The P.A.I.R Program: Helping Refugees in Houston

In this fast-paced 21st century, the only constancy in the life of a millennial seems to be conflict. Declarations of war, political coups, civil strife, and social upheavals are no longer a cause for surprise but instead are commonplace occurrences. According to the New York Times, there were 30 wars going on around the world just in the year 2003 alone[i]. While these events claim the lives of a staggering number of men, women, and children, wars’ truly noxious effects are found in the aftermath — in the chaotic debris of the lives of millions of innocent individuals, rent asunder and ravaged by the undiscriminating reach of gun, metal, and fire. The end of 2015 saw more than 65.3 million people—one out of every 113 people on Earth—being classified as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees[ii]. But for decades the plight of these individuals has been silent, hardly garnering proportional attention from the international community.

All this has changed with the recent mass migrations of refugees from war torn countries in the Middle East to Europe and the United States. While this exodus has stirred up its fair share of controversy, it has also given voice to more sympathetic sentiments in recipient countries that choose to show compassion and accept these displaced people. But this is not merely an international issue, for these men, women, and children have to adjust to a new life in a more personal setting of neighborhoods and localities. It is at this junction between the international and local that the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees (PAIR) has come to play such a critical role. Based in Houston, a city that accepts thousands of refugees each year, PAIR directly addresses global concerns for the plight of this disenfranchised section of society by conducting community outreach to the most vulnerable refugees of all: the youth.nov-2014-42

Working with hundreds of refugee youth from numerous countries such as Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone in two different after-school programs at five separate HISD schools, any volunteer—myself included—can testify to just how important and necessary PAIR’s work is in easing the transition for these youth into their new lives. Keeping in line with the organization’s objectives, these weekly sessions group PAIR mentors with their student mentees, a partnership that promotes the development of social skills in initially unfamiliar surroundings and—perhaps most critically for these newly arrived immigrants—the use of the English language. While the goal is to encourage the student’s cohesive integration in all aspects of their new life, it cannot be said that PAIR volunteers themselves do not benefit from the experience. Despite experiencing more traumatic events than most of us will see in a lifetime, these young students are all marked by one common trait: the courage and resilience with which they face overwhelming adversity, all the while their quintessentially precocious smiles never faltering. And so in working with these refugee youth, every PAIR volunteer is fortunate enough to see the ultimate example of human fortitude, embodied by youths sometimes no more than a decade of age. While organizations such as PAIR require our help and assistance now more than ever, we should not forget that we too need all that PAIR has to offer. After all, caring for our fellow man, empathizing with his plight, and actively trying to ease another’s hardships do not make us exceptional human beings. Rather, they merely make us human.

—Faheem Bilal

For more information about PAIR at U of H contact:
Thahn Dang (PAIR-U of H President): dangvanthanh@gmail.com

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[i] Hedges, Chris. “What Every Person Should Know About War.” The New York Times, 6 July   2003. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.

[ii] McKirdy, Euan. “UNHCR Report: More Displaced Now Than After WWII.” CNN, Cable News Network, 20 June 2016.

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