Over 70,000 children. That’s how many children have left their home in search of a better life, no matter how dangerous the journey may be. They make the journey alone, some as young as 5 years old.
A recent grant will make it possible to expand a program that educates people on the plight of unaccompanied minors. Students in Dr. Jerry Zurek’s ECG 100 “Our Interdependent World” were awarded a $2,500 grant from Catholic Relief Services and the Association for Catholic Colleges and Universities. Out of the 22 institutions that applied, Cabrini was one of four that received the grant to further spread awareness about social justice issues. The motivation of the simulation is to address the college mission of social justice.
“It’s a great honor for the ambassadors, for the ECG program, for Dr. Zurek’s class and for Cabrini as a whole,” Tom Southard, interim director of the Wolfington Center, said. “It shows that what we do continues to be correct, it continues to really show leadership and it continues to be novel and new and it continues to make a difference. That impact is really what they’re recognizing and that’s something that’s huge for us at Cabrini.”
The grant will go towards the #RefugeesSeekingSafety program and will also help to expand the program’s reach and get others to learn about the issues. The grant will also enable the simulation to be refined and grown, professionalize the resources used during the simulation, as well as create an extra component.
“We didn’t just ask our student body, administration, or even Catholic Relief Services officials, to look at the bigger picture, we demanded that it is brought to everyone’s attention,” Mackenzie Harris, classroom coach for ‘Our Interdependent World,’ said. “This grant will allow us to continue making the necessary changes to create a simulation that could potentially educate many many people about the refugees.”
“I am so incredibly proud of the work we have all put in, but especially those who really stepped up for the simulation. I see this group doing really extraordinary things.”
According to Southard, the grant also provides funding to create a prayerful response. There will be both an enhancement to the advocacy component and the addition of a prayer component. Southard hopes to add a prayer walk as part of the entire experience.
“People won’t just learn, they’ll also do,” Southard said.
The simulation brings the participants through the typical journey that unaccompanied minors face as they flee their home countries of Central America. It addresses the push factors that cause the children to embark on their journeys and what they encounter along the way. Some of the obstacles along the way include gang members and drug traffickers, U.S. Border Patrol, a language barrier and the threat of being deported. Immediately deporting them puts them in immediate danger upon return
“I think the larger lesson that the simulation offers is that we are all part of an interconnected world,” Matt Kaehler, Cabrini missioner, said. “These refugees aren’t just names and faces, they’re our brothers and sisters.
“Reading facts or statistics can appeal to a more intellectual side of us, but when we pair those facts with lived experience, we can emotionally attach ourselves to what these individuals are going through every day. The simulation challenges people, even on some small level, to consider the relational aspect of advocating for these people in need, and that’s the most important part.”
This year, the #RefugeesSeekingSafety simulation has been presented twice. A simulation was given on Cabrini Day last semester and, most recently, on Feb. 5 during the day of awareness against human trafficking.
Students will also be presenting the simulation once again in April during CRS’ 10-year anniversary.
“The 10th anniversary [of CRS] is going to be amazing and I think that the #RefugeesSeekingSafety simulation, what’s done by the students on this campus, is a showcase and that this is the right time to tell that story,” Southard said. “Our students, every day, are changing the world. I don’t think everybody knows that and at the very least when people leave the 10th anniversary, they’ll be able to see it and experience it.”
Tens of thousands of children will still make that harrowing journey this year and many of the refugees’ process for seeking asylum will not be respected. Putting an emotional pull into the simulation and becoming educated is just the start. Southard recommended for further advocacy, to write your legislators and president online and tell them what matters. Going to DC to make your voice heard is also a next step.
“What’s also important though is not just that big political change,” Southard said. “It’s also that we have people who are coming into this country and how every one of us as an individual can help those people, how we can serve those people [and] how we can live out the Cabrinian mission.”