Friday, May 16, 2008

Student Action for Refugees

Last Sunday, I taught my last English class in Cairo. For the last two semesters, I have been volunteering with Student Action for Refugees (STAR), a student-run organization working to raise awareness and reach out to the refugee community in Cairo. Every Sunday night during this past semester, I journeyed to the northern Cairo neighborhood of Ain Shams to teach English to Iraqi and Sudanese refugees. I enjoyed teaching the classes, and I also benefited from a little Arabic practice myself. Both teacher and students learned a great deal about each other, and I will miss my students.

If I can make one last observation about STAR, it’s this: it was never about the English. While teaching English was a rewarding experience, and my students improved their language skills a little, the bottom line is that you can’t learn much English in a class that meets three hours a week for 10 weeks. That’s just a small part of what we do. For me, STAR is about bringing together communities into a common arena where dissimilar groups share time and space. As a result, we become one community, a STAR community, comprised of American students and Iraqi and Sudanese refugees. Where else in the world does this diverse arrangement exist? It probably doesn’t, and that is why STAR is such a beneficial program.

My experience was much more than a class. It was a dynamic process of building community. And I see the potential in these kinds of activities. Community building and inter-community interaction is the key to improving the well being of people around the world. A peaceful world is only possible if the citizens of the world can begin to think of themselves as a global community with shared interests. Building communities that transcend state-centered identity is a necessary component of such change. I believe in the assumption that a man who loves his brother does not fight his brother. This, I believe, is an assumption we as a global community can build upon.

For more information on STAR, visit our website at

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