Ramesh connects with refugees through Cincinnati-based program

Luke Hutchinson | Staff Writer

Senior Ahalya Ramesh has made consistent efforts to support the many refugees based in Cincinnati.

As of now, Ramesh has been working with families in Cincinnati for six years. She said she was downtown volunteering for a backpack drive when she first met a group of refugees, primarily from Southern Asia, that asked for her help.

“They actually asked me specifically for help because I was around the same age as the younger children and the parents felt comfortable,” Ramesh said. “There was a lot of different people, but most are from Bhutan, Nepal and Burma.”

While Ramesh was too young to understand what a refugee was, she said she still felt inclined to help and found a suitable environment to do so at the Forest Park and Groesbeck libraries.

“I just wanted to help them out, so we started meeting at the library every week, and I helped them with English or just their homework,” Ramesh said. “It started off relatively small, but then it grew a lot. There’s so many families, so I would say about 30 kids would come every week.”

Ramesh said as she grew older, her passion for helping the refugees increased, and so did the scope of issues that she noticed in their community.

“I started mobilizing my friends and neighbors to help me because it became something I felt really passionate about, and I really just enjoyed doing it,” Ramesh said. “As the years went by, I could see that there was so many more problems in their community because they are really isolated from the rest of us.”

Due to her experiences supplying refugees educational opportunity, Ramesh has become the Refugee Empowerment Initiative Education chair for RefugeeConnect — a community forum that unites 90 service providers to channel efforts into giving refugees career and health opportunities, along with legal help. She said she has gained perspective from working inside school districts.

“I’ve partnered with RefugeeConnect to work with school districts in spreading refugee awareness, and I have become the leader of all the people working on education, which I find funny because they are all older and I’m a senior in high school,” Ramesh said. “We have had workshops to train volunteers and also inform them that there are so many refugees here, I think around over 2,500 in Cincinnati. In many school districts, we have been talking to teachers and ESL staff, and have been providing them with resources. Primarily just helping schools coop with the increasing number of refugees.”

Ramesh also helps refugees deal with issues beyond education. She said she has had to become the authoritative figure in helping them with alcoholism and depression, along with a teenaged pregnancy that recently occurred.

“They need so much help with things as simple as navigating a grocery store, to alcoholism and suicide,” Ramesh said. “I have seen other problems like a teenaged girl who got pregnant recently. She was isolated from the entire refugee community itself because they all looked down upon her.”

Back in May, Ramesh lost one of her students to suicide. She said his family welcomed her, and other refugees, into their spiritual sessions.

“In May, a kid died of suicide that was someone I’ve been working with for a really long time, and he had just stopped coming for a month or two to the library,” Ramesh said. “I had to really help out all of the kids there because he was only 12 years old, and nobody knew, so they were really struggling with it — myself included. We went to his house and visited his family, and his mom was actually both deaf and mute. Just seeing that itself was so emotional, and we sat in one of their spiritual songs and were a part of it.”

After being resettled, many refugees can become lost and unsure of what to do next. Ramesh said their inability to access resources is the reason for most of their struggles and also the reason she has joined different organizations to help.

“All of these problems they are facing are just because they have been resettled here, and they do not really have any access to resources available in America,” Ramesh said. “To start helping with this, I started working with other organizations to conduct health workshops. One thing we did at the University of Cincinnati last year was discuss contraception and reproductive health for the women and children.”