Rhodes Student Serves Memphis Refugee Community Through Education


Publication Date: 6/8/2009

Since his first year at Rhodes, Brendan Keegan ′10 has been involved with the Refugee Empowerment Program (REP) as a volunteer afterschool tutor and recently as an academic intern. REP assists the refugee population of Memphis through education, advocacy, and support programs. REP’s office is located near the Rhodes campus at 1548 Poplar Ave.

“Serving the refugee community through education is so important,” says Keegan. “I work with the elementary, middle school, and high school students, and because they struggle with English, they have difficulty understanding what is going on in their classes.”

REP provides afterschool programs as well as English as a Second Language classes. Keegan learned about REP in 2006 by attending a mock refugee camp staged at Rhodes by the campus group STAND (Students Taking Action Now—Darfur). Families placed in REP come from many war-torn areas such as Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, and Bhutan.

The supervisor for educational programs is Rhodes alumna Sara Babb ’07.

“Brendan has been an incredible asset to REP, its staff, and its participants,” she says. “Through his compassion and commitment, refugee children are gaining a greater command of English, actively participating in their classrooms, and are becoming increasingly proud of their accomplishments.  Without dedicated people like Brendan, the empowerment of refugees in Memphis would not be nearly as effective.” 

A philosophy major, Keegan served as a volunteer tutor his first two years at Rhodes. He applied for his internship through the International Studies Department. “As an intern, I have been working on a handbook for volunteers to use and devote more hours to tutoring,” he says.

Keegan has been selected as a Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies fellow for summer 2009, and with Rhodes Professor Thomas Bremer, he will study the religious background of Memphis immigrants and the refugee population.

“Some of the refugees have fled their countries because of religious persecution,” says Keegan. “Some refugee families find mentors through local churches, and there are several church groups active in the refugee community. My interest is how their religion and beliefs are affected when they come to the United States.” 

The Regional Studies program begins June 15 and runs through August 7.