Upper School Global Citizens students had the opportunity to hear from Syrian Refugee Camp Volunteer Dr. Thomas P. Martin on February 28 as part of a special session arranged by History Chair Dr. Noel Delgado. Dr. Martin spent five weeks in northern Greece last summer volunteering to assist refugees in make-shift camps where temperatures rose daily to 120 F. His primary work involved teaching English to children, as well as adults, and putting together a small library of books for them through an international book drive.
Approximately 65 million people have come out of countries impacted by ISIS over the past couple of years and into nations such as Greece, he explained to the students. Most of these refugees are looking to make their way to Western Europe, but in March 2016, many countries closed their borders. Unable to return to their devastated home countries, they are stuck in between lands. Organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, where Dr. Martin currently volunteers, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working to set up adequate camps, but the need is overwhelming.
He spoke to the students about the realities of the camps, where many families are sleeping on the ground in soaking-wet tents and wearing unsuitable clothing for the now-winter conditions (many have gotten frostbite). They are unable to find work or send their children to school. They have no police protection or legal assistance. “The most difficult part is the waiting,” he said. “They are living on rumors and prayers.” For example, one group of refugees had their hearts set on going to Portugal and were given the go-ahead, only to then be told that they had to wait another year.
Dr. Martin also addressed how individuals can volunteer effectively. “Plan to go with a volunteer organization – don’t just show up as you may be in the way, but then be ready to work with any different number of groups based on the most need,” he advised.
Ranney’s Global Citizens course elective centers around what it means to be a global citizen with the goal of providing students with the knowledge, tools, and skills to address the challenges of a global community. The group held a coat drive for refugees living in northern Greece last month. More about Ranney's Global Citizens Program here
. Follow the work of the Syrian refugee volunteers, including Dr. Martin, on the Help for Refugees Public Facebook Group
. Their current immediate need is for winter boots. Update
: students raised $583, the equivalent to 29 pairs of boots!
Dr. Martin is an adjunct professor of European and Middle Eastern History at Pennsylvania State University. He received his doctorate in European History from the University of Minnesota and his Master’s in International Diplomacy from Columbia University. He has volunteered with orphans and street children in Bolivia, as a citizenship/ESL instructor for immigrants at the International Rescue Committee in New York City, at the Covenant House NYC for runaways, and as an education consultant with the USAID international development program.