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Students engage with refugees in Brunswick and beyond

December 6, 2019

The recent influx of asylum seekers in the American Northeast has motivated Bowdoin students to engage with refugees in Brunswick and its surrounding cities and develop new service programs tailored to meet the needs of these communities.

Caroline Daigle ’20, a special projects fellow at the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good, is currently developing new programs to connect Bowdoin students with Midcoast Literacy, an organization that provides English-language tutoring to asylum seekers living in Maine.

“[Refugees] need to find ways to transport themselves [and gain access to] health care. Education, and then language, is a barrier for all of these things,” Daigle said. “All of the issues surrounding that can be so overwhelming.”

Because the 12-month commitment of a full-time tutor is not feasible for most students, Daigle is working to create meaningful positions with a less strict time commitment available to members of the Bowdoin community. Such programs will include opportunities to work as a tutoring assistant, a back-up tutor or a participant in English-language discussion groups, as well as providing transportation for students and watching the children of students during lessons.

Kim Hancock ’21 is the leader of Bowdoin’s Portland Housing Authority Mentoring and Tutoring Program (PHA). Along with the rest of the club, Hancock travels to a subsidized housing community in Portland each week to work with students aged four to 15 years old that primarily come from immigrant and refugee families—playing outside, working on art projects and tutoring them. This is her second year working with PHA.

“I think my favorite part [of working with PHA] is building relationships with kids,” Hancock said. “I’ve been working with the same couple of kids and building relationships with them, and I feel like having that kind of one-on-one interaction has been really rewarding.”

Daigle’s work with Midcoast Literacy informed her perspective on issues relating to immigrants and refugees and strengthened her desire to support these communities.

“I have a greater understanding of the complete breadth of support needed to help people enter a community for the first time,” Daigle said. “Just even being on the periphery of people helping support this group, it’s overwhelming how much needs to be done.”

Similarly, Hancock’s work with PHA has led her to better understand the disparity of privilege in Midcoast Maine and the vast amount of work—by both community members and policy-makers—that is required to create a safe and stable environment for asylum seekers and other vulnerable marginalized populations.

“[I realized] that Portland isn’t just this place where Bowdoin students can go to shop around,” Hancock said. “It’s more diverse than I ever thought a city in Maine would be. And learning more about the struggles that are going into the town policy … and redefining what homelessness means within a city that does have a lot of inequality has been really eye-opening.”

But at the end of the day, Hancock’s work has made her more optimistic, not less.

“Given everything—I mean, I don’t know the details of their home lives, but just seeing that [a] kid has such a positive attitude on the world is very hopeful.”


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