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UNF Honor's Program hosts refugees

7:25 PM, Nov 17, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Imagine having no indoor plumbing, no car and not being able to speak English. That is reality for many of the 28,000 refugees that come to Florida each year.

On Saturday, a special event was held for some of the youngest political refugees now living in Jacksonville. University of North Florida faculty, coaches and students teamed up with community organizations to help break down cultural barriers and let the kids have some fun.

Fadi Mahdi came to Jacksonville about a year and a half ago from Iraq.

"There every day there were bombings everywhere that killed people, but here peace. I'd say 100 percent different than my country," Mahdi said.

He and about 50 other political refugees took part in a soccer tournament hosted by the UNF Honor's Program.

" From what they've come from coming here it has to be a culture shock so trying to adapt to that, all the different situations, it's difficult, but as far as the game of soccer once you bring it all to that one ground level where everybody is doing the same thing you still have that commonality among everyone else," said UNF student Steven Garcia. "It connects everyone even though they come from different things."

From mentoring refugee children to helping them learn American customs and teaching them soccer it's a hands-on learning experience for everyone involved.

"These are kids who have had a very rough existence prior to coming here and still face a lot of difficulties. These are kids whose parents had to flee their homeland," said Hiram Ruiz, Director of Refugee Services for Florida. "They grew up in refugee camps in situations we probably can't really imagine."

They come from around the world, many from Burma. While they learn about America, the UNF students are learning about empathy and the difference volunteering can truly make.

Leslie Kaplan, Interim Director of UNF's Honors Program, "I wanted my students to meet people in that situation so they would understand to have a sense of what it feels like to come here with one suitcase, having left your entire family behind and really to get to know these people and see how hard they are working and how difficult the transition is."

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