“‘Girls don’t leave home,’ he told me, as I sat an entire ocean away from mine,” said Sarah Rigazio ’18, recipient of this year’s Lorant Fellowship, to begin her presentation at All-School Meeting on Wednesday.
Rigazio was describing a conversation she had with Abdullah, a refugee she met on her first day volunteering as an English teacher at a camp in Naples, Italy, this summer. In this conversation, she asked him why most of the refugees were male. Rigazio also recalled that most of the refugees had travelled across Africa to reach Libya, where they could then cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.
“I thought [the presentation] was quite well done. I think Sarah translated the emotional impact of her trip clearly, and that helped me connect to her experience,” said Nate Smith ’18.
The Lorant Fellowship was created in 1994 by Andrew Lorant ’48 and is awarded to a student who demonstrates the “most earnest endeavour.” Rigazio was nominated by her peers and chosen by the Lorant Fellowship Council to receive a grant of 6,000 dollars to support a project of her choosing. Two other finalists, second runner-up Cole Demeulemeester ’18 and first runner-up Emily Ndiokho ’18, were selected alongside Rigazio.
Meghan Ward ’19, a teammate of Rigazio’s, said, “I can definitely see her being the type of person who actually takes something from this opportunity and does more with it.”
Rigazio spent most of her time working for a refugee center in Naples, through the International Napoli Network. She taught English as a second language to the young refugees who were staying there, many of whom could not speak English, did not know how to read or write, and had never been to school before.
“I stayed at a dormitory in the center of Naples with 30 other volunteers ages 18-30. The refugee center was about 40 minutes from my dorm, and I traveled there with two other volunteers every weekday,” wrote Rigazio in an email to The Phillipian.
Though on weekends she had time to travel around Italy, exploring the city and its culture, Rigazio said that her favorite part of the trip was getting to know the boys at the refugee camp.
“It is something I know I will hold with me for the rest of my life. It was unbelievable to me how they were my age and younger and had endured so much… I think about them every day. They really changed my life,” said Rigazio.
She became motivated to aid refugees while doing research for a paper in History-300. According to Rigazio, it was a photo of the body of a three-year-old refugee lying face down in the mud that pushed her to commit herself to the refugee crisis.
Uanne Chang ’20 said, “I guess it was very inspirational, hearing about this one girl and how amazing it was that she devoted a large amount of time to helping people in need. She sort of illustrated the effect that something as simple as a history class could have a big impact on her life and her way of thinking.”
Experiencing the lives of refugees first hand in Naples brought the refugee crisis home for Rigazio.
Rigazio said, “Meeting someone who lives that truth and that reality just makes it so much more real. The trip made me realize so many things about my life that I hadn’t previously considered… Simple, everyday aspects of my life are unimaginable to some of the boys that I worked with… I will always be cognizant of my place in the world and the refugees out there.”
Rigazio continues to be motivated by her time with the refugees even after coming back to Andover.
“Moving forward, this experience has sparked a determination within me to make a change and remind others how important it is to use what we have to help others,” said Rigazio.