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By Brittany Smythe
BSBA Marketing ’11

 Eller students volunteer at a refugee clothes drive.

Eller students volunteer at a refugee clothes drive.

In fall 2008, senior management and organizations lecturer Cindi Gilliland developed an extra-credit program aimed at connecting students with international refugees living in the Tucson area. Students in her class volunteered to help refugees learn English and improve communication skills, obtain jobs, create resumes, and develop a basic understanding of American currency.

Now the initiative, known as the World Work Program, is gaining more traction on campus. Through the program, a team from Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) hosts seminars and workshops to provide refugees with the necessary tools to accomplish their personal business initiatives. A new organization, Arizona Refugee Connection (ARC), was formed through Associated Students of the University of Arizona to further promote the initiative.

“With almost 500 students in my classes, I knew we would have the person-power to provide some much-needed assistance to the three local refugee resettlement agencies,” says Gilliland. “But the skill, enthusiasm, and generosity of my Eller students has overwhelmed me, even after 20 years of teaching.”

This fall, ARC planned and hosted the largest refugee event in southern Arizona history: the 2009 Refugee Healthcare Fair. The fair was a major undertaking for the club, which collected and distributed over 9,000 diapers, managed logistics, provided and coordinated translators in seven different languages, and managed a transport team which provided shuttle transportation to and from the event.

The fair showcased the Pima County Public Library, SIFE and the Entrepreneurship Student Association through informational booths offering resources to refugee job seekers. The refugees could complete online applications at the fair and connect with students for advice.

“The students have shown that they can effect real change among people who, by definition, have escaped horrific persecution in their home countries and who have arrived here hoping for the American dream but have instead encountered the reality of tough economic times,” says Gilliland.

 Eller students volunteer at a refugee health drive.

Eller students volunteer at a refugee health drive.

The refugee programs at the UA offer a new outlook for refugees and students alike. Students have shown an increased interest in the need for refugee attention and enjoy participating in these projects because of the opportunity to influence and change someone’s life is an assignment that goes beyond just points.

This fall, the ARC also completed several fundraisers, including a Halloween bake sale that generated over $500 to support future activities — many of which go beyond the pragmatic to focus on community-building. For example, ARC organized a Day at the Park, through which 40 refugee clients enjoyed lunch, partook in a friendly game of soccer, and toured the Reid Park Zoo.

The club also participated in November’s Bhutanese Celebration Event, is planning community gardens in two refugee apartment complexes, and is working directly with refugee entrepreneurs who plan to start businesses.

“By providing this opportunity for students, we allow them to develop cross-cultural and functional business knowledge and skills in the real world,” says Gilliland. “ARC helps Eller students increase their own employability, skill level, and self-confidence, while at the same time making a real difference in the lives of local refugees and the Tucson community.”