Laptops for Refugees

SMU students recently provided international refugees living in Dallas with computer equipment, with the goal of making the adjustment to life in the U.S. easier.

In November, six students from the university’s Cox School of Business partnered with SMU’s Engaged Learning Fellowship program, which provides grants to fund various research and service projects.

As part of their Project Management class, students teamed with the local office of the global humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee (IRC) and gave 11 refugee clients laptop computers, free of charge and loaded with Rosetta Stone English-language software, to help the refugees teach themselves English.

The students purchased the refurbished devices and software with grant money awarded to them through the Engaged Learning program.

During a training session at IRC’s offices the SMU students, assisted by translators, taught refugees how to operate the computers and software.

By learning to speak English, refugees greatly improve their chances of landing stable employment and connecting with vital services, as well as better acclimating in their new communities, according to Alex Laywell, volunteer coordinator for IRC.

IRC’s clients hail from Iran, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burma, among other nations. Last year, the local office helped resettle nearly 1,000 refugees in North Texas.

“This is a huge need,” Laywell said. “The reality is so many of our clients, when they’re new here and they don’t speak the language, they’re having to work odd jobs or odd shifts.”

Being able to speak English, as well as having computer access, is critical for them, he said. “You’re able to apply for your own jobs. You’re able to make your own medical appointments, pay your bills. … It really just puts you in the driver’s seat of your life.”

The SMU students also secured a donation of several computer CPUs from ForeRunner Recycling in Dallas. The units will be given to other IRC clients who live in ethnically diverse neighborhoods such as Vickery Meadow, where they will be shared among residents.

While other local organizations offer ESL classes, oftentimes refugees are unable to attend due
to unpredictable work schedules, as well as a lack of reliable transportation and childcare options, Laywell said.

By having a laptop or desktop computer at their disposal, he explained, “They can be [learning English] on their own time and at their own pace.”

The technology will likely prove beneficial for all family members, said SMU junior Uroob Haris, a chemistry and business management major who participated in the class project.

“These parents are not only educating themselves, but [are] also opening up doors to opportunities for their children,” she said. “Their acquired English-language skills [will] help them advance their careers, find social networks, navigate healthcare, just make so many aspects of daily life accessible to them.”

The refugees at the IRC event were “just ecstatic over receiving the technology,” said senior Anna Landreneau.

“They were really touched by the fact that, especially with the current political climate, students in the local community would reach out to them and teach this class and help guide them.”

The marketing major said she is passionate about the “empathy gap” that exists for many refugees in the U.S.

“Everyone has their experiences and fears, and sometimes those fears are backed up by legitimate concerns,” Landreneau said. “But I feel like when it comes to the needs of the community, that surpasses political ideology, that surpasses the fear of what’s going on abroad. … It’s our job to reach out and be compassionate to people who we have no idea what they’ve been through.”

Since the event, the students have received additional donations of computers and software, and plan to host another training session with IRC’s clients this spring, according to Dr. Karin Quinones, an SMU adjunct professor who teaches the Project Management course.

This project was particularly inspiring, she said, because the students “had a chance to see the families receive the computers and begin to work on learning or improving their English right away. There was a great connection between the refugees and the students.”

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