Growing refugee crisis explored at Penn State Lehigh Valley

More than 70 students attended Refugee Awareness Day
Group listening to a speaker on a screen

Ken Sofer, policy and planning officer of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) emphasized the importance of an organizational approach to the humanitarian crisis over Zoom on Mar 1. at the Penn State Lehigh Valley campus.

Credit: Daniel Omron

Raising awareness about the escalating global refugee crisis was the aim of Penn State Lehigh Valley senior Saima Farooq in organizing Refugee Awareness Day, an event that drew more than 70 students, faculty and staff on March 1 at the Lehigh Valley campus.

Farooq, who is majoring in information sciences and technology, spent nearly half a year organizing this daylong program, securing speakers from and/or with experiences from all over the world.

“I silently watched the refugee crisis unfold and felt helpless. I then thought of my experience working as an ESL teacher with a local refugee and how impactful that was on both of us,” said Farooq. “I realized education is the best way to raise awareness and build empathy about the refugee crisis, and Penn State Lehigh Valley helped me achieve that.”

“Saima used her Penn State education, connections, and community service experience with refugees, to almost single-handedly organize an event for our entire community about a global humanitarian crisis we should all be concerned about. Penn State’s mission is to 'make life better' and Saima exemplifies the way our newest leaders are defining this mission in our modern time period. Saima started a legacy that we hope to continue here at PSU-LV," said Jennifer Parker, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Lehigh Valley, who facilitated the event planning.

The event featured five speakers, including Denise Ogden, professor of marketing at Penn State Lehigh Valley; Brigitte Khoury, associate professor and clinical psychologist of the Psychiatry Department at the American University of Beirut; Kevin Meadowcroft of the Danish Refugee Council; Ken Sofer, policy and planning officer of the International Rescue Committee (IRC); and Khawla Nasser AlDeen, intern for the International Association of Applied Psychology of the United Nations.  David Livert, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Lehigh Valley and United Nations representative served as a moderator.

The event opened with Doug Hochstetler, interim director of academic affairs at Penn State Lehigh Valley, who provided introductory remarks. Ogden followed and explained how the government does not allocate their resources to provide sufficient resources for refugees. Instead, the government relies on private organizations to provide resources, which are limited.

“It costs one billion dollars to maintain refugee camps in Bangladesh, and more than 60 percent of these refugees are children,” said Ogden. “Refugees want to help their families, but because of the limited resources, some resort to selling their organs on the black market to sustain themselves.”

five people in front of PSU-LV banner

From left to right: Jennifer Parker, Kevin Meadowcroft, Saima Farooq, David Livert, and Khawla Nasser AlDeen posed during the Refugee Awareness Day on Mar. 1.

Credit: Jenn Parker

As part of the event, students also were able to experience the life of a refugee using 360 degree virtual reality technology, which provided immersive insight into the current living conditions in war countries and refugee camps.

The event also took advantage of Zoom Video Conferencing, virtually meeting Khoury in her home in Lebanon and Sofer at the IRC headquarters in New York. Khoury offers therapy to Syrian refugee women in Lebanon.

“They are like most of us… they’re talking about their kids and their husbands driving them crazy, not just about the war,” she explained.

“The refugee crisis is the crisis of our time,” said Sofer. “Our generation has great potential, and we must realize that our skills impact the role we play in society to help the lives of others. How we want our generation to be remembered is up to us, and we must speak up about this growing humanitarian crisis.”

Meadowcroft emphasized the role of the international community in assisting refugees and AlDeen addressed the important of a “global” mindset when treating the mental health of domestic refugees. 

Population Health (HPA311) students presented research posters on the refugee crisis from a population health approach. 

This “All In” event was supported by the Penn State Lehigh Valley Student Activity Fee and hosted by the Psychology Club, the Community Heroes Club and other campus student clubs and organizations.

The “All In” campaign at Penn State is an on-going University-wide initiative that welcomes students, faculty and staff together to display their commitment by creating and maintain a diverse and inclusive atmosphere – one that is respectful of all values and beliefs, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, abilities, background, veteran’s status and political beliefs.

Visit The Refugee Community Center website to learn about how to help local refugees in Allentown, or visit the IRC website to learn more about the International Rescue Committee’s humanitarian work.


Dennille Schuler

Public Relations Specialist
Penn State Lehigh Valley

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