth development.
Next steps for ALEC students include an immediate effort to provide items for the “Bundle Drive” and a longer-term effort to assist with development of a proposal that would integrate the three ALEC ideas into a comprehensive enterprise, possibly through the creation of an action-oriented logic model to present to the IRC.
ALEC graduate students involved in this timely undertaking are: Master Degree Students Adele Beyer-Junfin, Paul Bowers, Glenn Brodbeck, Kathryn Jasper, Shannon Seelye, and Alene Seiler-Martinez and Ph.D. Student Nicole Dietzel,
The effort is being guided by the following faculties. Dr. Manuel Piña, Jr., is from the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and focuses on preparing graduate students to work in intercultural settings in developing nations. Dr. Silva Hamie is from the Department of International Affairs, Bush School of Government and Public Service, and focuses on issues related to women and refugees, including qualitative research methods for development. Dr. Monica Nesyba is from the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture, College of Education and Human Development, and is an expert in bilingual and bicultural education, including language and linguistics.
 Briefing at International Rescue Committee, October 12, 2016.
 Dyssegaard Kallick and David and Silva Mathema, “Refugee Integration in the United States, Center fro American Progress, June 2016.