Students reflect on Intensive Summer Course on Migration and Refugee Studies

June 3, 2024—Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Intensive Summer Course on Migration and Refugee Studies offers students the opportunity to step outside of a traditional classroom and engage both conceptually and practically with key issues in contemporary migration, and to return home empowered to make change. Read more about the course and reflections from previous students.

Leah Anyanwu and Kanwal Tanveer
Leah Anyanwu (right) with fellow student Kanwal Tanveer

Leah Anyanwu, EDM ’21, Harvard Graduate School of Education, has worked with families displaced by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and with internally displaced communities in Kenya and South Sudan. She currently works on the humanitarian team at the LEGO Foundation, supporting children displaced by disasters. “The course highlighted how natural migration is to human existence and survival,” Anyanwu said. “Hearing from various stakeholders motivated me to continue advocating for migrant friendly policies because we truly never know when or why we might need to move. People move for a variety of reasons and no nation is immune to disaster.”

Fridoon Joinda
Fridoon Joinda

Fridoon Joinda, The American College of Greece, is a refugee from Kabul, Afghanistan, who has lived in Greece since 2016 and has made several documentaries about refugees. “I decided to take the course because I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the refugee experience beyond my personal background,” he said. “The course provided valuable academic insights into how scholars perceive and analyze refugee situations, which was crucial for my understanding. Professionally, it motivated me to advocate further in the refugee field, raising awareness and advocating for policy changes.”

Aqil Merchant, AB’ 25, Harvard College, partnered with three non-profits in Clarkston, Georgia, on a program to provide services for arriving refugee families and advocate for pro-refugee legislation, and worked on refugee issues with NGOs in Greece. “I have long aimed to serve as an emergency medicine physician in settings impacted by humanitarian crises,” Merchant said. After learning in this course about the “shortcomings of the international legal system in holding states accountable for violating refugees’ human rights and failing to respect their human dignity,” he’s hoping to also engage in scholarly work calling for advancements in human rights and international law.

Sima Thakkar, MPH ’24, Harvard Kennedy School, spent more than 20 years in the nonprofit and technology sectors, including as a consultant for Asylum Access, which offers legal representation for refugees and advocates against discriminatory policies. “Professionally, this course inspired me to further commit myself to advocating for refugee rights and addressing systemic injustices,” she said. “The firsthand experiences and insights gained from the course continue to inform my work in this field, shaping how I might approach policy development and implementation.”

Photos: Courtesy of Leah Anyanwu, Fridoon Joinda