In the wake of Trump’s horrifying immigration ban, the first family of Iraqi refugees arrived in Northampton after nearly a year of planning by Catholic Charities and local volunteers. The family was welcomed into one of the volunteer’s homes while other volunteers work to find them permanent housing. As part of the Northampton Refugee Resettlement program, a contract between the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the US State Department has approved the city for refugee resettlement and opened the door for refugee related grants.
The program plans to host 51 people, or approximately 10 families, from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq and possibly Afghanistan. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, they plan to stagger the refugees’ arrivals throughout 2017, with about five refugees arriving each month. However, when families do arrive, they often find themselves without essentials like winter clothing, sanitary pads and cleaning supplies. As a part of the larger effort to support the refugee resettlement in Northampton, donations are being collected in collaboration with the Jandon Center for Community Engagement, the Lewis Global Studies Center and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.
This project has been funded by President McCartney’s Innovation challenge, which aims to support projects that strengthen the Smith community and beyond. In particular the drive has asked for donations of cleaning supplies, clothing and money that is largely put toward reducing housing costs for the newly relocated families. There is an urgent need for cleaning supplies like trash bags, mops and all-purpose cleaners.
Kavita Bhandari ’16 has been working with the Jandon Center to help collect the donations. Bhandari is responsible for organizing programs for marginalized groups on campus.
“I have been actively involved in collecting the donations; I organized the clothing drive, menstrual products drive and cleaning supplies drive,” Bhandari said. “Over the course of the academic year, I have been holding tabling sessions in the Campus Center to raise funds that would go toward providing rental assistance to the refugee families.”
The Jandon Center will be collecting donations until spring break. After that, they plan to relaunch the drives depending on the particular items that are still needed. The Jandon Center also collaborated with Higher Education for Refugees at Smith to hold a clothing drive from October to January, to collect winter clothes for the refugees.
Additionally, the three organizations will be hosting John Bartle, a professor of Russian at Hamilton College. He will give a lecture on March 23 at 7 p.m., in Seeyle 203, discussing The Refugee Project, a study working to build an interactive archive of refugee communities in Central New York.
For students interested in helping out, there is a need for language interpreters fluent in Arabic, French and Swahili. The community at large can support the efforts by donating in cash or to the ongoing drives for cleaning supplies and toiletries.
“It’s been important to me to collect donations and mobilize resources so as to do what I can to ease and make smoother the families’ transitions to a different context, many of whom are arriving with little or no resources, and may be fleeing difficult, life-threatening circumstances,” Bhandari said.