“This is ROK’s first year at K because it is also ROK’s first year existing at all!” shared Refugee Outreach Kalamazoo’s President Cecilia Deboeck ’17. “ROK was founded after Emily Worline ’17 and Sydney Fernandez spent time volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece.” Since then, ROK has established collegiate chapters, one of which exists right here at Kalamazoo College.
“The mission of ROK is “to uplift and empower, at home and abroad,’” explained President Cecilia Deboeck ‘17. “ROK aims to foster a global responsibility for the refugee crisis and displaced populations by connecting with refugees both at the local level, in Kalamazoo, as well as abroad.”
“I have worked with refugees in a few different settings and was interested in getting involved with refugee populations living in Kalamazoo. After seeing a furniture drive put on by ROK and hearing a bit about the organization, I contacted Emily. We met about a week before the school year began and I attended a few meetings before she asked if I would be interested in heading the Kalamazoo College chapter,” shared Deboeck.
ROK Founder Emily Worline ’17 explained that ROK’s collegiate program “currently consists of Michigan State, Western Michigan University, and of course, Kalamazoo College. ROK is currently working to establish a student chapter at the University of Michigan and we hope to get that off the ground by their Winter semester.”
She shared that the program’s goals for the year include “planning two concerts both of which incorporate spoken word from people who have experienced displacement, organizing a job skills class with Samaritas and Michigan Works, [and] sponsoring a family who has experienced displacement and needs help with things like cooking, reading, and telling time.”
“It takes both the refugee and the larger community to make integration successful and it is the recognition of this that I think is unique to ROK and something that I really appreciate about the organization,” commented Deboeck. “Ultimately, I hope to expose students to refugee populations that are living outside of our K bubble and to link the two communities.”
About six weeks ago, the organization’s international component, Dignity for Humanity, sent its first volunteer abroad–to the Serbia-Hungary border. The volunteer, Sydney Fernandez, spoke with ROK over a video call in the first meeting at K.
How can you get involved? Deboeck encourages students to, “Come to our weekly meetings! We meet Thursdays from 6-7PM in the library room 306.” Other ways to get involved? Read the news or attend Kalamazoo Refugee Council meetings, which are bi-weekly at Solid Grounds, just a ten minute walk from K.”
“ROK is an incredible opportunity to see beyond our own political sphere and it is a valuable way to connect with people who have lost their homes and who are adapting to new places, offering as much support as we can to them,” commented participant Claire Greening ‘19.