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Bringing educational resources to refugee children

March 14, 2019
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ANN ARBOR – During her junior year of high school, Brooke Bacigal joined Model United Nations on a whim. Four years later, this advocate for international human rights credits that experience for sparking her true passion.

“At first, it was a way to spend time with friends,” said Bacigal, a Ford School junior with a major in public policy and a minor in English. “I loved the engagement, the topics and how everyone interacted with each other. It was all about identifying problems and working to solve them, which I think is really salient, especially now.”

Bacigal is still highly involved in Model UN at the university level. Leveraging her knowledge of foreign policy into sustainable, global impact, she and her friend, Ayah Kutmah, founded a student organization called Refugee Education Initiative. [RE]vive is working to help school-age Syrian refugees in Istanbul, Turkey by helping them access academic resources.

“Less than one percent of refugees’ graduate college,” she explained. “If refugees don’t have opportunities to improve their social situations, it makes everything that much more difficult.”

[RE]vive’s understood the problem many refugee children face. Many refugee children have been forced to miss crucial years of schooling due to conflict and are not well represented in higher education either. The student organization partnered with a nonprofit in Turkey – Karam Foundation. The foundation provides academic assistance to school-age Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and the United States.

“We talked to NGOs in Istanbul to gauge what refugee students might want assistance with,” Bacigal said. “Similar to what American students might say, they wanted to know how to write a resume, use GoogleDocs, and email someone for scholarship help.”

This past August, the [RE]vive cohort facilitated academic workshops in Istanbul. The first of the two-part workshop series was focused on professional development for Syrian refugees, while the second was designed to empower community teachers to perpetuate the workshop.

“We were there for two-and-a-half weeks,” said Bacigal, who helped develop the workshop content and design. “I’m currently learning Arabic so I can directly assist with workshop facilitation the next time around.”

For this year, the organization is hoping to expand to new sites in the U.S. to work with resettled refugee students.

Bacigal is thankful for optiMize, the campus organization whose funding and guidance was crucial to [RE]vive’s development.

“They’re amazing,” she said. “If you have an idea for social innovation or have a problem you want to address, they will help you every step of the way.”

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