Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

CHRHS Community Members Find Value in Work with Refugees in Rhode Island

In Brown University’s engaged community, there are individuals who dedicate their time and effort to assisting refugees who have recently resettled in Rhode Island. Today, we shine a spotlight on two members of the Brown community who are making a tangible impact in the lives of refugees as they navigate the complexities of resettlement. 

Morgan Svenningsen ’26, a student concentrating in literary arts and computer science, interns at Dorcas International for ten hours a week. Initially drawn to the organization through a listing on Handshake, Morgan was compelled to get involved, noting that it “immediately felt like something good to do, and it kind of felt like I have to do it…I need to do this.”

Dorcas International provides integrated services to meet the immediate needs of newly arrived refugees, such as enrolling children in school or facilitating adult ESL classes, job readiness training, legal services, clothing, and much more. Refugees face many hurdles upon arrival, and Dorcas seeks to not only provide a range of services for them but also empower them and foster cross-cultural understanding to reach a future where “everyone is welcome and has the opportunity to thrive and prosper,” in the words of Dr. Justin Bibee.

Bibee is the Assistant Director for Refugee Resettlement at Dorcas International and was selected as a Global Fellow at Brown’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies. To him, “this fellowship represents an opportunity to actively engage in addressing pressing human rights and humanitarian issues on a global scale”. Being a Global Fellow allows a practitioner like Bibee to also “effect change on a global scale…through collaborative research,” leveraging his practical experience and having an impact on the broader community. Being a Global Fellow has also been an invaluable growth opportunity for Bibee, who has enjoyed engaging with Brown’s “world-class faculty members, experts, and researchers” and with our many diverse perspectives.

According to Justin, interns like Morgan play a crucial role at Dorcas International, making tangible contributions to the agency’s initiatives. They contribute meaningfully to the mission of Dorcas: “to cultivate an inclusive community for immigrants and those seeking refuge by providing integrated services, fostering cross-cultural understanding, and nurturing strong partnerships”. Every day Morgan goes in, she is actively helping refugees and asylees navigate the new world they find themselves in. In a typical case, she might help clients navigate Medicaid, RIPTA, bank accounts, or SNAP benefits. These experiences have been significant growth and reflection opportunities for Morgan. Bibee notes the intentionality in the design of the internship program, which is “designed to be mutually beneficial” as they engage with complex issues and “develop critical skills in communication, cultural competency, and advocacy.”

Morgan consistently faces new challenges in her work, demonstrating her deep commitment to helping those in need. One notable example is when she was assigned to assist a deaf client. While deafness presents significant challenges on its own, when combined with the complexities faced by refugees, it becomes even more daunting. Despite this, Morgan and the client’s daughter approached the situation with remarkable patience and dedication. Morgan spent hours on the phone with customer service at a medical company trying to understand how deaf individuals give consent to medical services. These experiences have highlighted for Morgan the significant impact that large, impersonal systems can have on the lives of individuals. She believes that these systems can and should be improved, noting that they  “can be so much better…so much more helpful” and the best thing someone in her position can do is raise awareness, call representatives, and remain engaged in these important conversations. 

Svenningsen and Bibee exemplify a dedication to hands-on service, devoting their time to assisting those in need in our communities. Both sincerely emphasize the value and fulfillment that anyone would find in interning at Dorcas or engaging in similar work, as they have experienced themselves. Bibee expressed this sentiment, stating that interns like Morgan “not only contribute to our ongoing efforts but also leave the agency with a deeper understanding of the complexities of refugee resettlement and a renewed commitment to making a positive difference in the world.”