Exploration For Refugee Youth


September 6, 2023

In August, Church World Service Harrisonburg’s summer intern Abraham Mekonnen organized an incredible outing for refugee teenagers. This event united CWS Harrisonburg staff with recently arrived high school students, providing them with a one-of-a-kind chance to dive into American culture and history while enjoying themselves.

They began their journey at Planet Word, a museum that made language come alive with interactive displays and exhibits. Stephanie, a committed CWS Harrisonburg staff member, pointed out the museum’s fun attractions like karaoke and word games, which added enjoyment to their language exploration.

Stephanie beamed with enthusiasm as she shared, “The whole experience was incredibly rewarding. I had the chance to connect with some of the kids and hear their stories; it was a heartwarming connection. It’s truly amazing that CWS allowed us to be a part of this.”

Lianna, another intern at our Harrisonburg office, found herself pleasantly surprised by the trip’s flawless organization and its ability to captivate the students. She commented, “I had the privilege of witnessing the newcomers in action, something I don’t often see in the office.”

Deborah, CWS Harrisonburg’s School Liaison, provided insights into the well-structured itinerary, which featured visits to the White House, an American art museum, and iconic landmarks like the Washington Monument. She added, “The whole experience was incredibly enjoyable. Walking around D.C. and seeing things that newcomers typically only learn about in school or see on TV was a unique and thrilling experience. Learning in a classroom can’t compare to experiencing it firsthand.”

Abraham, who had been actively involved with the James Madison University’s summer camp for newcomers, described how the D.C. trip served as a fitting culmination of the camp, leaving an indelible mark on everyone involved. He shared, “Our goal was to create a memorable ending. Throughout the camp, we witnessed these kids grow in their ability to communicate and form friendships. Art became a powerful medium for them to express their culture and aspirations. The sheer joy on their faces when they arrived in D.C. said it all.”

He continued, “For many of them, it was their first-time seeing landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and other iconic sites. It was a priceless learning experience for all participants.”