A small look into the Afghan refugee experience

A UW-Eau Claire lecturer shares their experience working with refugees in western Wisconsin

Cade Fisher

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Photo by Cade Fisher

Bases like Volk Field and Fort McCoy help with housing refugees before they could find a more permanent place for them to stay in the US.

Assistant Kinesiology lecturer, Chris Jones, joined the “Thursdays at the U” lecture series to share his experience working with Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy.

According to the UW-Eau Claire website, “Thursdays at the U” is a free viewing series of different individuals lecturing on a wide range of topics. These lectures are conducted from 12:30pm to 1:30pm every Thursday in Blue Hill’s Lecture Hall at the Barron County campus.

The first lecture of fall 2022 was on Sept. 8 regarding different ways to help birds. The last lecture of the season will be on Dec. 15 regarding cow tales by a veterinarian. 

These lectures are live-streamed for those who can not attend in person and the lectures are also recorded to be viewed at a later time. The “Thursdays and the U” informational page has the last two semesters’ worth of recordings to be viewed, going as far back as Sept. 2, 2021.

This past Thursday, Jones for both Barron County and Eau Claire campuses, shared his experience of spending two weeks at Fort McCoy with Afghan refugees.

According to the events page, in a lecture titled “The Refugee Experience in Western Wisconsin,” Jones detailed his experience in the immersion program this past winter.

“I’m coming at it from more of a layman’s perspective,” Jones said, “I’m going into it with human empathy we all have and wanting to be there to learn from them and to share experiences.”

Before becoming a lecturer at UW-Eau Claire and Barron County, according to the event page, Jones worked as a personal trainer, corporate health advocate and a strength and condition coach and athletic director.

During his lecture, Jones described a bit of the history of the Afghan people. Most of the lecture was focused on his experience at Fort McCoy, getting to know the people there and helping around the base.

During a private interview with Jones, he shared a few anecdotes of positive memories he had during his time at Fort McCoy. He shared that a favorite memory was teaching a group how to play UNO and the connectivity of playing a card game.

The goal of this lecture and Jones’ work is to spread the idea of kindness and empathy out to everyone who hears his story. 

“Just having simple empathy towards others. Understanding that we’re all coming at it with the same, every bit of the human experience is gonna be the same in complexity and depth. You gotta understand that and meet people where they’re at,” Jones said.

According to Wisconsin Public Radio, this past February marked the final Afghan refugees, who were living at Fort McCoy, to finally be resettled in another location in the U.S. 

Fort McCoy housed the Afghan refugees for a total of five months, hosting 12,600 people at their maximum capacity. According to the same article, an estimated total of 74,400 refugees have been resettled across the country from all of the bases.

According to Homeland Security, Fort McCoy was the seventh base out of eight to finish its operations after finding homes for the refugees they had previously housed.

To continue helping the Afghan resettlement in Wisconsin specifically, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has links to foundations across the state to help with continued resettlement.

Fisher can be reached at [email protected].