If you can sweep or fold, then you’re ready to help out with the Refugee Student Alliance (RSA), — a student organization that focuses on volunteer opportunities aiding Rochester’s refugee community..

Junior Maryama Thiam is the president of the Refugee Student Alliance. She has been in the organization since her first year at UR.

“We just work with that population in Rochester, since Rochester has a high percentage of resettlement,” Thiam explained. “And we work with that population to help them with different things, like transitioning into Rochester from their previous country — their home — or helping with housing set-ups or tutoring. Just different things to make them feel comfortable.”

RSA works with Rochester’s Catholic Charities chapter to help with housing setups. The Catholic Charities chapter has 90 days to help the refugee families resettle, and the RSA assists in cleaning and making the houses feel more home-like. This aspect of their volunteer work is more behind-the-scenes and sporadic. Once a week they get an email with dates and times of when the Catholic Charities are doing these housing setups, and the RSA helps out.  

While RSA does a great deal of behind-the-scenes volunteer work, there have been events where they can interact with those they work to help. The organization did an event welcoming Syrian refugees to Rochester with the Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services. Thiam said this event was really nice because it provided an opportunity to bond with the people they’re helping and work with children. She recalled how, even though they didn’t speak the same language, they were able to play games with the kids, and even make them laugh with how they struggled to say the same words. 

“I think actually getting to sit down and interact with them was really nice because you get to learn a lot about them, even though there is a language barrier. We had a translator there to help us understand what they were saying, so it was really nice to get to hear their story and how they came here,” said junior Gabrielle Wilson, who joined RSA this year and serves as vice president.

She also described some of the other volunteer opportunities the organization does. 

“We’ve been working with St. Mary’s Place, it’s like a food kitchen, and we go and give out food and meals to those who really need it,” Wilson explained. “We also do clothing drives. We did one with SALSA [the Spanish and Latino Students’ Association],  and that was pretty good, just to give back to the community.”

RSA also works with many minority student organizations to help bring awareness to the problems that are happening in different countries. 

“One of the things we did last semester was work with the Pan-African Student Association, and we did the Crisis Around the World, and it was about the Democratic Republic of Congo. We basically were bringing awareness to what’s going on in Congo,” Thiam said. 

In the coming year, RSA has a goal of bringing back its tutoring program. During Thiam’s first year, RSA worked with a school consisting of refugee students and did tutoring every Saturday in Carlson Library. RSA also plans to have more events that are not just volunteering and to expand past the core eight to 10 members of their organization. 

“Volunteering is for everybody. I think as students we kind of think that the things that we do are so limited, but there’s so many things we can do as students. A lot of these orgs, they love seeing students. That’s what makes our org what it is, we’re a bunch of students just trying to volunteer and help our community.” Thiam said. 



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