Class discussion leads to awareness for Syrians in need

Kelly Hinseth | Staff Writer

The Syrian civil war has brought about the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. This crisis has posed a great deal of concern and questions for a lot of people halfway around the world. Questions such as “I feel so helpless, what am I supposed to do?” are commonplace in the United States.

That exact question sparked a class discussion and eventually, a possible solution for students in Amy Poppinga’s Modern Middle East class. Senior Kelley Copley raised her hand during a discussion on the refugee crisis and expressed her helplessness. “I was at a bit of a loss,” Poppinga said after the discussion, “because I too have been struggling with the same feeling of hopelessness.”

This question sent Poppinga on a search for answers. She delved into a series of resources, including a Christian blog,, which is a collective church resource that provides a number of practical ways in which people are able to help with the crisis. She compiled this information and presented it to her students.

One of her students, senior Brandon Sebey, wanted to take it a step further. He stopped Poppinga in the hall one day. “Can we, as a class, do something?” Sebey asked.

“It hurts me to think of people having to live a life like theirs,” Sebey said of the refugees, “I felt that I could not just stand by complacently.”

The following day, 10 students stayed after class in an attempt to put this project into motion. Their plan was to take the number of displaced refugees and apply that to the Bethel community. With 2 million external refugees currently displaced, 17% of the total population of Syria is currently affected. The name of the project, 434, is 17% of the undergraduate student population.

1--hKEHghbo-IPkEFaZvpbpQWith no budget available to them, they were limited in what they could as a representation of 434 people. So on November 4, 43 students and faculty, throughout Bethel will wear orange t-shirts in order to represent the Syrian population. An additional 391 wristbands of the same color will be distributed to make up for the rest of the numbers.

“We wanted this to represent what this sort of thing would look like within our community,” Poppinga said.The basis of the project will be twofold, the first being awareness.

“It seems like current events are something that a lot of college students seem to be disengaged from,” Poppinga said, “There really isn’t a regular place on campus where students are able to see the news.”

The second goal is action, with the aim that students will then take a path of putting that knowledge into motion. “Awareness is good but help is better,” Sebey said. He hopes that this project will strike a ripple effect that will spread beyond Bethel’s campus. “Who knows, maybe a Syrian that is currently seeking refugee status will become a pastor or missionary that will help lead many more to Jesus Christ,” he added.

In addition to the t-shirts and wristbands, participants will be handing out cards listing information about how people can help financially, politically and through prayer.

The aim of the project is to create a space where students can wrestle with their feelings of hopelessness by giving them an opportunity to act.

“Your education calls you to action,” Poppinga said. “How are you connecting the classroom to what you can actually do about it right now?”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.