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SU basketball game 'a first' for local refugees, thanks to First Year Forum students

December 03, 2010

Donna Adamo
(315) 443-5172

A Burmese refugee brought his children, a Haitian refugee brought his appetite and one from the Sudan brought his sincere appreciation. The three men were a few of nearly a dozen local Burmese, Sudanese and Haitian refugees who got the chance to experience their first basketball game when SU beat Cornell Tuesday night in the Carrier Dome.

The refugees were guests of a group of students in Syracuse University’s College of Arts & Sciences First Year Forum program, which encourages new students to make at least one visit off-campus in the Syracuse community. This particular group visited the Center for New Americans to show newly arrived refugees how to ride the city buses, thus gaining vast new possibilities for adaptation to life in Syracuse (Any individual or group wishing to offer time to meet refugees and make a lasting positive change in their lives may participate in the bus training program by calling the Center for New Refugees at (315) 474-1261.).

Tickets for the group were obtained courtesy of the University’s ‘Cuse Cares Community Services Program, which provides complimentary tickets to nonprofit or income-limited groups and organizations in the community.

The night began with a pre-game celebration in the lobby of Huntington Beard Crouse, where First Year Forum students and their refugee guests enjoyed a buffet of cider and snacks before Beverly Allen, leader of the freshman group and professor of French, Italian and comparative literature in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, explained the rules of the game while preparing the refugees for the fan cheers in the Dome. Allen translated her instructions to French for the Haitian refugees, and Stone Saw of Burma interpreted for the Burmese invitees.

During their October afternoon at the Center for New Americans, students befriended the refugees participating in the center’s Refugee Resettlement Program, teaching them how to take the bus to campus. While most of the refugees don’t speak English, and the students don’t speak French or Burmese, the groups successfully demonstrated the power of engagement.

“It was pretty amazing to watch,” Allen says. “The students managed, some better than others." One student, Vinnie Hoover, who had just declared a major in sport management in the College of Human Ecology, learned that most of the refugees play soccer.

“I’d love to bring them to an SU basketball game,” he said, and so the plan was born. After the bus rides, students and refugees sat around a table, and, through interpreters, the students each stated something they had learned that day and something they were grateful for—and the refugees did the same.”

For the freshmen, sharing cultural activities with Burmese and Sudanese victims of genocide and Haitian victims of the January 2010 earthquake is a real-world experience. “You read about them in textbooks or in the paper, but to meet them makes it all so real,” says Britt Schiliro, who is from Long Island and is part of Allen’s group.

Likewise, the refugees get a chance to experience many firsts, like taking the bus and going to a game they never knew existed. “This is my first time. It’s so exciting to go. I’ve never seen this game before,” says Saw. “I expect to see the best team.”

Perhaps Makram Bosso, a 6’7” refugee from the Sudan, summed up Tuesday night’s adventure the best. “It’s hard to explain how much I appreciate going to the game. Most important, I am free to go to the game. Here you live with peace. You live without fear.”

As the group prepared to leave the HB Crouse lobby to head to the Dome, three words transcended the language barriers, “Let’s Go Orange! Let’s Go Orange!”

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