Jerusalem Center students help refugees while studying abroad



TJ Thomas
BYU students at the Jerusalem Center during Winter 2016 assembled hygiene kits for refugees while studying abroad. (TJ Thomas)

BYU students at the Jerusalem Center spent part of their study abroad assembling hygiene kits for refugees who have been displaced from their homes in recent months.

More than 80 students witnessed firsthand the effects of the refugee crisis while attending the Jerusalem Center during the Winter 2016 semester. These students took part in a major service project at least once a month for the duration of the program. The projects were organized by a senior service couple and a student committee who gathered towels, clothes, toothbrushes and other basic hygiene products. The volunteers then assembled the materials into kits.

Whitney Carlson attended the Jerusalem Center to learn more about the life of Christ and Middle Eastern culture. She didn’t know she would also become involved in helping those impacted by the refugee crisis.

“It was a great experience,” Carlson said. “We got to see pictures of the families we were helping, and our leaders would remind us that we were taking part in a great work.”

Carlson said the volunteer group set goals to complete as many kits as possible in a given time period.

“It was a really fun environment and a great opportunity to give back, especially when we were receiving so much,” Carlson said.

Program participant Elise Christensen said students were able to gain a deeper understanding of the refugee crisis, in addition to giving time and providing kits.

“Being in Jerusalem made me think a lot more about other people and different situations around the world that are out of control. I feel like it’s our responsibility to help where we can,” Christensen said. “We were all heavily impacted by the situation because we were right in the middle of everything and we could see the need.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also taken part in aiding people affected by the European refugee crisis. LDS Charities has partnered with charity organizations in Jordan and has donated more than $1 million in humanitarian aid and supplies. The church also recently created a program encouraging female members to “help refugees in their local communities.”

“I love that the (LDS) church has made the refugee effort an emphasis,” Carlson said. “I love the conference talks and the various programs aimed towards helping the refugees.”

Joyce Smith
BYU students in Jerusalem assembled kits for refugees in November 2015. (Joyce Smith)

Former Jerusalem Center student TJ Thomas said the best way to help refugees is to understand the crisis from various perspectives and to be empathetic to affected people.

“The first thing to do is to educate ourselves on exactly why there are refugees, what political and economic circumstances have caused them to become refugees and what their life experiences have been like since the onset of the crisis,” Thomas said.

BYU history professor Leslie Hadfield has served for four years in a Salt Lake City LDS branch where many members are refugees. She said the community can help refugees by teaching children to accept people of all backgrounds and by learning foreign languages.

Hadfield recommended students educate themselves by reading “Strength in What Remains” by Tracy Kidder or “The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community” by Mary Pipher. She also recommended the films “The Good Lie” and “The Lost Boys of Sudan.”

For opportunities to become involved with helping refugees in the area and around the world, visit The BYU Refugee Empowerment Club on Facebook.

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