By Doris Yu
October 31, 2013 — Students at Creighton Prep in Omaha, Neb., are participating in a brand-new approach to community service. As part of the Conflict and Refugees course in International Studies, students learn about refugees and the conflicts that drive them out of their home countries.
“The more you learn about the Middle East, the less you know, because there are so many things going on,” said Tyler Tipton, a junior at Creighton Prep.
Instructor Katy Salzman created the course based on her previous work for a United Nations refugee program in Europe and Africa. Lessons cover refugees’ situations in Myanmar, Bhutan, South Sudan, Darfur and Syria; case studies on Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and other countries and conflicts.
The course includes guest speakers, such as Jesuit Father Don Doll, who spoke to the students about his photography and experiences with refugees in the Middle East. Time is spent learning about Catholic social teaching and the work of organizations such as Jesuit Refugee Service, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities.
Students are then sent to meet in person the many refugees who have been placed in Omaha through resettlement programs and to participate in service projects to help make the refugees’ lives better.
Students helped to furnish two homes near the high school’s campus for families from Burma and Sudan. The students collected furniture and household supplies — items that would ordinarily need to be purchased with the small budget allocated to the refugees — from Creighton Prep parents, teachers, Jesuits, friends and supporters to make the houses into welcoming homes. Salzman continues to keep in contact with the refugee families, and students are invited along on her check-in visits.
Students are also required to complete eight hours of volunteering at the Yates Community Center, which provides services for the city’s many Bhutanese immigrants. Some students have enjoyed volunteering at the center so much, they are returning to complete extra hours of service.
Chandler Andrews, one of Salzman’s students, said that he helped second and third graders with English skills, basic math and reading at the center. Several students noted the refugees’ enthusiasm for learning, their mastery of English and how quickly they picked up new skills.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Peter Furlow, another student in the class. “I think of high school as almost a burden, but for them, they just really want to learn.”