While politicians and pundits shout at each other on cable news about how to deal with human beings seeking safety from armed conflicts abroad, a group of Canton High School students has taken a more practical approach.

Dismayed by what they heard during the 2016 presidential election about refugees, the nine students decided to skip the debate about who should be allowed into the United States and instead befriend recently arrived families.

“People take the partisan view of it and don’t realize that they’re here now, and we have to do something about it,” said Srimayi Chaturvedula, a 10th-grader.

The students formed Project RISE, or Refugee Integration in Society and Education, in September, and connected with Catholic Charities to explore ways to help refugee families.

They are surprised by what they’ve learned: These families are nothing like the ones described by politicians or portrayed on television, they said.


“It’s really hard for people, and it takes a really long time, especially if they don’t have much aid . . . or any family here,” said Ashna Patel, a 10th-grader. “We’re focused on what we can do while they’re here, not whether they should be or not.”

Many of the families have fled conflicts that don’t get much news media coverage, such as in Myanmar (formerly Burma), the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia, the students said.

“There are so many more people in the entire world who are just sitting and waiting for the chance to leave the country that they’re in and come to a better place,” Chaturvedula said. “So that’s hard to think about — that there are that many that need help.”

Over the past months, the students held donation drives for winter clothes and toiletries at their school, a campaign that has also served to raise awareness among their peers of refugees in their own community.

But the most transforming activity, they said, has been their meetings with a family in Canton who fled the unrest in Ukraine and a family in Revere who escaped horrific violence in Syria.


“You don’t know how hard something is, the struggles other people are facing, until you come face to face with them,” Chaturvedula said.

The families didn’t necessarily want to leave their homes, but were forced to, the students learned.

And while some are trained professionals, such as doctors and nurses, they have struggled to find comparable work in the United States.

The families’ needs are great, but the students are there first to be a friend, to help the refugees practice English and help them adjust to life in America. A quiet offer of a warm coat or toiletries comes at the end of the visits. For the near future, the students are planning to organize soccer games and arts and crafts activities for refugee children.

James Vo, 16, who met the Syrian family harmed by violence, painted with the children and helped them sign up for sports at school. They showed him how they learned to code their own computer games by watching YouTube videos.

“It breaks your heart knowing what they had to go through,” Vo said.

Jill Terreri Ramos can be reached at jill.ramos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jillterreri.