The Wesleyan Refugee Project (WRP), a campus organization that raises awareness for the worldwide refugee crisis and aims to support individual refugees, hosted an online silent auction between April 4 and April 10. The auction raised money for an online company called Paper Airplanes, which connects college students in the United States with Syrian refugees, and is one of the organizations with which the WRP works.
This is the second semester the WRP has hosted a silent auction. With 65 items available for bidding, the auction took place entirely online, run though the website “32 Auctions.” Items ranged from pieces of jewelry to handmade art to food (“Batch of Cookies,” “Batch of Brownies,” and “Batch of Cupcakes” were all items available for bidding). In a category called “Specialty Services,” the auction offered a range of options, from sailing lessons to portrait photography to gift cards. The most popular item was “A Portrait of Your Pets by Lydia Tonkanow,” with 22 bids, while rides to locations such as Bradley Airport were also popular for bidding. In all, at the date of publication, the auction raised $400 out of its $600 goal.
Joshua Su ’17 was featured in multiple items available for bidding, notably one called “Dinner with Josh Su” as well as “Haircut by Josh Su.” Both were labeled as “priceless” under value, and “Dinner with Josh Su” had a bid at $10.50 at the date of publication. Su notes his eagerness to participate in the auction.
“I got involved because my dear friend Cheryl [Hagan ’17] is very involved and it has always been something I supported,” he wrote in an email to the Argus. “I knew there were ways and services I can provide (I had done haircuts where people, mostly friends donated to a charity of their choice) so I naturally offered what I could.”
Su added that he felt fundraisers, like this one in particular, served a worthy purpose.
“This is not just a fundraiser but also raises the [public relations] and the issue and needs that Paper Airplanes and the WRP are trying to meet,” he explained. “[A]nd I think getting people to talk about it and be motivated to actually do actionable things has been a way that the silent auction has been important.”
The site page for the auction describes its goal.
“All of the proceeds collected from this event will be donated to Paper Airplanes—a program that remotely connects American college students and Syrian refugees for English tutoring,” he said. “They are fundraising to pay for TOEFL and IELTS tests, critical English tests for their Syrian students who want to attend university or seek employment opportunities. In the face of recent political opposition and uncertainty, these efforts are critical and we must show our support.”
The Paper Airplanes website describes its mission in two bullet points: providing digital assistance to “conflict-affected communities” and fostering “cross-cultural relationships” between students and tutors. They have four distinct programs: English, which helps to provide English tutoring through a digital classroom; Turkish, which works to provide Syrian refugees in Turkey with knowledge of the language; Women in Tech, which helps to teach women coding; and Youth Exchange, which connects United States high school classes with Syrian refugee high school classes.
Casey Smith ’17, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Refugee Project, notes that Paper Airplanes is just one of a multitude of projects on which the campus organization is working. She also explained that despite the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim and anti-refugee laws, the WRP is continuing to do the work it has done in the past.
“The issues are changing and how people are talking about them are changing, but we’ve pretty much been able to keep doing the same work in the community,” she explained. “So, we still have eight volunteers going every week to IRIS [Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services] for a few hours to work with our clients there, in New Haven. We’ve been volunteering for them for three years, and it’s still going really well, [we’re still] doing the same work. We work on Energy Assistance applications, and so basically that just means our volunteers help various people with paperwork, getting all their forms together to apply for energy subsidies, and that’s been going really well. Then we also still work with the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal services to refugees trying to come to the U.S….And even if that program were to end, I think we would still try to help people get as much documentation as we can, just because the idea is at some point, the U.S. will keep resettling those people, hopefully.”
Julia Morrison ’17 leads IRIS, and noted some of the work they’ve been doing.
“At IRIS, we help refugees apply for energy assistance, so we fill out forms, governmental forms, that will allow them to apply for and often receive some amount of monetary assistance that will pay for heating and electricity,” she said. “We go there twice a work, and work with two wonderful case managers.”
Smith also explained that with all the various projects, which have a total of between 50-60 volunteers, meetings are project-based.
“We don’t really have WRP-wide meetings because there’s a lot of different stuff people are doing, and so people just meet in their separate projects,” she said. “It’s all about delegating.”
The WRP has a variety of events and fundraisers coming up, including a panel about Yemen and a documentary screening, as well as a photography exhibit located in the CFA green.
If you would like to get involved in the Wesleyan Refugee Project, check out their Facebook page or email Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.