UT’s Work with Refugees Being Highlighted in National Competition

KNOXVILLE—A University of Tennessee, Knoxville, effort to help refugees from Burundi adjust to living in Knoxville is being showcased this week as one of the top higher education and community engagement projects in the nation.

The project is one of four initiatives competing for the 2011 C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award. The winner will be announced Monday at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual meeting in San Francisco, California. The annual APLU award includes a sculpture and a $20,000 prize. APLU is the primary higher education organization for state universities, land-grant universities, state university systems and related institutions.

UT’s project became a finalist in May by capturing one of four regional 2011 Outreach Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Awards.

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The three other finalists are: 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.

Denise Bates and Allison Anders, assistant professors in UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, received a grant from UT’s Ready for the World international and intercultural initiative in 2008. They began their efforts by developing the Healthy Transitions program for the refugees. With additional support from their college, many other faculty, students, and community members joined the effort.

“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).”

A Burundian-directed association was founded in 2009 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 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 partnerships developed through UT’s project, all Burundian children in Knoxville are now going to school, while the adults are taking English, pre-GED, 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.

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; Sport 4 Peace; the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies; Cultural Studies; and the Department of Public Health and Educational Foundations, all of which are entities of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. UT’s Center for Literacy Studies, College of Law, and athletics department are also partners. Primary community partners include Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services and Cherokee Health Systems.

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, is named for C. Peter Magrath, APLU president from 1992 to 2005 and leading advocate for public universities embracing the concept of outreach and community engagement.

C O N T A C T :

Karen Simsen, (865-974-5186, karen.simsen@tennessee.edu)

 

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