Khin Oo was born in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar as a stateless person 20 years ago. The philosophy concentrator, who will be a sophomore this fall and now calls the U.S. home, is always eager to help those who find themselves in similar situations, and this summer served as one of eight fellows for the Welcoming Refugees project.
“Working on this project really made me reflect about my own experiences. How to better support my family [and] what we’ve been through, but also how I can use that to connect with the community,” Oo said.
Welcoming Refugees, part of the College’s Mindich Program in Community-Engaged Research, is led by Associate Professor in Practice of Urban Planning Daniel D’Oca at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. D’Oca, his colleagues at Interboro Partners, and students partnered with the African Community Center of Lowell to create a welcome guide, translated into French and Swahili, for incoming refugees and immigrants.
D’Oca reached out to his friend Gordon Donkoh-Halm, the community center’s founder, when he was invited to lead the summer project. Besides extending a hand to migrants, the project also aims to help students learn about the refugee resettlement process and the vibrant African community in Lowell.
During the span of 10 weeks this summer, students conducted focus groups in Lowell to better understand what immigrants and refugees need to know about the city, including housing, health care, education, food and wellness, and transportation. They met with various community leaders and business owners to ask them what they wish they had known when they first arrived. The priority was to “center community voices as much as possible,” the professor said.