Sunday, December 15, 2013

Changing More than Just an Address for Refugees

Posted by Faris Mousa, CLARKSTON, GA -- Clarkston is located in the metro Atlanta area, approximately seven miles east of the city limits. Over the last two decades or so it has increasingly become a haven for refugees mostly from Southeast Asia, East Africa, and in and around the Middle East. During my junior year in college I interned for a mentorship program at the local high school and got to see the many challenges these hard working people and their children endure on a daily basis.  The schools are not very good, the housing conditions atrocious, and access to fresh food compromised. All of which has led increasingly poor health and social issues. 

My mentee was a student Clarkston High School who had immigrated to the United States with his family as a Kurdish refugee. The majority of the student there were foreign born, many of whom were refugees. During my first week I noticed how my mentee and many other refugee students were neglected by the teachers and staff. For instance, the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program consisted of only one teacher who, ironically, only spoke English. This did little to prepare the ESOL students for the regular school curriculum.  In fact, the ESOL teacher would prematurely place the refugee students in regular English curriculum courses for the sole purpose of making room for the influx of new refugee students. How can a student do well in an English curriculum track when they haven’t fully mastered the English language? In short, limited language-based educational resources combined with refugee student neglect minimized the chances of academic success.

The majority of refugees in Clarkston are assigned to some sort of subsidized private market housing by social workers during the relocation process. My mentee lived in what appeared to me to be a slum-lord-run project-based Section 8 apartment complex called Toby Grant. The heating and cooling systems in the apartment building didn’t work all the time; paint was peeling, mold common place as well as pests. My young mentee lived with his large family in a relatively small two bedroom and one bathroom apartment.  Since the housing units were in such close proximity to one another and had very thin walls, I could literally hear the conversations in the adjacent units. Imagine having to live with not only your own overcrowded place but your neighbors’ as well.

The nearest full service supper market was almost five miles away. Though the parking lot looked overcrowded with cars, most of the refugees did not have access to an automobile. In fact, part of the reason for the crowded parking was that there literally were few places to park. The car-less refugees typically purchased there food at the over-priced convenient stores that were within walking distance. Most of these stores do not sell fresh and healthy foods, which is contributing to the increasingly poor health of the refugees. 

This is all happening as the refugee population of Clarkston continues to increase without a matched expansion in needed services and amenities. But social intervention programs, such as the mentorship program I was lucky enough to be a part of are slowly defying the status quo in areas like Clarkston. Hopefully such programs will continue to make head way into improving the educational and social conditions. These refugees came to America in hopes of a brighter and less oppressive future for themselves and their families. Hopefully we can work to change more than just their addresses.

Faris Mousa is a graduating senior with a major in Sociology at Georgia State University. He will graduate with honors Tuesday, December 17, 2013. Good luck Faris! You can contact him at

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