Seeking Refuge in Service: NDP’s Close Ties to Children Affected By Trump’s Travel Ban

One of NDPs favorite service opportunities, Refugee Youth Project, helps support young refugees as they strive to conquer language and cultural barriers in America.

One of NDP’s favorite service opportunities, Refugee Youth Project, helps support young refugees as they strive to conquer language and cultural barriers in America.

Grace Sullivan , Co-editor

Notre Dame students have likely heard a lot about President Trump’s attempted immigration ban over the past few weeks. The ban, if accepted by the courts, would preclude immigration, travel, and the acceptance of refugees from seven majority Muslim countries. As this issue is settled in the courts, Notre Dame students will continue to debate its moral and political implications as well as the ways in which it affects our community.

The closest link NDP students have to the refugee community is through service. At Refugee Youth Project, NDP girls tutor refugee students at Moravia Park elementary school. These students come from a total of 17 different countries, including Iraq and Syria. Regardless of country of origin, these children face immense educational challenges as they strive to overcome language and culture barriers.

Junior Ellie Heffernan has devoted her time and passion to RYP, and has become a dedicated advocate for the rights of the children she serves. She explains, “RYP has been an extremely positive force in my life because whenever I’m upset about the state of the world, I always feel like I am contributing.”

In regards to President Trump’s executive order, Ellie says that, “RYP has given me a face and background to understand the Muslim community. I feel that people perceive Islam as a threat because they just don’t interact with Muslims frequently. When you pass a judgement on a culture you never come in contact with, it’s really easy to desensitize yourself to the violence they may be facing and dehumanize them. They become a faceless passport. You talk to somebody, and you start seeing that they’re just like you.”

I next asked Ellie about the kids at RYP. She told me, “The kids like drawing, they have friend drama, they like it when you sneak them extra snacks, and they don’t feel like doing their homework sometimes. They’re just like any other kids, and I feel like our society forgets this fact far too often.”

When asked how Trump’s policy would affect Refugee Youth Project, Mr. Pomplon, service director, explained, “The children at Refugee Youth Project include many from the seven countries named in the executive order. There is certainly a fear of heightened discrimination generated by recent statements from American leaders.”

I then asked Mr. Pomplon whether the ban would affect day to day operations at RYP. “Signs indicate that federal funding may slow further than it already has. Even during the Obama administration, funding was cut to programs like this. We used to have four days of programming for the kids. Now we just have two.” He continued, “A slowdown in legal processing presents further concerns.”

Ellie voiced similar funding worries, and she recommends that those wishing to help contact her for more information.