Faculty and Students Aid Syrian Refugees

The 5,700 mile distance between New York City and Syria is not stopping members of the Manhattan College community from trying to help Syrian refugees.

“Just ask anybody, ‘What if you had to pack up tomorrow and move to Mexico with just $100 in your wallet and not knowing anyone there?’” William Merriman, Ph.D. and the dean of the School of Education and Health, said.

Syrian students, families and children fearing for their lives have been fleeing a homeland torn apart by violence and civil war with the hopes of finding a better place to live.

“A lot of people were living in places that were bombed. Their houses, streets, neighborhoods are gone. Even places where people feel relatively safe, they aren’t safe,” Merriman said.

As massive numbers of Syrians enter other countries, Merriman said that the governments have to find a way to, “support 200,000 more people and they are afraid that their social service systems might collapse.”

This crisis is impacting not only Europe but the United States, as world leaders decide how responsible each country should be for accepting Syrian refugees.

Mehnaz Afridi, Ph.D. and assistant professor of religious studies, said that she feels this international affair is controversial because of the perception of Muslims and the number of refugees that would be taking over jobs in other countries.

Afridi said she was one of the people to begin the movement at MC to aid the refugees of Syria.

“I was frustrated by watching the thousands of families dying and suffering. I sent out a mass email to my colleagues and they were responsive. It’s hard to just sit and watch people suffer and not do anything,” Afridi said.

Lisa Rizopoulos, Ph.D. and professor of education, credits her natural instinct to help those in need as one of the reasons she and her students felt compelled to respond to Afridi.

“I think teachers innately want to help others and it doesn’t matter where anyone comes from. We just want to address students’ needs so that they can be happier,” Rizopoulos said.

Rizopoulos and students of the School of Education coordinated a clothing supply drive, which will run until the end of October, that is focusing on collecting mittens, hats and coats that will be sent over to Syrian refugees.

After the clothing drive, Rizopoulos plans on holding a school supply drive once she is aware of where students will be located to after they leave Syria.

“They left their clothes, homes, furniture, everything. They are going to a camp in another country where they probably just have a tent. So they need help with everything, really,” Merriman said.

Afridi said she hopes to bring a Syrian student and his or her family to the United States.

“My dream is to have them here amidst us. We can learn from all of this,” Afridi said.

In addition to monetary donations, another way to aid in this crisis is to make, “an effort to dismantle stereotypes of refugees,” Afridi said.

“As a college, I think we’re trying to support the students of Syria in a positive way,” Rizopoulos said.

Merriman, Afridi and Rizopoulos all related the college’s Lasallian roots and values to its involvement in aiding the refugees.

“It’s serving the poor. We serve the poor, not just locally or in the school but internationally,” Rizopoulos said.

“We should be aware of people and their plight. We are also a Lasallian school that is tied into helping the poor and disadvantaged regardless of faith,” Afridi said.