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Saint Rose students at RISSE

A Saint Rose literacy student works to raise the English proficiency of a refugee child.

Francis Sengabo fled the genocide in Rwanda, made his way to a refugee camp in Tanzania, and 10 years ago, arrived in Albany with his family. Along the way, he had to cope with the murders of his parents, live without a country for a number of years, and adjust to his strange new home across the globe.

This Friday, January 26, Sengabo and Muthana Alkhazraji, a refugee from Iraq, will share their stories at a Community Refugee Day. The event is co-sponsored by The College of Saint Rose Community Advisory Board and RISSE (the Refugee and Immigrant Support Services at Emmaus), an Albany-based organization that offers literacy education and other critical assistance.

“When I was growing up, I saw my dad and my mom help people who were struggling. People in our village always came to my dad for help,” said Sengabo, who helped found RISSE and is now operations director. “That’s why I keep pushing to help others.”

The Community Refugee Day starts at 11 a.m. at the College’s Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary, 959 Madison Avenue, Albany, and at noon moves a half a mile west to RISSE, at 715 Morris Street, Albany, for lunch and more discussion. The event is free, and the public is invited.

Rifat Filkins, executive director of RISSE, hopes participants who hear Sengabo and Alkhazraji discuss their lives will get involved in the organization. RISSE helps 200 families a year learn English and receive other assistance. Many families who take part have fled violence and arrived in the U.S. with little formal education.

“It’s important for students and all our neighbors to know about the refugees and the difficult process they go through. And we hope their interest will lead some people to want to get involved,” said Filkins, a Pakistani immigrant who has headed the organization since 2010. “We are an organization with few resources and a lot of needs. We are so lucky to have so many people here willing to help our families.”

Students and faculty from Saint Rose have always played a significant role, offering tutoring, raising money, and starting programs. The Refugee Community Day is another example.

“At Saint Rose, we promote projects that create critical thinkers and caring citizens as part of our mission,” said Fred Boehrer, chair of the Saint Rose Community Advisory Board and director of service-learning at the College. “Thanks to organizations like RISSE, our students are better equipped to engage with our diverse world. RISSE is a wonderful neighbor.”

For more information, contact Boehrer at


Community Refugee Day
What: Local refugees tell their stories
When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, January 26
Where: The Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary, The College of Saint Rose, 959 Madison Avenue, Albany and the Refugee and Immigrant Support Services at Emmaus (RISSE), 715 Morris Street, Albany
Details: Free and open to the public
Contact: Fred Boehrer,