By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Three years after social studies teacher Ken High created it as way for students to participate in community service projects outside of school, the students that make up the UNICEF One World Club at Hudson High School are making plans to provide direct support to local refugees and understand the crisis that chased them from their homes.
The club has been meeting regularly since the 2014-2015 school year and, up until this year, has spent most of its time planning fundraising events for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. This year’s addition of “One World” to the club’s name comes as High and the members of the club have recognized the need for local volunteer work.
“We’re not doing stuff just for UNICEF but we are also doing things to try to connect people of different backgrounds or locations while recognizing that we are all in this together,” High said. “A lot of that is stuff that we can do on the ground here that, hopefully, is a more hands-on, direct kind of service than just fundraising that may not be as rewarding.”
The student-led club is already in the process of planning a furniture drive for refugees who come to the U.S. without means to furnish their new apartments or homes. High is working on bringing refugees into the club as guest speakers. Finally, the club is also hoping to set up a program to collect used bicycles to donate.
For Club President Hannah Feddersohn, the focus on reaching out to local refugees is a personal one.
“By making it UNICEF One World, we’re now helping more local people and having more emotional connections with people because we’re spending time one-on-one with them,” she explained.
High, a ninth-grade social studies teacher, once required his students complete a service project until it was cut from the curriculum after the 2013-2014 school year. Though it has since grown, he initially created UNICEF Club as a way to continue to provide that educational experience.
“I think when students are doing community service, they can start to feel empowered about what they can do in the world,” High said. “They can realize that even though they may not be old enough to vote, they still can do things to make a difference in people’s lives.”
High has participated in work with local refugees as recently as this spring as a part of the sabbatical he took from teaching last year. High worked with Ascentria Care Alliance in Worcester and was able to meet refugees with a broad array of backgrounds. Some, he said, had never lived in a home with electricity and needed to be taught how to turn on their lights and heat. He recalled another family he met who were scientists with degrees in computer engineering.
“I now have a greater view of the refugee crisis globally and I’m trying to make sure that students are knowing what’s going on,” High explained. “Now that I’m more knowledgeable, I feel that I can do a better job at that.”
Through his work, High came face to face with the people that make up the statistics of the global refugee crisis. He hopes he can bring some of these experiences back to Hudson High School and create an environment where his students can have similar ones. Once that happens, he said, students can better understand the struggles that others face in their lives.
“Rather than getting kids to care about politics, I wanted to get students to care about people and, usually, that’s pretty easy,” he said of his goals when founding the club. “When they start to hear personal stories of people from other parts of the world, students can immediately recognize the humanity of other people.”