Earlier this month, Kirk White, Indiana University’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships and vice provost for external relations at IU Bloomington, led a group of individuals from IU’s Hamilton Lugar School for Global and International Studies to Camp Atterbury, the military and civilian training post located in south-central Indiana, about 25 miles south of Indianapolis.
The group’s mission: to deliver 1,000 books containing key phrases in Dari and Pashto to U.S. military personnel supporting the Afghan refugees who have fled their home country after the Taliban takeover this past summer and are now temporarily housed at the army base. Dari and Pashto are the official and most widely spoken languages of the people of Afghanistan. More than two-fifths of the Afghan population speak Pashto, while about half speak some form of Dari, which is often referred to as the Afghan Persian.
Since the early days of fall, students and staff across IU’s campuses have mobilized to help the more than 7,000 Afghan refugees who have been housed at Camp Atterbury, providing them with winter clothing, diapers, personal hygiene items and other essential supplies. Additionally, students and other members of the Hamilton Lugar School, which is named after the legendary Hoosier statesmen Lee Hamilton and (the late) Richard Lugar, have led a wide range of activities at the camp, including crafts, games and sports for children, and cultural orientation classes for adults.
Another big need at the camp has been for interpreters who speak the main Afghan languages. As Hamilton Lugar School Dean Lee Feinstein described last month in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, the Center for the Languages of the Central Asian Region, which is housed at the school, assembled a list of interpreters available to support the language-related efforts underway at Camp Atterbury. The center is one of 16 Title VI foreign language resource centers in the U.S. and the only one dedicated to the critical languages of Central Asia and surrounding countries. IU, which had a record number (11) of centers receive Title VI funding from the U.S. Department of Education in 2018 and which teaches more languages (over 80) than any other U.S. university, is among the leading research universities receiving Title VI funding.
Members of the Hamilton Lugar School also helped deliver the Dari and Pashto phrasebooks to the camp. As Feinstein highlighted, these books have been customized to reflect the unique challenges that the resettlement has presented to the camp’s soldiers, many of whom have never interacted with foreign refugees.
“It’s great that IU’s language centers are assisting the Afghan refugees while they are welcomed at Camp Atterbury,” said White, who served as an officer in the Indiana National Guard and was deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. “Many of these new residents are well educated, eager and can contribute to the employment base once settled across the state.”
Indeed, economic reports have offered evidence showing that an influx of foreign refugees — contrary to some economic worries — can have a positive effect on local labor markets. Not only do refugees contribute to the economy by entering the workforce of their adopted communities, many will eventually start their own businesses, thus creating new jobs for native workers.
Already, about half of the Afghan refugees have left the base for cities and towns across Indiana and elsewhere in the U.S., and Homeland Security officials hope to have all the refugees at Camp Atterbury resettled by the end of the year.
Translation: IU’s support, especially in the form of its celebrated foreign language expertise, will continue to play a major role in whether the state can achieve its resettlement goals and ensure that our Afghan friends contribute to a stronger, more vibrant and more innovative Indiana economy.