Coalition for Our Immigrant Neighbors (COIN) is only about a year old, but is already making an impact. Attorney by trade and one of COIN’s founders, Kent Newton, says, “[COIN] does not intend to be a service-provider itself, but it hopes to coordinate the efforts of organizations working with and for immigrants and refugees to create efficiencies, to ideally fill any gaps in services, to limit overlaps, and to promote best practices in various areas.”
Additionally, COIN also seeks to increase awareness regarding the refugee experience. During Kent’s search for the perfect awareness activity, a Jesuit priest and the head of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome recommended he learn about one of their refugee simulations. It was exactly the kind of event COIN was looking for. “Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous,” Kent says with a laugh.
And so, on July 23, in partnership with the JCC, COIN hosted a simulation called Walk a Mile in a Refugee’s Shoes. The event itself was a success, with approximately 450 attendants. Those who came through the simulation started by receiving a specific refugee identity and backstory. They then made their way through various stations that simulated a refugee’s arrival and settlement in a camp. One station focused on food, showing the stark contrast between the amount consumed by the average American versus the typical weekly allotment for refugees, which consisted of a handful of rice and lentils, seven small carrots, a few root vegetables, and some sugar snap peas. At another station, attendees discovered refugees receive only a gallon of water a day to meet all their drinking, bathing, and cooking needs. The simulation ended with advocacy awareness as representatives from various agencies gave attendees information about supporting refugees in Indianapolis.
Legal Clinic volunteer and COIN Executive Director, Julie Sommers Neuman, says of the event, “My belief is if you meet a person or you walk in a person’s shoes, they are no longer a ‘refugee’ or an ‘immigrant.’ They are a person. That’s what we’re trying to bring with this.” Likewise, for Kent, the event helped those unfamiliar with the plight faced by refugees more fully understand. “There’s no substitute for being somewhere and looking people in the eye, but if this is the best we can do, short of taking people to the big camps in Uganda, we hope to educate them,” Kent says. “And the unhidden agenda is to motivate them to become involved in refugee and immigrant issues.”
Perhaps the most important thing Julie wants people to remember is that refugees did not choose their circumstance. She tells the story of a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who explained to her that, although he is grateful to live in the United States, he wished none of this ever had to have happened. “But he didn’t have a choice,” she says. “It’s survive, and do this, or probably die.” As for the future of COIN, Julie says, “We just hope to continue building partnerships and helping people to learn how to appreciate their neighbors. Not just appreciate or welcome them, but to help them prosper in our community.”
To learn more about COIN and how to get involved, please visit their website.