By Adam, NSLI-Y Morocco, Summer 2015

My experience as a NSLI-Y scholar in Rabat, Morocco, last summer was a turning point in my life. Apart from learning Arabic and enjoying the Moroccan culture, I met amazing people, from fellow American scholars to local Moroccans. One thing I did not anticipate was that I would become so passionate about helping refugees in my community.

Influenced by other NSLI-Y students who had helped refugees in the U.S., and prompted to action by the unfolding tragedy of the Syrian refugees, I was set to use my Arabic skills to connect with refugees. At first, I reached out to organizations in my hometown of Cincinnati offering them help. But those organizations either ignored my emails, or responded by saying that I was too young. Undaunted, I started a club at my high school that I named Students Together Assisting Refugees (STAR). The club is dedicated to aiding refugees and spreading awareness of the crisis. I was amazed that once I had an official club behind me, people paid attention to me and responded enthusiastically to my emails. Everyone wanted to help us as best they could.

In the few months that STAR has been in existence, we have accomplished a lot. The highlight was a school assembly, attended by over 300 students, where refugees shared their heart-wrenching and inspiring stories about their lives. In addition, we organized a movie night, which doubled as a fundraiser for refugee college scholarships, featuring the refugee-themed movie, The Good Lie. We also launched a Welcome Basket Drive where we collected over 750 items, and raised over $1,000 with bake sales and other fundraisers. Most recently, STAR members started tutoring and playing with refugee children at a nearby public elementary school.

Our future plans include expanding the activities of STAR with a simulation that would allow students get a sense of how it feels to be a refugee and extending the platform of STAR to other schools to increase student involvement.

As for my personal plans, I am going this summer to Germany for three weeks to volunteer in an organization that helps Syrian refugee youths who arrived in Germany alone. My experience and involvement in STAR convinced me both that the refugee crisis is a monumental problem with worldwide consequences, and that sadly Americans still care very little about the situation. I hope that the trip to Germany will bring me closer to the epicenter of the crisis and will make me a better advocate for refugees in the US.

If anyone is interested in starting a STAR club or in learning more about STAR, please contact me at asella at cincinnatips dot org or 513-526-6329.

This story is part of the “Coming Back, Giving Back” campaign sharing how NSLI-Y Alumni are using their study abroad experience to make a difference. Submit your story today to [email protected]!