Rams for Refugees holds first symposium to raise awareness about refugees

Katie Marshall

Speakers such as Colorado State University alumnus and Syrian native Radwan Kalaaji spoke at a Refugees Symposium hosted by the student organization Rams for Refugees.

Rams for Refugees is a student organization on campus dedicated to educating the community about what refugees experience, meanwhile donating time and money to help refugees as well. It is a new student organization which began this year and has grown to 40 members on RamLink with a full cabinet.

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The symposium was sponsored by the Political Science Department at Colorado State University and the Enough Project, which concentrates on ending genocide and building peace in Africa.

The symposium focused on refugees from the middle-east and Africa, but stands for every refugee, including those from South America and parts of Russia, said Christian Harbert, president and co-founder of Rams for Refugees.

Though the Ethnic Studies and Political Science Departments were very supportive of the symposium, CSU as an institution seemed to be indifferent about the subject, Harbert said.

Rams for Refugees is not a political organization, but an organization for students to join and stand up for what they believe in, Harbert said.

“Our message is really simple, anybody can get behind it,” Harbert said.

Harbert said he received most support from the two departments and students and that Rams for Refugees has not received any backlash for the work they are doing.

The first day of the symposium featured speakers including Eric Ishiwata, an associate professor of ethnic studies.

The second day of the symposium included interactive activities, videos, more guest speakers and a presentation from Defend Our Future, a student organization aimed at educating about climate change.

One of the interactive activities was identity cards, designed to help the audience live through the perspective of refugees. The cards handed out were inspired by real people and the audience “lived” through their specific card—reading their stories and seeing before and after pictures of the towns refugees lived in.

Two videos were also shown, one documenting the strikes in Aleppo and another of children in Aleppo singing that they would persist.

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A member of Rams for Refugees, Radwan Kalaaji, then spoke of his own story.

Radwan Kalaaji was born in Aleppo, Syria and still has family there. About 50 years ago, he traveled to America to attend CSU and graduated with a master’s degree in civil engineering. Kalaaji said he is in Colorado to stay, but spoke of the impacts of the war in Syria.

“Everyday [that] comes is worse than the day before,” Kalaaji said. “You cannot imagine how worse it’ll be in one day, a year or ten years from now.”

Kalaaji said he believes media outlets do not bring enough attention to Syria, Aleppo specifically. Kalaaji said he believes most people do not realize how many refugees are running for their lives, while the status of refugees in different countries is politically debated.

Kalaaji said there are millions more refugees that most Americans are unaware of around the world.

Rams for Refugees recently raised over $4,000 through local donations from the city of Fort Collins and Plymouth Church. The money will be donated to Doctors Without Borders. Doctors Without Borders provides emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict and disaster, according to their website.

Collegian reporter Katie Marshall can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @katie_marshall3.