Thursday,
September 18, 2014

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Student Team Creates Global Action Plan to Help Local Refugees

Josette Rophael, Saron Zekiros and Vrithika Anandham attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in Arizona.

Josette Rophael, Saron Zekiros and Vrithika Anandham attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in Arizona.

UT Dallas students recently attended a Clinton Global Initiative University conference to refine their action plan to help provide English tutoring and job preparation skills to international refugees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Political science senior Vrithika Anandham, international political economy/economics sophomore Josette Rophael and global business/finance junior Saron Zekiros developed their Commitment to Action project and then learned from their counterparts at universities around the world at the annual conference held at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.

Launched in 2007 by former President Bill Clinton, the university conference builds on the model of the Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together world leaders in an effort to take action on global challenges. This year’s meeting drew more than 1,200 student leaders committed to action in education, the environment, human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.

“It was overwhelming,” said Zekiros, “but it was so collaborative and very diverse in the focus areas.”

The students attended plenary sessions and working sessions, learned about resources to help put their plan into action, heard motivational speakers and participated in networking opportunities. The conference is provided free to college students, and makes available more than $750,000 in grant funds.

Speakers this year included Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton; comedian Jimmy Kimmel; former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Sen. John McCain.

Student action plans have included a job-training initiative for survivors of brothel slavery, a low-cost wheelchair designed for those in the developing world and a mentoring program for first-generation college students in STEM fields.

Dallas has a large population of refugees, and many of them come from Myanmar. It seemed to us that the International Rescue Committee needed more volunteers than it had, and it only helped refugees for their first six months here. We want to help them with the period after six months.

Josette Rophael,
international political economy/economics sophomore

The UT Dallas team had submitted their Commitment to Action project in November. Named “A New Horizon,” the plan focuses on helping refugees find better jobs by improving their English and honing their resume-writing and interviewing skills.

“Dallas has a large population of refugees, and many of them come from Myanmar,” Rophael said. “It seemed to us that the International Rescue Committee needed more volunteers than it had, and it only helped refugees for their first six months here. We want to help them with the period after six months.”

The UT Dallas students also joined in a Day of Action community service project, working on a team that helped transform a vacant city lot in Phoenix. Some members tackled gardening work while others helped paint murals.  

Each of the UT Dallas students, who are officers in the International Political Economy Student Association, shook hands with the former president and collected his autograph. However, they said Chelsea Clinton impressed them the most.

“I gained a respect and admiration for her, even more than her parents combined,” Anandham said. “I’ve been following her on Facebook. As vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, she’s creating opportunities for students everywhere to become involved.”

The team hopes to encourage more UT Dallas students to participate in their project. Volunteers are asked to donate a few hours helping refugees improve their English, adapt to American culture and become better prepared for job interviews.

Volunteers who speak Burmese and other languages are particularly needed.

For information on volunteering with refugees in the Dallas area, email ANH.jsv@gmail.com or call 512-365-4417.    

Media Contact: Robin Russell, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, robin.russell@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.


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