Philosophy Graduate Student Assists Syrian Refugees

Philosophy Graduate Student Assists Syrian Refugees
Brake (left) playing soccer at one of the refugee squats in Athens.

Earlier this month, Philosophy graduate student Matthew Brake embarked on a service trip to Greece with a non-profit organization called OpenRefuge to work with Syrian refugees displaced by the civil war in their home country.

OpenRefuge is a coalition of regular people banding together to make friends and provide space for refugees to build their future in Athens, Greece and beyond. They develop local partnerships with individuals, communities, and organizations working in Greece to foster independence for those currently living as refugees. The founder, Jeff Saferite, began the work in response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis and what he perceived as a general lack of involvement from the United States government. His desire is to show refugees from all faiths, backgrounds, and origins that people see and care about their struggle.

Brake went on one of the short-term trips organized by OpenRefuge that center on developing relationships between refugees and local Greek people so as to tackle immediate needs (housing), long term needs (job creation), and practical needs.

“It was amazing,” Brake says, “how being there allowed us to respond quickly to needs on the ground. We heard a story from a local social worker about a boy who had an accident that left him paralyzed. He needed a special wheelchair that costs about $1300. We were able to set up an online campaign for him, and within 8 hours, we had all the money and were able to purchase the chair.”

The work that OpenRefuge are doing intersects with the issues discussed at the ‘Resisting Borders’ online conference hosted by the Philosophy Department’s Lisa Eckenwiler. As Brake notes, “The questions we study in Philosophy—questions about justice and the Good—ought to drive us to engage with the humanitarian crises in our world as well as to more thoughtfully consider how some of our thoughtless day-to-day actions or inactions may unwittingly contribute to or alleviate those crises.”

While housing is one of the most urgent needs for many refugees, it is not enough to allow people make a new life for themselves. For this reason, OpenRefuge is developing partnerships with local start-up and co-working organizations to provide space, training, and resources to equip refugees with the tools necessary to create their own future. Recounting his own trip, Brake notes, “One of the highlights was finding an organization that did job training for cyber security and coding. They’re starting a cohort program to train refugees, and we were able to discuss the possibility with them that OpenRefuge could provide housing to their cohorts so that they wouldn’t have to travel back and forth between the refugee camps.”

This January and May (2018) OpenRefuge will be taking a team of dentists and dental hygienists to work with a local organization that organizes medical service projects. They are also working with a local school teacher in Washington, D.C., to develop a class pen pal project for second graders.

In the end, OpenRefuge hopes to let those caught up in this refugee crisis know that the people of the world see them and are moved to assist them.

For $70 per month, OpenRefuge is able to provide housing for a refugee. For more information about their work, you can check out their website at or contact them at