RefUGA is a non-profit organization at the University of Georgia. Its members are students with a passion for helping people who have fled their countries and governments because of persecution.
The founders are Mugdha Joshi and Madison Snelling, seniors at the University of Georgia who started RefUGA during spring 2014 and have had people joining the organization since fall 2014.
It all started with an impact (service) trip that Joshi went on during her sophomore year at UGA, where she traveled and did work to help refugees. She saw the great help that the refugees needed and decided it was something she wanted to continue working with back in Athens. Then and there she and her co-founder and now co-president, Madison Snelling, started making searches, searching for anything involving refugees in Athens. She stumbled across the Jubilee Partners in Comer, Georgia, a Christian service community working with refugees. Joshi along with Snelling felt like this could officially be something that would work and began forming RefUGA.
The refugee crisis hit Joshi somewhat hard when she thought of her background. “My parents were immigrants who came to America, so growing up in an immigrant family I noticed and experienced cultural and language barriers,” says Joshi. “The immigrant refugees experience this in a more intense way and they need more help to build a life in Georgia.”
Abby Scott, the co-vice president of events agrees that the refugees need a lot of help. “I was born and raised in Georgia as part of the majority,” says Scott. Scott wants to help because she believes, “It shouldn’t be just up to the immigrants to build a cohesive community and society.” Scott became involved in RefUGA because of her academics during her first year. She wrote a paper on refugees her freshman year and she has always been interested in xenophobic topics. The more she researched immigrants and refugees, the more she wanted to get involved, she interned at a resettlement agency and then became involved with RefUGA.
The organization holds events and does everything they can to help the Refugees in the Athens community. Some think it is a little odd that there are so many refugees in Athens. Joshi says it is actually a pretty decisive decision to moved to Athens. “When refugees are brought to georgia they typically get settled in Atlanta and they make the decision to move here,” says Joshi. “Their life back home is more agrarian and Athens has a lot of opportunities for that.” There’s a chicken processing plant near Athens where many of come to work. Athens has many other farming opportunities.
The organization does a lot of partnerships so that they can have an impact on real people in the community. RefUGA has partnered with Amnesty International, The Roosevelt Institute, Casa de Amnestad, and more. The club co-hosts many events. They even partner with classes such as the Arabic classes to promote their events. “I learned about RefUGA through my Arabic class and I heard about their clothing drive,” says Florie Santos, a sophomore at UGA. “They deal with some deep issues. I’ve decided I really want to get more involved in the organization.”
The club also spends its time and meetings trying to come up with policy solutions to resettlement issues. They have held many large events to raise awareness on the issue. One of the recent events was a movie screenings at the Ciné. Raising awareness is one of their biggest missions focused towards campus and the non-refugee community.
“We also have a t-shirt campaign going on that is a service projects to raise awareness of the refugees in Athens and Atlanta and donate money to them as well as to Syrian refugees,” says Scott. All of the proceeds from the t-shirt sale are going to the UNHCR, which is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They also are having a clothing drive being held now until mid-November. “A lot of refugees are being resettled and they do not own any winter clothes, so the drive is too supply refugees with clothes for this season,” says Scott.
The group also cares about hispanic refugees so they partner with Casa de Amnestad to hold events for hispanic immigrants on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They hang out and play with refugee children. They like to play soccer with the youth off of Jefferson Highway every Saturday. The soccer event is Scott’s personal favorite event the organization holds.
Joshi’s favorite experience is not a specific event, but how she “had this idea and this passion and was able to get other people excited about it,” says Joshi. When someone she does not know, who is not involved in the organization, asks her about their upcoming clothing drive, you can see her face light up seeing the reach they have had, in person.
Since the organization was created so recently their current executive board is soon to be graduating. Joshi’s biggest goal and hope for the upcoming semesters is keeping the organization alive. And getting more people involved. A resettlement agency from Atlanta is planning to open up a location in Athens and this is a great way for future members to be involved. They have many executive board positions. If you want to get involved you can email their account firstname.lastname@example.org or participate in any of the events they hold such as the t-shirt campaign.