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Posts Tagged ‘catholic charities’

One place that refugees are making a life for themselves is in Kansas City, Kansas, where some are bridging their current and former lives through farming.

Oluwakemi Aladesuyi reports at National Public Radio, “In the midst of boxy yellow and brown public housing, beyond the highway and past empty grain elevators, sits Juniper Farm. It’s spread over nine acres on the Kansas side of Kansas City.

“As their children play on the grassy knoll behind us, four women sit at a plastic picnic table speaking in Karen, a language spoken in parts of Myanmar [Burma].

“They’re students at a program called New Roots for Refugees. The program aims to teach the basics and business of farming [in America] to refugees over the course of four years. At the end, many of the graduates are ready to start farms of their own.

“It’s a joint effort between Catholic Charities and Cultivate Kansas City, a nonprofit that encourages locally grown food and urban agriculture. …

“Many of the men and women at New Roots come from Myanmar or Bhutan. Some were farmers in their homelands. But farming on the outskirts of Kansas City is different: the land, the crops and even the weather. …

“Many who’ve come here are happy to have escaped violence. But adapting to life in a new country, with a different language and customs, is still difficult. Many refugees struggle economically. …

“August Gaw [is] 25 years old and often translates for her mother, Beh paw Gaw, who graduated from New Roots a few years ago. …

“August used to come here to help her mother. But now Beh paw has her own 3-acre farm which she runs with her sister. Last year the operation made more than $10,000. The potential to make money is important; many refugee families live below the poverty level.” More here.

Read the story if you have time. One striking aspect: farm manager and adviser Sam Davis, an African American, experienced real intolerance when moving to Kansas from Arkansas, but to one of the Karen women, who had seen extreme isolation of different ethnic groups in Myanmar, America seems prejudice-free.

You might also be interested in this article on Karen people who were relocated to Waterbury, Connecticut. Written by John Giammatteo, it appeared in Communities & Banking magazine in 2012.

Photo: Oluwakemi Aladesuyi/NPR
Beh paw Gaw is a New Roots graduate and a Karen refugee from Myanmar. Now she has her own three acre farm which she runs with her sister.

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Manchester (NH) is an official refugee resettlement city. The State Department determines how many refugees the United States will take in each year and works through agencies to ease the transition. A colleague of mine lives in Manchester and was upset to learn about growing hostility to refugee placements.

Kathryn Marchocki writes in The Union Leader, “Mayor Ted Gatsas wants a moratorium on new refugee arrivals in Manchester after learning the city will receive a projected 600 refugees over two years, even though it now is the second-largest refugee resettlement community in New England.”

An alternative paper, The Hippo, goes into more depth. Here it quotes refugee supporters.

“ ‘For us, it’s a double-edged sword,’ said New Hampshire Catholic Charities’ Chesley. ‘The conditions they’re leaving are abhorrent. … But when the refugees come to New Hampshire, we witness the difficulty, the challenge. We also witness the evolution of a refugee’s life. The first few months here, they’re struggling. But there are so many wonderful examples of success.’

“There are many who realize just how much these refugees are bringing to the city. … [Rwandan refugee] Ntabaganyimana is one example of refugees’ giving back. He serves on a variety of community boards and organizations.

“The focus is always on challenges facing refugees or how refugees are impacting services. Ntabaganyimana would like a little more emphasis on the benefits of refugees and their successes. Sure, he says, there is an upfront investment in the refugees. But once they’re settled and acclimated, they’re contributing to the fabric of a community just like everyone else.”

Chesley points out that people have been migrating around the world forever. ” ‘That’s not new to New Hampshire. It’s not new to Manchester. The faces just look different and the colors are darker than the French Canadians or the Irish or the Polish, but the issues are still pretty much the same.’

“Refugees are working, and they are paying taxes. Ntabaganyimana guesses the refugees who are working are probably outweighing any impact that comes from refugees who aren’t able to find work quickly.”

The Hippo article also mentions a student from Suzanne’s alma mater, who has made a documentary on the issue. “Brendan Gillett is a student at Pomona College in California. He spent a great deal of time immersed in the refugee community while he filmed his documentary, Our Community. Gillett …  suggested implementing a program that would spread responsibility and include not just resettlement organizations but also the general public. He suggested establishing a family sponsorship program in which a native New Hampshire family could work with and provide help (rides to appointments, the grocery store, etc.) to a newly arrived family.”

Read more here.

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