WFU student and faculty-led groups help support local refugees

While those abroad at Wake Forest’s Flow House in Vienna, Austria, were helping Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter away from their home nation, students, faculty and staff on the University’s Reynolda Campus were doing the same for refugees in Winston-Salem.

The Student Association For the Advancement of Refugees (SAFAR) works closely with the refugee community in Winston-Salem. It was founded in 2016 by politics and international affairs major and Winston-Salem native Rose O’Brien, who was awarded the University’s Martin Luther King Building the Dream Award for her outreach to refugees and her determination to fight discrimination. She created SAFAR to support and connect the Wake Forest community to local refugees.

“We currently have about 15 active members, and by this I mean tutors,” said Conor Metzger, a junior religious studies major from Lumberton, North Carolina, and SAFAR president. “SAFAR’s work focuses on tutoring children and helping adults study English for the citizenship test. We also raise some money every semester to share with a refugee in need or to donate to World Relief-Triad, which is a local nonprofit.”

The University is also a member of Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR), a faculty and staff organization founded at Guilford College by Diya Abdo in 2015. The Wake Forest chapter was established by politics and international affairs professor Michaelle Browers and communication professor Alessandra Von Burg, who also serves as SAFAR’s faculty advisor.

“ECAR works closely with SAFAR as students support the families with everyday needs, including tutoring, preparing for U.S. citizenship, school and medical applications, and much more,” said Von Burg. ECAR’s refugee support differs from SAFAR’s but the two efforts are coordinated. SAFAR volunteers support some of the same families that ECAR helps to house. But the true nature of the two groups’ work is much deeper than material support. “ECAR and SAFAR work together to build long-term friendships and create a sense of community, beginning with the time on campus and lasting for years to come.”

SAFAR volunteers also are dedicated to increasing campus awareness of the difficulties refugees face in the Winston-Salem community and beyond. “Our group hosts informational campaigns or sessions that help educate students about the refugee crisis and how they can help,” said Metzger.

SAFAR’s work has also inspired other student organizations to hold events and fundraisers in support of refugees. Metzger said he sees Wake Forest’s community as welcoming to those who are in need. “At Wake Forest, the students are willing to get involved and help out any way that they can.”

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