By Owen Smith
Erin Worden ’17 and Madina Khudaynazar ’19 privately organized Denison’s first Refugee Awareness Week to foster discussion and try to dispel some of the bias and misinformation that surrounds the refugee crisis.
“We found that there was a common passion there in spreading awareness and education on what it looks like to be a refugee,” Worden said.
The week’s events kicked off with a skype chat with Hani Zaitoun, a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Germany.
Zaitoun spoke about his journey to Germany and some of the challenges he’s faced along the way.
“I was a student at Damascus University studying communication and media arts,” Zaitoun said.
“This was also one of the reasons I chose to leave Syria. As a journalist I can’t practice freedom of expression as a person there.”
Zaitoun said he is very thankful to be in Germany, and even his parents do not want him to return home.
“The house next to my parents house was hit by a rocket,” Zaitoun said.
“My parents called me and said ‘stay in the United States illegally or go to Germany, but do not come back to Syria.’ I have to tell you how bad the situation there in Syria is if your mother calls you and tells you to not come back to her home country. There’s a probability that something may happen and I’ll never see them again.”
Davide Soleil ’16 said hearing from Zaitoun was his favorite part of the week, which included a movie and a roundtable discussion.
“It provided me a direct perspective of his experience both in Syria and Germany,” said Soleil. “He was also very honest.”
The movie Welcome told the story of a Kurdish 17-year-old boy from Iraq who travels to England to see his girlfriend.
It was released in 2009 and won multiple awards including the Lumières Award for Best Film.
The week finished with an intimate discussion between Worden, Khudaynazar and about 10 other Denison students.
The topics discussed focused on explaining the background information of the war in Syria and how the students of Denison could make an impact.
Because the conflict is so complicated, there are nine separate groups involved including the United States and Russia, and it appears that it will not be ending soon.
The students unanimously agreed that the situation is complicated but there needs to be an even greater effort by the United States to house the refugees.
As far as the future, Worden believes that the week was not intended to find answers, but to generate conversation that is not well understood on The Hill.
“We wanted to make people care,” Worden said. “I really don’t know what’s next. Refugee awareness week is sort of situated in a broader conversation on campus that’s raising awareness and being active.”
Worden and Khudaynazar hope to have more conversations with students from around the world like Zaitoun.