Encounters with refugees motivate Stone Ridge senior to advocate for their rights
May 15, 2017
The summer before her junior year of high school at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Emily Stutzman traveled to Sweden with her family. It was during one of the first waves of the refugee crisis, and she saw people who had fled their homes lining the streets, asking for help, and noticed Amnesty International there trying to manage the crisis.
When she returned to the United States, she decided to join the Amnesty International club at Stone Ridge, and was named the director of advocacy for refugee rights in the group. She also took a class on the Holocaust and contemporary genocide, which helped her learn more about refugees in other places and times. Her senior year, she volunteered as a student leader to show younger students around the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Stutzman is also on the “Infusion Team” for the Social Action Advisory Board, which tries to spread the message of the school’s social action program beyond every other Wednesday when the students do service in the community. As a part of this, she hosted a brown bag lunch to educate people about the Syrian refugee crisis.
What motivates her work, Stutzman said, is the morality of knowing, “This is wrong. …We can’t just let this keep going on without anyone doing anything.”
The summer before her senior year, Stutzman decided to go back overseas to Amman, Jordan, where her mom’s friend organizes a group every summer to volunteer at a shop that employs Jordanians who are underprivileged or have disabilities. Some of the goods that they made at the shop would be bagged up and sent to refugee camps, and others would be sold with the proceeds going to the camps. While in Jordan, she also volunteered at a soccer program for children of Palestinian refugees.
When she arrived in Jordan, Stutzman knew no Arabic. But as she worked alongside the Jordanian women, they began to teach her the language. One woman would point to objects and make her say the Arabic word for them, and another, who is deaf, began to teach her Arabic sign language.
While she was there, Stutzman got to meet and learn the stories of many people who had fled from their home countries. As she was browsing felt paintings in a large shopping area, she met a man who worked at the shop who told her about how he and his family had left Iraq when he was 14 years old. She went back to the shop a few more times, and every time gradually learned more about his story.
When asked where he would go if he could pick anywhere in the world, the man’s immediate response was, “I want to go back to Iraq.”
“I think people often overlook that,” Stutzman said. “They just assume they want to leave Syria or Iraq or wherever they are fleeing from, but in most cases they just want their home to be restored and to be able to return.”
A common theme that Stutzman heard from many refugees while she was there was that people fled from their war-torn countries so their kids could have a better future.
“Sometimes on the news it seems so far away and distant, and kind of seems like you can’t really do anything,” Stutzman said. “…Seeing it firsthand, you put a face to the picture you are hearing about on the news. And it’s like, ‘Wow these are real people who are being affected, and this could happen to anyone.’ If I was in their shoes, I would want someone to help.”
Stutzman still talks to the manager of the shop that she worked in and is hoping to return to Jordan this summer to attend her wedding. When Stutzman and the others in her group were getting ready to return to the United States, the store manager gave them all gifts from her home, because she could not afford to buy them something new, which Stutzman thought was “even more special and meaningful.”
In the fall, Stutzman will be attending the University of Toronto and plans to study peace and justice issues and maybe environmental studies, because, “If we don’t change our actions now, there will be climate change refugees,” she explained. After college, she thinks she would like to work with the United Nations.
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