At MSIH’s Global Health Roundup for 2019, 2nd year student, Aerin Philip received the Distinguished Service Award. The award – given to a student who has make an outstanding contribution to the community – was for his work at Beersheba’s Refugee Center.
Presenting the award, School Director, Prof Alan Jotkowitz explained that although Aerin was the recipient, he was receiving the award as the representative of the the team of MSIH students who give themselves tirelessly at the center.
Helping Israel’s Refugees
The Beersheba refugee center has existed in one way or another since 2007. It offers community services to mainly Sudanese and Eritrean refugees who remain in political limbo in Israel. They are not officially recognized as asylum seekers, but nor are the absorbed into the country. They are, however, entitled to work.
Nobody knows exactly how many there are in the Negev, but estimates indicate several hundred. Some of them they say – before they left their home country – were lawyers, engineers, economists and university students.
MSIH students lend a hand where they can. Many are involved in teaching English to gatherings of 15-20 refugees at a time.
At an event in March 2019, a group of 35-40 refugees were invited to MSIH. There, four refugees told their stories. One spoke about being imprisoned for someone else’s political activities. Another spoke of a friend who was killed on the journey to Israel.
“We’re doing what we can to help build and strengthen the community,” said Grace Jung, 3rd year MSIH student. “We arrange social events, and do as much as we can to make their lives more tolerable..”
Most of the refugees in the English class are young men, but one or two families come too.
Where possible, some MSIH students also teach Hebrew, and give lectures on nutrition and health.
Israeli students are also very active in the center. It is run by Moran Mekamel of BGU’s “Students for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers.”
“This is an opportunity for MSIH students to meet people from backgrounds that are usually inaccessible,” says Grace. “In addition to learning their stories and connecting with them, teaching English is a great way for students to learn to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language. This is an essential tool for MSIH students.”