Social Action in Our Communities
The EUU supports social action and justice in many different ways, from volunteering in soup kitchens to collecting and distributing backpacks, books, clothing, glasses, soap, and towels. This year, we were able to sponsor charitable contributions by fellowships which were invited to submit a request and then donate to local organizations. Four of the fellowships that submitted applications are featured in this issue: Wiesbaden, Brussels, Paris, and the Netherlands. Although the deadline for further applications has now passed, the Social Action Coordinators strongly encourage other fellowships and members-at-large to consider local organizations that they feel are worth supporting in the future. This is a great way to work toward EUU’s goal of fostering a culture of social engagement and personal development both within the EUU and in our local communities.
Giving Refugees a Voice in Wiesbaden
The application from Wiesbaden is for a project called the Story Store. This is a project put together by Bledion, a young Albanian refugee who has worked with Syrian refugees and who came up with the Story Store as a way for refugees to publish their stories to promote awareness. After his idea won a contest in Wiesbaden, Bledion received a grant to help get the Story Store off the ground. In addition to giving these refugees an opportunity to make their voices heard, Bledion also teaches them German, though he himself is a new German speaker.
The Wiesbaden fellowship became involved with Bledion and the Story Store through Bonnie Friedmann, who teaches at the school Bledion has attended for the past two years. Some WUU members also made donations to help the Story Store win its initial grant. In Bonnie’s own words, “As a political refugee from Albania, Bledion came to our school on a scholarship two years ago. Not only has he learned English and German in addition to his Albanian and Italian, earned his degree with honors, and helped his family and younger brother, he also tutors refugees in German and started the Story Store as his senior IB project. He’s already been asked to give other groups advice on fundraising—and in between all that, he played a small part in our first Shakespeare production and the lead in our Macbeth last year and came to support our production in the audience this year.”
Bonnie adds that “now that Bledion has graduated Cum Laude from high school, he’s turning his attention to getting the Story Store up and running and sending donors the first books, as promised.” Finally, she says that she sees this application for funding “as both a one-off donation and a chance to build bridges with a dynamic young man who is helping make the world a better place.”
Supporting Women at Risk in Brussels
The application submitted by the Brussels fellowship is for Oasis, an organization that Sheryl Abrahams works with regularly. The Oasis Welcome Project (OWP) serves women, mostly of South Asian or North African descent, who have experienced gender-based violence, trafficking, and/or other forms of exploitation. These women and their children often experience social and cultural isolation and can be at risk of returning to violent and/or exploitative situations merely to meet basic needs like transportation or access to legal services.
The application from Brussels is specifically to use EUU funding for OWP’s Women’s Away Days, which are designed to create a sense of family and community, promote cross-cultural friendships, provide a safe space for reflection and ensure respite child care for OWP beneficiaries. Women and families come together once per quarter with Oasis staff members and volunteers to break bread together and participate in fun and relaxing activities, including gentle yoga and massage, while children are cared for by trained volunteers. The requested funds would support outreach to potential participants, food and material costs, participant transport costs, small gifts for participants, possible site rental costs, and Oasis staff time to evaluate the event and document best practices.
For another recent article about the Brussels fellowship’s involvement with Oasis, have a look at Sheryl’s article on the EUU website.
Supporting the Refugee Task Force in Paris
The Paris fellowship has requested funds to sponsor refugee memberships at the American Library in Paris, which grants memberships to refugees and asylum seekers, including families with children. Most refugees are men, either single or married, and in France alone for a time before bringing over their families. The American Library helps the refugees use the library’s resources and also offers an English conversation group.
Both UUFP and the American Library in Paris participate in the Community-wide Refugee Task Force established by the Association of American Women in Europe, while other members are anglophone organizations and churches like the American Church and the American Cathedral. UUFP will continue to support refugees through the Task Force, its participation in which has also raised UUFP’s profile in the Paris community.
Protecting the Environment in the Netherlands
The Dutch fellowship applied for a grant for Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), which is a successful Dutch environmental organization that works within an international framework through Friends of the Earth International, as well as at the grassroots level. Since its foundation in 1971, this organization has pursued social action in a number of areas at the grassroots and policy levels, most recently in dairy production, the exploitation of shale gas in the Netherlands, air pollution in the region, oil disasters in Nigeria, and deforestation. People from all over the Netherlands work with Milieudefensie to create a fairer and more sustainable country, enabling citizens to have a significant influence on the decisions made by governing bodies and businesses.