Raising Awareness of Refugees in Middle East – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Raising Awareness of Refugees in Middle East

While studying abroad this spring in Jordan, Danny Schonning ’16 conducted an interview for a research project that led to an immersive summer in the Middle East, working first for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and then the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP).

At the School for International Training in Amman, Schonning spent the first half of the semester studying the “Health and Community Development” curriculum, before he began conducting interviews and data analysis for his independent study project on the topic of Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS), “specifically how the Jordanian government regards them and why.”

“I had an interview with a gentleman in UNRWA’s health department, with whom I hoped to speak about UNRWA’s services for PRS,” says Schonning. “When I came in to interview him, however, he told me that he lacked expertise on the issue of PRS specifically, and could refer me to someone on the team upstairs called the ‘Syria Crisis Response Unit.'”

Schonning then “spoke with a woman named Irina Prentice, a communications officer, who didn’t have time for an interview. Instead, she asked what I was doing for the day, and before I knew it I was transcribing interviews that were conducted earlier that week, in which Irina and her team spoke with Palestine Refugee families about their experiences in fleeing Syria and living in secret in Jordan.”

By the end of that day, Schonning — a double-major in English and International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies — had landed a two-month internship with the organization, which provides assistance and protection for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees.

Schonning worked under a communications officer on the UNRWA Syria Crisis Response Unit, “writing visibility pieces for donors and biweekly news synopses, assisting in programming, and taking on meetings with other U.N. branches and NGO’s on behalf of UNRWA’s SCRU,” says Schonning. “The main project on which we worked was called ‘Back to School for PRS,’ which was a pilot project for PRS students to connect to classrooms in the U.K. via Skype in the classroom.”

At the beginning of August, Schonning began his work with MERIP, a non-profit, non-governmental organization devoted to reporting on Middle East politics, culture and society. At MERIP, Schonning organized his research and experience into an article about PRS, which he hopes to publish upon its completion.

“My experience at UNRWA and now MERIP has given me the resources — and demanded the practice — that has taught me how to structure journal- and article-style pieces on foreign affairs,” says Schonning. “Whether I use those specific skills in a future devoted to journalism, scholarship, advocacy, or not at all, I’m glad to have them and enjoy the work in which I’ve participated. Foremost, my summer experiences have informed how I view myself as a global citizen, and put into perspective the role we all play in the lives of those affected by conflict across the world.”