Amanda Micossi '11 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Assists Refugees in Israel

Amanda Micossi applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to spend the summer as a volunteer with the Refugee Status Determination team at the African Refugee Development Center, an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) located in Tel Aviv. The African Refugee Development Center was created by refugees in order to assist other refugees who have come to Israel from Africa.

My day here in Tel Aviv, Israel, starts at 8 am. I roll out of bed and immediately turn on the fan, since there's no air conditioning and the temperature hasn't gotten below 90 degrees since I arrived. I hurry out my door and walk to a shelter run by my organization, the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), for refugee families. As far as I can tell, everyone in this particular shelter (ARDC has two) is from Eritrea, a troubled nation in Eastern Africa. I arrive and meet Mirkonan, a 19-year-old refugee recovering from a brain surgery that left him half-paralyzed. Together, we go to a physical therapy session, where I learn the exercises as Mirkonan does them so we can practice later at the shelter.

When we get back to the shelter, I take a break and play with the children. There are about 15 kids there, and between all of our little bits of Hebrew and English and a generous dose of charades, we manage to entertain each other. The children's favorite game is teaching me inappropriate words in their native tongue, Tigrinya, and telling me they mean things like, ‘hello' and ‘thank you'.

In the afternoon, I head to the office, a building in the immigrant neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, where it seems every language but Hebrew is spoken. On Wednesday I begin work with the Asylum Application Assistance team, a group within the organization dedicated to helping refugees get asylum in Israel. For now, I work with the humanitarian team, organizing and distributing food and other donated items to refugees who arrive in a constant stream for the six hours the office is open. The coordinators send me on errands as needed-- today I walked across town and picked up a double stroller for a woman who is about to give birth to twins, and then chased down a toddler who wandered off while her mom was in the storage room receiving her weekly allotment of food.

Every day here is uniquely challenging and individually memorable. The day I had an hour-long conversation in stilted Hebrew with an Eritrean woman over coffee she had brought with her from Eritrea; the day I thought it was raining until I saw the shelter kids shooting me with battered squirt guns; the day my landlord suggested holding a benefit concert on our roof.... It's hard to articulate what these experiences and so many others are teaching me yet, since I've only been here for a week. But I can already tell that the work I am doing here--the lessons I'm learning and the memories I'm making--will stay with me through my final year at Washington and Lee and definitely the rest of my life. After graduation, I hope to go to law school and continue to work in some capacity with refugees. Through the Johnson Opportunity Grant, I have been given an immense opportunity, and I cannot wait to get back to Lexington and share with the W&L community.