Students fundraising for Syrian refugee education

A group of sociology students at St. Thomas University are planning a fundraiser for the Multicultural Association of Fredericton to help Syrian refugees receive adequate education.

Ryan DiDiodato, one of the students planning the event, said the fundraising coffee house is set for March 13 in Brian Mulroney Hall and they are hoping to get more participants.

“All proceeds are going to the [Multicultural Association of Fredericton] in relief of Syrian refugees,” he said.

“We were in touch [with them] and they said the biggest donation they need right now is financial donations to aid with schooling for them.”

DiDiodato said his group was interested in helping refugees because of the recent political chaos. They chose to help MCAF because they would be dealing with refugees in Fredericton directly.

“We think it’s important because everyone should have the right to schooling and education and shouldn’t be denied just because they’re not Canadian and practice different religions and what not,” he said.

DiDiodato said the students put themselves in the refugees’ shoes and considered what it would be like.

“We kinda thought, ‘Imagine if the roles were switched and we had to pack up and move there.’ We would want to be treated nicely and given the options. So, Canada, as a first-world country, should practice helping and we’re just trying to do our part.”

The fundraiser is the group’s big project for their Inequalities in Society class, taught by Professor Nathan Thompson.

The class was split into different groups of four to five people. DiDiodato teamed up with classmates Brae Henderson, Kris St-Amour and Leigha Asbridge. The different groups were tasked with helping an oppressed group in society somehow.

Thompson said other groups in the class are working with Meals on Wheels, food and clothing banks, transition houses, the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre and non-profit medical centres, among others.

“Part of the project is providing the students with a lot of freedom to explore and help an organization they think is important in combating inequality,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the full-year course allows him to explore the topic of inequality both conceptually and practically. During first semester, students learned about different theories and approaches to understand how it functions and manifests in society. They also took time to learn about the work of the organizations they are helping.

“In the current practice, students are taking that knowledge and putting it into practice by helping out their organization,” he said.

“Some groups are doing work that has been asked of them explicitly by their organization. Some groups are doing work to help their organization from a distance via fundraising and educational campaigns.”

Thompson said the project is a two-fold experiment.

“It provides a unique learning experience so the students can better see how the content they learned in the course functions when put into practice,” he said.

“And … it provides a unique learning experience that comes with its own challenges and successes – no one group experience will be the same.”

Thompson stresses to his students all parts of the experience are important, whether it be “the satisfaction of actually getting to help people in need, or the frustration of having people not respond to their emails and phone calls.”

“Bottom line, it’s a project that has students tackling real-world problems around social inequality while also learning about the nuances and challenges that come with work,” Thompson said.

Thompson said through these kinds of classroom projects, he hopes his students will become grounded in how they understand how to help marginalized people.

“Part of the project is to help demonstrate that while doing things like fundraising and raising awareness are important, they do not necessarily solve larger issues of social inequality,” he said.

“That does not mean, of course, that I want the students to think there is no point to doing this other work. I just want them to have a deeper understanding of how inequality in society functions and how different levels of civic engagement work to combat or reduce that inequality, some being more effective than others.”

While the concepts and theories taught in the course are important, Thompson said it’s connecting course content to the students’ own lives that makes things real and produces both personal and professional change.

“The kind of change that helps them recognize just how easily inequality is perpetuated and maintained in society when we hyper-focus on our own issues, experiences and lives,” Thompson said.

“I’m not a religious person, but the Biblical verse that states, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ works quite well here.”

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