McKeen Center Orientation Trips Learn About Immigrants and Refugees, Other Social Issues

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McKeen Center’s immigrant and refugee community engagement orientation trip

Students from the Bowdoin Class of 2020 began their orientation trips Wednesday morning, August 24, 2016. Some have headed into the wilderness, backpacking or canoeing; some are working with Native American communities in Washington County; and others have chosen to stay based on campus and learn more about the communities on their doorstep. The Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good has organized several excursions to nearby communities to examine socially important issues. For example, one group of ten students—eight first-years and two student leaders —is looking at the problems facing immigrants and refugees in Maine.

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Kama Jones El ’17

They began the day volunteering, picking up trash in some woods near a residential facility run by the Portland Housing Authority. “About 75 percent of the residents there are immigrants and refugees,” said Kama Jones El ’17, one of the student leaders. As the group broke for lunch in a downtown Portland pizza restaurant, she explained how she and the other student leader were drawing on previous experience working with immigrant and refugee groups, thanks to the Alternative Spring Break programs run by the McKeen Center: Jones El spent time working with immigrants in Atlanta, GA, while June Lei ’18 volunteered in a project at the Mexican border.

The goal of this particular trip, though, is to introduce the incoming students, most of whom are from out-of-state, to aspects of Maine they would likely not know about, said Lei. “In particular we want to make them aware of the diversity of immigrants in Maine, and the different populations that intersect right here on our doorstep,” she added.

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Papa Sekyere ’20

Papa Sekyere ’20, who was born in Ghana but grew up in the US, said he chose this trip for one reason above all: “I think it’s important to experience new things and learn about different perspectives, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to do that.” Neoma Daniel ’20 from Buffalo, NY, said she’s interested in social justice and wants to feel part of the community she’s studying in. “This is a chance to understand the community and make a difference,” she said, “rather than just be a guest here for four years.” Tristan Falardeau ’20 is the lone Mainer in the group. He’s from Saco. “I had not really thought that much about immigrants and refugees in Maine until I came on this trip,” he said. “It’s an important and interesting issue.”

Following their trip to Portland on Wednesday, these students are due to volunteer at other service projects over the remainder of the week. On Thursday, for example, they’re visiting the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project in Lisbon, the state’s largest immigrant and refugee farmer training program, run by the nonprofit group Cultivating Community.

This orientation trip is one of four that the McKeen Center is running this week in the local area. Other groups are looking at issues of hunger and homelessness, environment and sustainability, and public health. In all, the center runs fourteen orientation trips across the state.

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