2 Branford teachers recreate the refugee experience with their travels

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BRANFORD – Two educators in Branford are anxious about President Donald Trump’s immigration policies preventing desperate refugees from entering the United States after experiencing the refugee crisis first hand.

Branford High School Social Studies teacher Joel Hinrichs and Department Chair Peter Bouley facilitate a class to students about the government through current events. The students had their own questions of questions about the refugee crisis, so teachers decided to get a hands on experience. Hinrichs and Bouley took a three and a half week trip across the European leg of the refugee trail starting in Norway and ending in Greece, last summer. Now they use the pictures, videos and experiences from the trip to help paint a picture for their students.

“I think we have a tendency to make things very black and white,” Bouley said referring to. “I’d like to think our job is to sort of help them break down those barriers a little bit and understand there’s so much in between those two colors or those two sides of an issue.”

Through hearing about the teachers' experiences, the students are able to draw their own conclusions about the refugee crisis abroad and here at home.

“It’s really easy to get polarized, name call and only look at facts that support your case, whatever yours is," Hinrichs said. "But the more you know, the more you talk to people who are experiencing the situation from the other side, then the greater the chance of compromise and understanding is."

On the trip the pair met with government officials, refugees, and even spoke to people native to the countries.

“People’s two main motivations I would say are love and fear,” Hinrichs said. “They wanna do what’s right for their loved ones and there’s a little bit of fear on the unknown and I think that’s a very similar reaction to what we’re having here.”

A moment they say they’ll never forget is the smile on the refugees faces just getting to play a game of soccer with them. An unforgettable image was seeing a bubble wand in the rubble of Idomeni, Bouley said.

“People are trying to escape bad situations and I think that you have no idea probably what you’re willing to do till you’re put in that situation,” he said. “That’s the closest I’ve ever been and it was really eye opening.”

The two took away an important message from the trip.

“The more we can understand and learn and empathize with each other, I think the more we can reach compromise,” Hinrichs said.

You can find more pictures from the trip here.

The trip was paid for through a fund for teachers professional development.