Humanism in Action: Two Remarkable English majors — Mehra Gharibian
This year saw two of our majors embark on life-changing journeys that illustrate the value and power of a liberal arts education. Mehra Gharibian traveled to Nicosia, Cyprus, to help young refugees; Miguel Contreras attended the League of United Latin American Citizens conference in Washington, D.C. They tell their stories below.
Gharibian with two friends from the shelter.
Last December, I was in the airport preparing to spend my winter break in Nicosia, Cyprus, at the Hope for Children refugee shelter. I was excited, I was nervous, but mostly I was relieved. The fall quarter I had just finished had certainly been the hardest quarter of my college career for a variety of reasons, but among all of the usual stresses, I felt a burning responsibility toward this work. The refugees that I saw on my screen every day leaving Iraq and Syria reminded me of my own family history. The families leaving Iraq seemed no different in circumstance or need than my own family, which left Iraq under similar conditions decades ago.
I traveled to Nicosia with a program called Generation Human Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing individualized help and attention to refugee youth around the world and then collecting the results of this work to implement new curricula within American youth education. Specifically, I was tasked to host workshops in narrative expression and storytelling. These types of workshops happened throughout my two weeks, and along the way, I was able to help in even more ways.
I spent my whole day at the shelter every day, arriving after breakfast and leaving after dinner. I quickly got to know many of the boys, most nearing 18 years of age. As we became close, I began to understand specific ways I could help my individual friends. One of my friends needed help with his daily English homework, and some others wanted help learning English at a more rapid level. One very dear friend that I made at the shelter aspired to attend a university in the United States after he finished high school, so I worked with him to research universities and their scholarship opportunities.
This work, along with my assistance or facilitation of different activities and discussions, made the two weeks I was in Nicosia pass far too quickly. I ended my time at the shelter spending Christmas with the boys, many of whom had never celebrated the holiday before. in humanism ACTION TWO REMARKABLE ENGLISH MAJORS 06 | Cal Poly English Department only CONNECT FALL 2016 | 07 We built a Christmas tree and decorated it with lights and ornaments, and over lunch, we discussed the cultural implication of Christmas for countries in the West. Christmas wasn’t simply for Christians, as many of them had previously believed, it was a cultural tradition that included everyone in Western countries. This tradition now included them as well.
For me, my service in Cyprus was a responsibility within the context of my privilege. I am a Middle Eastern American attending a university in California, with my family happy and physically together. Considering the context of my family’s journey to the United States, I am the exception. Through my time at Home for Hope I gained an opportunity to realize this responsibility, as well as the opportunity to befriend some of the most intelligent, motivated, and resilient individuals I’ve ever met. I hope that in addition to the workshops, tutoring and advising, I in turn gave the boys hope for a future in which they settle in the West and have children that may one day attend their own universities and return to fulfill their own responsibilities.
Throughout my trip, and now even more in retrospect, I recognize and appreciate the individuals at Cal Poly who made this experience possible for me. I originally brought the idea to my department chair, Kathryn Rummell, and to the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Debra Valencia-Laver. They immediately supported me and within a matter of a few days, they were able to find me full funding. For this, I am forever grateful. I am also grateful to the College of Liberal Arts, the English and Ethnic Studies departments, and, most importantly, individual alumni donors. All of these parties made possible an impossibly important experience for me, and I hope, for the friends I met abroad. I plan to pursue a career in academia, and I hope that I will one day be able to provide this opportunity for another young Middle Eastern American looking to fulfill his or her responsibility in the same way.
This fall Gharibian will attend UC Irvine to pursue a doctorate in visual studies.
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