The following is reposted with permission from the author and local Cincinnati student, Adam Sella. Adam was part of The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students and recent high school graduates to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs. Adam’s article was originally posted on the NSLI-Y website.
Heartfelt Tidbits is proud to have responded to Adam, by matching him with refugee speakers for the events of the STAR (Students Together Assisting Refugees) Club and supporting the group’s initiatives in various ways like the assembly hosted by STAR. “Meeting with Sheryl connected me to so many organizations and ideas that I wouldn’t have found on my own,” says Adam.
My experience as a NSLI-Y scholar in Rabat, Morocco, last summer was a turning point in my life. Apart from learning Arabic and enjoying the Moroccan culture, I met amazing people, from fellow American scholars to local Moroccans. One thing I did not anticipate was that I would become so passionate about helping refugees in my community.
Influenced by other NSLI-Y students who had helped refugees in the U.S., and prompted to action by the unfolding tragedy of the Syrian refugees, I was set to use my Arabic skills to connect with refugees. At first, I reached out to organizations in my hometown of Cincinnati offering them help. But those organizations either ignored my emails, or responded by saying that I was too young. Undaunted, I started a club at my high school that I named Students Together Assisting Refugees (STAR). The club is dedicated to aiding refugees and spreading awareness of the crisis. I was amazed that once I had an official club behind me, people paid attention to me and responded enthusiastically to my emails. Everyone wanted to help us as best they could.
In the few months that STAR has been in existence, we have accomplished a lot. The highlight was a school assembly, attended by over 300 students, where refugees shared their heart-wrenching and inspiring stories about their lives. In addition, we organized a movie night, which doubled as a fundraiser for refugee college scholarships, featuring the refugee-themed movie, The Good Lie. We also launched a Welcome Basket Drive where we collected over 750 items, and raised over $1,000 with bake sales and other fundraisers. Most recently, STAR members started tutoring and playing with refugee children at a nearby public elementary school.
Our future plans include expanding the activities of STAR with a simulation that would allow students get a sense of how it feels to be a refugee and extending the platform of STAR to other schools to increase student involvement.
As for my personal plans, I am going this summer to Germany for three weeks to volunteer in an organization that helps Syrian refugee youths who arrived in Germany alone. My experience and involvement in STAR convinced me both that the refugee crisis is a monumental problem with worldwide consequences, and that sadly Americans still care very little about the situation. I hope that the trip to Germany will bring me closer to the epicenter of the crisis and will make me a better advocate for refugees in the US.
Adam Sella is a Senior at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, OH. Apart from his involvement in STAR, he participates in his school’s Model UN club and Academic Quiz Team, and serves as student body president. Adam loves reading, cooking, traveling, playing sports with his friends, and going to theater productions in Cincinnati.
Photo Credits: Adam Sella, Olivia Loomis, Deja Chappell, Nabeela Malek, Amanda Solomon, and Katie Williams