Interfaith effort reaches resettled refugees

By Heather Moss


University of the Incarnate Word students don’t have to go far to experience different foods, cultures and religions.

Through the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge, UIW students are gaining knowledge and better understanding of the world through resettled refugees in San Antonio.

This is possible through a partnership of UIW’s Interfaith Council and Interfaith Student Organization with Catholic Charities and its Refugee Resettlement services. Catholic Charities is resettling more than 500 refugee families from Somalia, Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, Congo, Iraq, Iran, and more, allowing a plethora of cultural interaction.

The mission of the Interfaith Council is “designed to inspire and influence our communities to embrace interfaith diversity and engage in collaborative action as a remedy for injustice, inequity and intolerance.”

This initiative began with successful events in 2011 including: Meet the Mission, Peace Day, an Arts and Crafts fair from Around the World (to display arts made by refugees) and a Toiletry Drive for refugee apartment set-up.

“We take for granted everything around us: education, freedoms and life,” said Steven Puente, who attended the art fair. “It’s not that we don’t care. It’s just that these problems are out-of-sight and out-of-mind, so no one says anything because they aren’t aware of what’s going on.”

Aside from events, six classes are planned to give students the opportunity to connect and assist refugees through course work and journal reflections. Most students were involved in the ESL classes, job readiness classes and other such classes working with refugees one-on-one.

The domino effect of diversity continued to transition into 2012 kicking off with the Jan. 24 observance of Asian New Year hosted by the Institute of Global Cultures and a Feb. 7 presentation by Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah on “When Mystic Masters Meet: Towards a New Matrix for Christian-Muslim Dialogue” along with many other activities posted on the website:

The effort is having an impact, said Dr. Lopita Nath, an assistant professor of history at UIW.

“[The students] felt that they learned about a different country, a different culture, different religions and above all about different people from this experience,” Nath said.

Witness entries in one student’s journal: “I remember wondering why Catholic Charities were focusing on people who were foreign in our country and not helping all the less-fortunate people in our own country.” After last fall’s Meet the Mission, the student reflected, “I understood the reason; people are people no matter what country they are originally from, their race, or religion. Thus, all people in need should be cared for and helped in addition to being treated equally and with dignity.”


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