My name is Becky Seipel. I recently graduated Xavier University with a major in History with minors in French and Peace Studies.
Coming from a small fairly homogeneous town in southern Indiana, I fell in love with the cultural diversity at Xavier. This newfound interest led me to become involved in the international community at Xavier, which in turn led me to interning with the Refugee Resettlement program at Catholic Charities. I have had the pleasure of spending two summers working with this organization, first in Cincinnati and later in Louisville.
Through my work at Catholic Charities, I met courageous and beautiful people from around the world and have been a witness to their struggles adapting to American life. This led me to ask questions regarding the refugee experience and how to best assist refugees; my Brueggeman Fellowship was an opportunity to better understand some of these questions.
For my Brueggeman Fellowship I interned with the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in Johannesburg, South Africa. As of 2011, Johannesburg is home to over 450,000 forced migrants. JRS strives to assist these refugees with emergency food, housing, medical, and education services. My time with JRS invited me to see the hardships of caring for refugees in an urban setting. Compared to my work with Catholic Charities in the U.S., where the UN carefully screens all refugees, JRS has to screen all of the migrants it assists. This time consuming process is necessary because, unfortunately, some people try to take advantage of JRS and JRS can only afford to help the most vulnerable.
While I learn about these hardships I simultaneously was able to see the merits of JRS’s capacity building approach. JRS’s Livelihoods programs strive to empower the refugees through small business grants and vocational and skills training. During my time at JRS I was blessed to have the opportunity to work with one of these capacity building projects. For two months, I taught English at JRS’s Arrupe Women’s Center where, in addition to English, refugee women learn to bead and sew. Upon completing the program, the women have the ability to make and sell handmade goods at a local market, thus generating an income for themselves and their families.
When I was not teaching English I worked on JRS’s database. Before I arrived in South Africa JRS lacked a functional means of tracking its data. Since there is low computer literacy among the educated and uneducated in South Africa JRS was happy to have me on their team to meet this technological need. During my time in Johannesburg I analyzed the company’s existing databases, chose the most efficient system, redesigned this database to meet the needs of all JRS’s departments, and taught the employees how to use the new system.
My time with JRS taught me the challenges of working with refugees in an urban setting as well as the rewards of a capacity building approach. I feel that this knowledge will be of great value in my career in refugee resettlement in America.
What They're Doing Now
I currently work for Catholic Charities of Cleveland, Ohio Migration and Refugee Services. There, I prepare houses and apartments for incoming migrants and coordinate volunteers. I plan to apply for law school in the fall.
My Brueggeman Fellowship strongly influenced my decision to apply to law school. During my time with JRS I saw vulnerable refugees who desperately needed legal assistance. I hope to one day be able to assist such people.