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Opportunities to Help Refugees Highlighted at Local Panel

Claire Kidwell

Some students say they have a new perspective on the situation facing refugees after attending a listening session Wednesday on the Missouri State University campus.

The panel conversation among local refugee families and the officials who help place them in the community came just days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Leila Ismaio, a senior at Nixa High School, attended the event to hear what’s going on in the community, but came away with something she didn’t expect.

“I definitely came here thinking I would just be able to see what’s going on in the community, and what I ended up getting was a lot of different opportunities.”

Ismaio says the issue hits close to home, since all of her family is from Libya. The north African country is one of the seven from which travelers are barred from coming to the United States for 90 days.

Ismaio said the panel instilled hope for a successful challenge to the executive order, which has come in the form of lawsuits and protests across the country, including in Springfield.    

“I think the biggest thing I got out of it is an outlet, or I guess new tunnels to take, because we had the demonstration on Monday but we’re like okay, what do we do now? So coming here gave me optimism to keep the movement going,” says Ismaio.

Credit Be Civil Be Heard Facebook Page
Be Civil Be Heard Facebook Page

The forum, held inside MSU’s Plaster Student Union, was organized by the organization Be Civil Be Heard, along with Welcome Home Springfield, a non-profit that helps newly arrived refugees.

The panel consisted of refugees from war-torn countries, their families, as well as local clergy, and opposition to the recent ban. Welcome Home officials spoke of how students and members of the community can connect and get involved with refugee families in Springfield.

Collin Hadley, a senior at MSU, said that this panel really brought to life issues he would often read about in the news.

“For me it was really interesting to put a face to the issue in a way, because you know it’s hard to kind of visualize those people sometimes when you’re just reading it on a screen.”

He said getting to “see and meet and have the chance to actually interact with people who are actually facing these issues” brought this dispute into reality.

After the panel finished up their speeches, a majority of the audience questions were directed at how they could get involved. Ideas such as a picnic hosted by Welcome Home Springfield and a training session on lobbying at government offices were suggested.

Olga Joselyn Mendoza is a first generation college student at MSU whose grandfather emigrated from Mexico. Mendoza says opportunities have been opened up to her since her family came to America, and she wants to help provide those same opportunities for others.

“I honestly believe that people just need to be together and people need to be loved, and if I could do anything to help in that way that’d be great…these people need help and I can actually do that.”

She described this panel as “inspiring,” noting how many people from a variety of backgrounds and faiths can come together to work on the same issue. Ismaio agreed, saying “being here and seeing all this happen makes me hopeful for the future.”

You can find more information about Welcome Home Springfield here.

Later this week, KSMU will bring you interviews with families from Iraq and Somalia that have recently relocated to the Springfield area.

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