UT’s Burundian Refugee Project Wins National Outreach Award

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KNOXVILLE—A University of Tennessee, Knoxville, effort to help Burundian refugees adjust to living in Knoxville is one of four university-based community outreach initiatives named regional winners of the 2011 Outreach Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award.

The awards will be presented during the twelfth annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference, hosted by Michigan State University October 2–4 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing, Michigan.

UT’s proposal, entitled “Ready for the World,” documented the relationship between the university and a number of Burundian families with refugee status who have settled in Knoxville. The proposal borrowed its name from the university’s global engagement initiative, also called “Ready for the World,” that provided the initial funding for the partnership.

The other regional winners were Michigan State University for its ten-year effort to help epilepsy patients in Zambia; Montana State University for its Engineers Without Borders chapter’s work on water projects in the Khwisero district of Kenya; and Pennsylvania State University for its architecture students’ redevelopment projects in Pittsburgh.

“These projects exemplify the outreach and engagement commitment of public universities,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). “We salute each of these model engagement programs which feature students, faculty, and administrators working in their community to improve the quality of life for all.”

Winners of the Outreach Scholarship Awards each receive a prize of $5,000 and qualify to compete for the 2011 C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award presented annually by the APLU. The Magrath Award will be announced during the APLU annual meeting, November 13–15, in San Francisco, California.

In its proposal, UT documented how a number of programs collaborate with Knoxville’s Burundian community to produce cultural events, advocacy, research, workshops, and service learning courses. The UT entities involved in the effort include Healthy Transitions (formerly called Healing Transitions: Program Interventions for Refugee Youth and Families); the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict; the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center; Sport 4 Peace; the College of Law; the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies; Cultural Studies and Educational Foundations; UT Athletics; and the Department of Public Health.

“In 2007, Burundians resettling in Knoxville faced systems unprepared for their arrival and transition,” the proposal explained. “The school district, public health department, public housing, and social service agencies were overloaded with the unique challenges of these families, who arrived with virtually no English language skills and were largely pre-literate even in their own language (Kirundi).”

Denise Bates and Allison Anders, assistant professors in the UT College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS), received a grant from Ready for the World, the campus’s international and intercultural initiative, in 2008 to develop Healthy Transitions to help the refugees. With further support from CEHHS, additional faculty and students have become involved in the project.

The chief community partners include Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services and Cherokee Health Systems.

By September 2009, with assistance from Healthy Transitions and the UT Knoxville College of Law Advocacy Clinic, a Burundian-directed association was founded and incorporated as a nonprofit. The Burundian community elected its own officers and named the new organization SODELA, an acronym for Solidarity, Development, and Light Association.

SODELA now serves the Burundian community by coordinating English as a Second Language (ESL) and GED courses for its membership and providing economic support via basket weaving and other business ventures in the Burundian community. With the support of the partnership, all Burundian children in Knoxville are now going to school, while the adults are taking English classes, pre-GED classes, and computer classes. Many Burundian families already have a car, and some have been accepted by the Habitat for Humanity program. Despite the serious language barrier, most Burundians now know where to go for health care, insurance, and groceries. They have contact with churches and are socializing with people outside the Burundian community.

Established in 2006, the Outreach Scholarship and Magrath University Community Engagement Awards recognize four-year public universities that have redesigned their learning, discovery, and engagement functions to become more closely and productively involved with their communities.

The C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, includes $20,000 and a sculpture. The award is named for C. Peter Magrath, APLU president from 1992 to 2005, and a leading advocate for public universities embracing the concept of outreach and community engagement.

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)

 

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