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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Life + Arts

Volunteering a sping break option

Some students are opting to spend their spring break volunteering.’

Economic senior Ghulam Kehar and his volunteer staff plan to tutor and distribute necessities to Houston refugees, while political science senior Michael Blunk will take a group of 12 University students to lobby on drug policies in Austin.

Serving refugees during spring break

In August 2007, Kehar co-founded Al-Amaanah, which translates to ‘the trust’ in Arabic, as an organization to help serve refugee families and individuals in the greater Houston area. ‘

‘Every other week, we pick up donations from around the city and distribute, but during spring break we want to do a lot more,’ Kehar said.’

Kehar plans on using the hiatus from classes to distribute furnishing, food, clothes and supplies to refugees.

Other services provided by Al-Amaanah include temporary rent assistance, transportation, computer training programs, financial planning workshops, ESL classes and a tutoring service.

‘ ‘We basically teach them how to get acclimated over here,’ Kehar said. ‘For about two months now, we’ve been running an after-school tutoring program.”

Al-Amaanah’s tutoring program transports about 20 students from their homes to UH, where volunteer tutors assist children in various subjects such as English and math for an hour and a half.

The organization provides its services to 50-70 families. Most of these families are refugees from Iraq, but some come from Burma, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bosnia.

‘They are people of all backgrounds and ages, with kids as young as two-months-old all the way up to adults, but the majority are children,’ Kehar said.’

‘ Once the families and individuals arrive to Houston, Al-Amaanah is indirectly informed of them through the Multiethnic Community Center, which works with the Resettlement Agency.’

‘We’ve built a network, so any family that come into Houston, we are informed of their location, who they are and how many of them,’ Kehar said. ‘As soon as they arrive, we go visit them, we try to cater to their immediate needs and we consistently stay in contact with them.’ ‘

Road tripping for change

Blunk plans to take his drug policy reform efforts on the road, as he and 12 other lobbyists drive to Austin during spring break to speak to state congressmen.

‘On March 17, we’re going to lobby on two big drug policy issues; one is on legalizing medical marijuana in Texas and the other is lifting the ban off needle exchange programs,’ Blunk said.’

Before meeting with legislators and their office staff members, participating students will start March 17 with a training session provided by Texas NORML, a Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and The Access Project, a professional group that works to improve health and health care access.’

‘We’ll learn about how to lobby some of the background of marijuana and needle exchange issues and how to talk to legislators,’ Blunk said.’

Despite the rigorous training and preparation, Blunk enjoys lobbying with state legislators.’

‘They are always really open; we’re constituents, so we’re not just saying to them, ‘Hey do this because we want you to.’ They actually tend to listen and really digest what we’re saying.”

Whether providing basic needs for Houston refugees or lobbying about drug issues in Texas, both Kehar and Blunk believe it is the essence of service that inspires them to stay dedicated.’

‘Living in Houston, it’s my duty to help people who are in need, (that if) I know someone who lives 20 minutes away from me and they don’t have enough food to feed their families while I myself am living comfortably,’ Kehar said. ‘I saw this as kind of a trust that we have upon our shoulders to help take care of the needy of the city.’

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