By: JOSELYN ELLINGTON
On March 23 a group of IU South Bend students volunteered their time to welcome and support refugee children at an event called A Day of Service for Refugee Children, hosted by the Student Counseling Center and Office of International Student Services.
Eighteen-year-old high school student Catherine Serianni, founder of the non-profit organization Bear Hugs for Children, led the group.
Volunteers sewed around 20 color-patterned bears and made a pile of cards for the refugee children.
“We love you! Welcome! We are glad you are here! This bear was made for you with lots of warmth and love!,” were some of the personal messages on the hand-made cards.
Serianni said Bear Hugs for Children has three missions.
“One is to make [the refugee children] feel like part of the community and embrace them. We also want to offer those that are interested an opportunity to get involved. Third is we educate. We come to groups, clubs and public events and raise awareness about the world refugee crisis,” she said.
The 2017 Ai Weiwei film “Human Flow” played in the background while the group worked. The film tells the story of a global refugee crisis, according to IMDB.com.www.IMBD.com. Volunteer Christine Bettcher said the film helps increase awareness for refugees who are on the move.
According to Serianni, 200-300 refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo currently living in Saint Joseph County.
During resettlement refugees are assigned to an agent who helps them find a job, enroll in school and adjust to their new lives. The local refugees are recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Catholic Charities in South Bend resettle refugees in our area, Serianni said.
“I hope these kids know that people love them and care. I know this situation has its ups and downs, but people do care. There are so many things I could do but I am here. I love devoting my time to this. It is worth it,” said Junior accounting major Faith Mansaray.
Nursing student Glory Mbuluku is from Congo. She likes doing things to help people, she said.
Estrela Modo from Angola said she was there for the same reason. “I like to help people especially kids who are in need. I am enjoying this,” Modo said.
Bettcher is forming an on campus empowerment group that will respond to social justice needs, service and advocacy. She welcomes students of interest to respond and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Bear Hugs for Children visit https://www.bearhugsforchildren.org/.