“Someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. ... Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.”
This is the UN Refugee Agency’s definition of a refugee, adapted from a definition introduced at the 1951 Refugee Convention in Geneva. Its continued relevance in the 21st century is undeniable, as the agency reported in 2016 that the global population of refugees was 22.5 million – a record high.
That number is why Caroline Schiavo and Erika Nguyen are working to bring the No Lost Generation Student Initiative to the University of Richmond.
Schiavo is a sophomore transfer student who first applied to participate in the State Department-supported No Lost Generation project (NLG) in August. An "independent consortium of student organizations," NLG has expanded to over fifty universities since its first chapter established itself at George Washington University in 2015.
“I applied by myself, not knowing anyone on this campus,” Schiavo said.
Fortunately, Schiavo met Nguyen, a fellow transfer student and now co-founder of NLG UR, upon arriving on campus in August.
NLG was originally intended to raise support and awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis, but its mission has expanded to address refugee crises around the globe. It also partners with dozens of organizations to fund education in refugee-saturated areas and raise awareness about the plight of refugees in the United States.
As for its name, the “Lost Generation” was first used to refer to the generation of Syrian children living through conflict and displacement.
The phrase “against all odds, children and youth are not giving up on their dreams and aspirations” is prominently displayed on the No Lost Generation website.
Schiavo and Nguyen both said they feel that NLG’s cause has not been adequately addressed at UR. Although campus organizations such as Amnesty International address human rights violations, Schiavo said that she and Nguygen thought the specific topic of refugee rights had been overlooked.
“There’s a niche for everyone, and this niche wasn’t being filled,” Schiavo said.
The co-founders said that the establishment of NLG UR was not intended in any way as a statement against the current political climate, but that the club seemed particularly necessary today.
Political science professor Molla Reda, one of its faculty advisors, agreed.
“I believe initiatives like NLG are vital in creating awareness about the plight of millions of fellow human beings," Reda said. "This task is especially important at this juncture in history, when the dynamics of domestic politics in many receiving countries has turned decidedly against long-standing traditions of hospitality.”
Reda specializes in causes and consequences of civil conflicts and was born in a country fraught with multiple, lengthy internal conflicts that caused mass human displacement.
Schiavo and Nguyen established partnerships with other organizations on campus such as Model UN and the UR debate team to help ensure success for their new group.
Because No Lost Generation emphasizes advocacy and awareness, Nguyen and Reda expressed interest in NLG hosting a speaker series on campus that would feature refugees.
“When we see refugees or other vulnerable segments of the human population as faceless political categories, it tends to dehumanize them,” Reda said. “Creating awareness requires countering the negative stereotypes."
Reda said that the best way to do that was through the powerful testimonials of those who have been directly affected.
Anyone is welcome to join NLG UR, Schiavo said, and commitment can depend on each person's availability.
“We’re just trying to get as much help as we can,” Nguyen agreed. “There’s no reason not to join.”
No Lost Generation UR will be having an interest meeting November 16 from 7-8 p.m., location TBD. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Social media handles are: @nolostgenerationur (Facebook) and @nlg_universityofrichmond (Instagram).
Contact features writer Caroline Fernandez at email@example.com.