By Mariella Metz-Yeverino
Special to the LOGOS
On an average two refugee children a day have been drowning in the Mediterranean as they try to get to safety. This is the worst refugee crisis in 70 years.
In the face of this, University of the Incarnate Word students, faculty and friends of UIW’s Ettling Center for Civic Engagement have hope that newcomers to San Antonio can be recognized as potential friends, not people to be feared and rejected.
For the sixth year, UIW held its “Celebrate Spring” gathering March 25, on Good Friday morning, for refugee children and families. This year, the gathering was at the Denman Estate off Mockingbird Lane in San Antonio.
Sister Martha Ann Kirk, a longtime religious studies professor at UIW, started the “Celebrate Spring” gathering six years ago because she had seen the challenges for refugee families in the Middle East.
This year almost a hundred people attended and between the refugees, the UIW international student hosts, and other hosts, there were 17 countries represented including the United States, Rwanda, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, Mongolia, Mexico, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Germany, Sudan and Kenya.
“Celebrate Spring” not only celebrated Easter, but three other religious celebrations of spring. These included Holi, the Hindu celebration of colors that is a time to enjoy spring colors and say goodbye to winter; Narouz, the Persian New Year which has roots in Zoroastrianism; and Passover, the Jewish celebration that remembers when God freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt. (Barbie Gorelick, a Jewish American, brought stories of Passover in Israel).
As all the participants learned about the four spring holidays, they made arts and crafts together to represent something traditional from that culture. The activities included: egg dyeing, puppet making, drawing rangolis and other symbols, face painting, and making an Easter tree. The participants moved from table to table and met new people while learning about the different cultures. The celebration brought together people from many backgrounds and created a space where everyone could share their experiences and learn from one another.
“Hearing some of the refugees’ stories made me realize how much people don’t know about what the refugees are going through,” said Ettling Center representative Leslie Reneau who helped organize the gathering. “They came here escaping danger, but some people don’t know that. It was a great learning experience.”
The event helped the refugees and UIW students and faculty enjoy each other’s company, allowing many of the students who participated in this event to be face-to-face with those who have gone through so many difficult situations, often at a young age.
“Working with the refugees during the ‘Celebrate Spring’ event was truly an eye-opening experience,” said Ashley Kowalczyk, a UIW sophomore English major. “It was amazing to see all the different activities and possibilities various refugee centers provide for these individuals.”
Throughout the day, all of the participants were able to learn about each other personally and culturally, this being an important part of global issues.
“Being a part of ‘Celebrate Spring’ allowed me to interact with the refugees that are a part of my community and learn about the way different religions around the world celebrate the springtime,” said sophomore English major Mariella Metz-Yeverino. “This beautiful activity was proof that coming together to celebrate our different cultures and learn about each other is an effective way to communicate peacefully and lovingly among each other while lending a hand to our brothers and sisters to say ‘I am here for you.’ ”
As the event progressed, all participants found new friendships with people from across the globe, and everyone seemed to enjoy the food, music and games. The atmosphere was peaceful and demonstrated the connection that can be created when people from different cultures communicate, learn about each other, and find respect for each other.
Dr. Zenon Culverhouse, an assistant professor of philosophy, brought his two young children to the event where they had the opportunity to “play and learn with refugee children.”
“It afforded me the opportunity to see how diversity reveals the humanity common to us all,” Culverhouse said.
One of the individuals leading activities was Yvonne Naylor, a professional puppet-maker from Northern Ireland who uses puppet-making to help people overcome prejudice. Naylor, who has created programs and curriculum for children, is in San Antonio because of her participation in the Fulbright professor program that promotes international exchange. She is currently at St. Phillip’s College with her husband, Richard.
Naylor said the Good Friday gathering meant much to her.
“We learned that there was a wide variety of diversity in San Antonio,” Naylor said. “We felt joy in everyone’s presence and also in the sunshine and beautiful setting. And the food was lovely. In all a great occasion.”