Each year, many Bowdoin students seek ways of working with Maine’s refugee and immigrant populations. They intern with nonprofit legal clinics, teach English as a second language, and tutor the children of immigrant families. This summer, several students took advantage of Bowdoin grants to pursue more in-depth and professional experiences. They interned with organizations that work closely with refugees and immigrants, both in Maine and around the country.
Emily Weinberger ’15, a Spanish and psychology major, received a Forest Foundation fellowship to work at Portland’s Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, part of the University of Maine Law School. Her duties include assisting lawyers and law students who are working on refugee cases. To provide background for refugees’ asylum declarations, Weinberger researches country conditions, including human rights abuses in their home countries. She also meets clients face-to-face to assist them with legal matters, such as applying for work permits or permanent residency.
Brian Golger ’15 has a Community Matters in Maine fellowship to intern at the Immigrant legal Advocacy Project in Portland, which provides legal support to low-income immigrants to help them adjust them to their new home. The rising senior, a government and legal studies major, helps clients apply for green cards and work permits, and also tries to reunite families by bringing over family members still living abroad.
Asian studies major Justin Ehringhaus ’16 has a Community Matters in Maine grant to work with Community Financial Literacy in Portland. CFL is a nonprofit that provides new Mainers with classes on money matters, such as how to save, establish good credit and apply for small business loans. It also offers one-on-one counseling. Ehringhaus is working to expand CFL’s program beyond financial literacy to offer workforce training to help immigrants find good-paying jobs. Ehringhaus said the best part of his job has been developing a sensitivity to the clients, who come from many cultures and countries, and finding ways to meet the needs of all of them. “If anything could change about this internship, I wish it was longer,” he said. “Ten weeks is so short.”
Margaret Webster ’16, a government and legal studies major, has a Strong/Gault Social Advancement Grant to intern this summer for two organizations in Boston: English for New Bostonians and the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center. The first, ENB, funds and promotes quality ESL classes across Boston. The second, RIAC, resettles new refugees. One of Webster’s most meaningful experiences so far has been helping a family of eight from the Democratic Republic of Congo adjust to their new city. Not one member of the family arrived speaking English. Webster helped enroll the children in public schools and the adults in English classes. “When [refugees] arrive we literally create a new life for them, which is a lot of responsibility,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible to see a family like this one, who got off a plane with one suitcase for eight people, starting a new life here.” Read more about Webster’s experiences in her own words.
After his Alternative Spring Break trip to Atlanta last March, where he and a small group of Bowdoin students volunteered with a refugee resettlement agency, Alex Sukles ’17 was eager to return. “When I saw how great an impact one person could have, I knew I wanted to explore this type of service,” he said. He was awarded a grant from the Preston Public Interest Career Fund to return to Atlanta this summer and intern with Lutheran Services of Georgia, which helps refugees become self-sufficient. Sukles has been touched by the hardships his clients have had to overcome. “Few people understand the struggle that refugees go through,” he said. “It is a grim statistic that less than one percent of them are resettled and that the remainder will continue to survive in camps where they will often stay for up to, on average, a decade.” Day to day, Sukles helps refugees navigate this country’s healthcare and education systems, and he coaches them on finding jobs and apartments.