Urban Plunge 2011, Dallas

During Fall Break 2011, SMU students spent four days with SMU Catholic Campus Ministry in Vickery Meadow, an area of Dallas just five miles north of campus that is home to many refugee families.

An awakening

An update from Tarry, a sophomore electrical engineering major:

In life there is always more than one perspective to everything, and I got the chance to see the other side of life not many people get a chance to see. Urban Plunge was really an awakening for me because I saw things from a different view.

First, a group of strangers live together in a small apartment for four days, all for the same purpose – which is to help. You would think that you get tired of each other after sometime, but actually each day as we got to know each other more, we got closer. I wish that the experience could have been longer because the more time I spent with these people who were “strangers” at first, the more I wanted to get to know them.

It is different to see a different side of a person outside of the SMU “bubble.” I was glad I got to see different sides of everyone and can say that I made a couple of new friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Secondly, I went to a school here in Dallas called the Richland Collegiate High School, and I rode the bus to school every day. The route that my bus took happened to go by an area of Dallas that looked like the ghetto to me, so I was always scared when we got to this part. Unbeknownst to me was that the place we were going to is only 15 minutes from SMU and that the apartment we were living was in the exact same area that I used to be afraid of and called the ghetto. It was then that I began to see things so differently.

I went from being a passenger on bus 582 on my way to and from school to playing chickens in the den with the children who called this place home. Never in my life would I ever have imagined myself doing such a thing.

Lastly, I was to realize how many things in life I have taken for granted. The one that resonated the most with me was speaking English. I grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe, and learned English as a second language to the point where I am just as fluent as any native English speaker. I took for granted the fact that I learned English growing up, so when I came here, communication was not an issue. But most of the families that come to America to seek refuge don’t know any English at all, and it is difficult for them to express their needs. For example the Somali and Burmese families I had the pleasure of working with – were it not for hand gestures, we would not have been able to help them in any way.

This was an amazing experience, and I am more than happy that I had the opportunity to do all the amazing things that we did on this trip. I wish that there was more time because I feel as though we didn’t do enough. The most touching thing that was said to me by one of the kids of the Somali family was “When are you coming back?” and sadly the answer had to be “I don’t know.” This leaves me thinking, “What am I going to do to try to change that answer?”

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One family’s journey from Somalia

An update from Ayen, a senior journalism and human rights major:

My professors have done an outstanding job in bringing Somalia into the classroom by making the current famine a reality beyond the pages of a newspaper, but it was not until Urban Plunge, an alternative fall break retreat, that the situation literally met me face to face. 

I met a refugee family on the second day of our immersion experience.  They arrived in Dallas in early October from the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, where the children were born and raised.  After a week in the U.S., the father was working relentlessly to acclimate his family to the new country.  We had the opportunity to assist them during our Urban Plunge.

During Urban Plunge, students dive into the life of a refugee for four days, and in doing so, move into Vickery Meadow community.  Just five miles from SMU, Vickery Meadow is home to over 10,000 refugees from all over the world.  It is normal in Vickery to talk to representatives from Burma, South Sudan and Burundi, all in one day. 

Urban Plunge is a special experience in that it allows students to put a face in front of the word “refugee” so that they become more than statistics.  For example, this father and his family were not among the estimated 70,000 Somalis that the United Nations expects to parish in the hands of famine.  They are here,  and I realized that if the world does not react appropriately, there is a good chance that we will lose them as well as others in Somalia.

Because I was familiar with the situation from class lectures, I led myself to believe that I already knew them prior to our initial encounter.  The academic in me quickly began to think of the unfavorable statistics, the harsh conditions of the refugee camp, the newspaper articles that painted a very detrimental picture.  I was expecting to meet a family that was defeated by the circumstances. 

I could not have been more wrong.  When I approached the apartment, I was met by the family’s excited children.  None of them had enough face to contain the enormous smiles that lit up their apartment.  They ran from room to room chasing each other and doing what children do.

After playing with the children, I was introduced to the oldest child, Abdulahi, 18 years old.  We asked him if there was anything that we could assist him with. Without hesitation his response was that he wanted to go to college and he intended to go as soon as possible.

We quickly began the process with a trip to Richland Community College, where he picked up an application for admission as well as information designed for a newly arrived refugee. 

Abdulahi wants to be a doctor, and after witnessing his determination and focus, I am convinced that one day I will refer to him as Dr. Abdulahi.

It will, no doubt, take time for Abdulahi and his family to achieve their dreams.  It will be months until Abdulahi begins college courses and years before medical school.  However, it is exciting to witness the journey from Dadaab.

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