Refugees share experiences

by Kate Wall

Speakers from Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia spoke at “Refugee Voices,” a Forum held yesterday in the Pioneer Conference Room in McNeill Hall.

Associate Professor of Economics Jim Palmieri had the idea to sponsor the Forum of refugees speaking about their experiences last December.

“I thought the Simpson community should learn more about what is happening in economically poorer parts of the world,” Palmieri said.

Senior Kayla Schmidt agrees.

“Because we live in the United States, we should be exposed to more and different stuff,” Schmidt said.

According to Palmieri, refugees usually come to the United States in shifts.

“In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were a lot of Bosnians,” Palmieri said. “In the 1970s with Vietnam, there were a lot of Southeastern Asians. Recently, there have been refugees from other parts of Africa.”

The audience learned about political situations in different countries as the speakers shared their stories of refuge.

“I wanted students to learn more about difficulties refugees faced in their homelands, and the challenges they deal with after they arrive in the United States,” Palmieri said.

Some of those challenges include a language barrier.

Palmieri said many refugees are illiterate and trying to teach them English is a unique experience.

To find speakers willing to share their stories, Palmieri worked in conjunction with Lutheran Services in Iowa.

“Because I volunteer with Lutheran Services in Iowa in their Refugee Services area, it made sense to invite people associated with LSI to campus,” Palmieri said. “The people who work there are smart, highly dedicated individuals.”

Palmieri also hopes to inspire Simpson students to get involved with service learning, like helping out with the Refugee Cooperative Services in the Lutheran Services in Iowa.

“With service-learning, students can send the message that they can help others, and by doing so, enrich themselves,” Palmieri said.

For the students, the speakers brought a different voice to Simpson’s campus.

“I would be interested to hear another person’s story [from a different country],” freshman Mary Barrett said. “In my high school I wasn’t exposed to many different nationalities.”

Palmieri wanted students to come away from the Forum feeling more empowered about global issues.

“I hope students will gain a greater appreciation of international and human rights issues and see that they can make a difference in helping people who have faced terrible conditions to have a brighter future,” Palmieri said.