School supplies provide chances at success for refugee students

Senior Aaron Ichel has chosen to use his senior project to benefit local refugee students in hopes of raising awareness to the challenges they face.

Aaron Ichel, Mirada Staff

“I hope to bring awareness to the educational disparities often prevalent in refugee communities,” senior Aaron Ichel said, reflecting on the potential of his school supply donation project, Operation Educare, to open the eyes of students to the inequalities experienced by certain demographics.

Ichel is collecting school supplies to donate to the Sacramento Branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) which seeks to provide opportunities and supplies for refugees, asylees and other immigrants to promote success in school and beyond.

Ichel was inspired by the Red Cross and their International Humanitarian Law Youth Action campaign which educated him on the lack of education in developing countries, especially those which have been part of extended conflicts. He trained on the campaign and spent a significant amount of time studying the international laws that govern armed conflict.

“What really shocked me and was the main inspiration behind my project was the fact that in most countries experiencing war, schools and other educational facilities are illegally used as bases for fighting, preventing millions of kids in these countries from going to school,” Ichel said. “This made me realize how fortunate I am to have access to a steady education—something I think everyone should be entitled to.”  

Inspired by the international efforts of the Red Cross, Ichel turned locally to look for ways to help refugees faced with a lack of resources with which to advance their education. He decided that a school supply drive collecting essential items for students such as binders and folders, notebooks, writing supplies, erasers, calculators, and gently used backpacks was a feasible way to help the local refugee community during a time when other in-person services are hard to come by.

We were unable to reach anyone at the Sacramento office for comment on their efforts to assist refugees due to the fact that they are all working remotely because of COVID-19 restrictions.

According to their website, the IRC seeks to provide opportunities to asylees, immigrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking. They work with governments of all levels and local volunteers to help settle people in local communities and use their strengths to find jobs and ways to contribute to their new homes.

School supplies are often hard for refugee families to afford because they are already underprivileged and many are at a financial disadvantage because of the dangerous situations they come from. Ichel says that in warzones, students cannot attend school because of a lack of resources as well as a danger of attacks so they do not have any school materials upon arriving in the US. 

For many of these students, something as simple as a binder, notebook, writing utensil and backpack can jumpstart their success in school. The right materials can mean the difference between students feeling engaged in their education and losing motivation or desire to learn.

Outside of contributing supplies to the IRC, Ichel hopes to inspire others to not just be aware of issues in the community but to actively find ways to create change in their everyday lives. The IRC offers volunteer opportunities to people over 18 years of age with a variety of positions ranging from tutors to tax preparation advisors. 

Ichel also suggests that students simply consider their classmates when looking to support the refugee community. 

“One small and simple thing you can do is take into consideration the large population of refugee and immigrant students at Rio,” Ichel said. “If you have an English learner in your class, don’t hesitate to connect with your teacher to ensure that the student has the resources they need to be successful.”

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