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Photo: DW/Bern Jutrczenka
Angela Merkel, German chancellor, has welcomed people fleeing war.

Here’s another approach to finding jobs for migrants. This one involves a website started in Germany, where the nationwide employment rate is high.

Jona Kallgren writes at the Boston Globe, “A startup company in Berlin is trying to help integrate last year’s flood of migrants into the German workforce with a tailor-made online job market for new arrivals.

“The website Migrant Hire, was founded earlier this year by a mix of Germans and migrants, and operates with a staff of five volunteers out of a shared working space in a former industrial building in Berlin’s trendy Kreuzberg district.

“More than 8,000 migrants have registered on the website — a fraction of the 890,000 asylum-seekers who arrived in Germany last year but a good sign that some are serious about finding employment.

“The website helps migrants create resumes that match German standards, then connects the applicants to companies. It’s free for the migrants and relies on donors and volunteers.

“MigrantHire cofounder Hussein Shaker has channeled his own experience trying to find work as a migrant into helping others. Back in the Syrian city of Aleppo, he studied information technology, but when he came to Germany he couldn’t find any work in the IT sector. Instead he ended up working in a call center while learning German.

“When he was approached with the idea of MigrantHire by Remi Mekki, a Norwegian entrepreneur living in Berlin, he immediately quit his job and threw himself into the project.

“On a normal workday he and others help migrants write resumes, answer questions about German employment law and help migrants apply for jobs that companies have posted on the website.” More here.

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Among all the sad aspects of the refugee crisis, children in refugee camps going without any education — sometimes for years — has to be one of the saddest.

10 million under the age of 8 are displaced

Fortunately, there are occasional rays of light, such as adult refugees deciding to start their own school. And here is a story from Mashable about a partnership between the International Rescue Committee and the makers of Sesame Street.

Matt Petronzio writes, “A new partnership between Sesame Workshop, the brand’s educational nonprofit, and global humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee (IRC) will allow the two groups to develop, distribute, and test educational resources and programs designed with young refugees in mind. …

“The first phase is to develop educational multimedia content that can reach children living in displaced or resettled communities through mobile devices, radio, TV and printed materials in engaging, enjoyable ways.

” ‘We really set out to find a partner that complements our offerings, and I think the IRC is ideal,’ said Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. …

“Sesame Workshop and the IRC will adapt existing Sesame products and content for regions where the two organizations already have a presence working with young children and their families. …

“The partnership is aimed at the children who make up half of the record 60 million people currently displaced around the world, specifically the one-third of that population under the age of eight. In addition to a lack of education, these children also often deal with toxic stress and trauma.

” ‘We’ve seen time and time again, in the context of conflict and crisis, that those very young children don’t have a safety net to support them,’ Sarah Smith, senior director for education at the IRC, told Mashable. …

“Most recently [Sesame] launched Zari, the first local Muppet in Afghanistan, a country where many young children lack access to education, especially girls.

“Zari’s gender was a deliberate choice to promote girls’ empowerment — an example of tailoring curricular goals to the needs of a particular country. (According to Westin, recent research showed that fathers in Afghanistan changed their minds about sending their daughters to school after watching Baghch-e-Simsim, the local language version of Sesame Street.)”

More at Mashable.

Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

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A New York Times article that was widely shared yesterday detailed how eager many Canadians are to welcome refugees. Enthusiastic, sometimes a bit bossy, they are volunteering in droves to make a difference in the lives of anxious families who have been through the mill.

It reminded me of other welcome stories I’ve been collecting. Small towns, in particular, seem to feel they could benefit from welcoming refugees.

On Nagu, a remote island on the southwest tip of Finland, migrants have found open arms.

Giles Duley writes in the Guardian, “From the start, the people of Nagu made their guests feel welcome. A Facebook group was set up, activities suggested, volunteers came forward. ‘It was exciting,’ says Mona Hemmer, a bastion of Nagu life and one of the organisers of activities for the refugees. …

“Of course, for the refugees, being busy does not erase their past or the uncertainty of their future. … Many still find it hard to sleep, aware that until their asylum applications have been processed, they have not reached the end of their journey.

“However, the warm welcome of the Nagu people has made a difference. And despite their initial reservations, the islanders now feel that it is the refugees who have brought them something.”  More.

In this Al Jazeera story by Thomas Bruckner, refugees are reviving faded Italian villages.

“The village of Riace had seen its population drop from 2,500 to 400 since the 1990s, when people moved to northern Italy for better economic opportunities.

“Domenico Lucano, Mayor of Riace, saw the flow of refugees in Italy as an opportunity. ‘We have been welcoming refugees with open arms for the past 15 years. [They have] saved our village,’ Lucano explained.

“The resourceful mayor first acted on this opportunity in 1998, when a boat with 218 Kurdish refugees on their way to Greece got stranded on a beach in Riace. This is when Lucano first proposed that the refugees should stay in the village and take over the homes and apartments that had been left vacant by the migrating former residents of the town.

“The mayor helped to facilitate the integration by establishing a ‘refugees welcome’ project, which is now spreading through neighbouring towns.”

Here’s a PBS story by Jason M. Breslow about a small town in Germany that wants more population. “With Goslar’s population shrinking by around 2,000 people per year as young people flee to bigger cities and older residents die, [Mayor Oliver] Junk sees refugees as key to the town’s future.

“ ‘Europeans must welcome and integrate refugees, accepting that they are not a burden but a great opportunity,’ Junk wrote in an op-ed published last month in the policy journal Europe’s World.”

The mayor has also said, “Anyone who tells me Germany is full up, or that we can’t afford them, I say think of our past, and of the future. Of course we can afford them – we’re a rich country, and we have a duty to help those in need.’ ” More from PBS.

And here’s a story closer to home. Brian MacQuarrie writes at the Boston Globe about Rutland, Vermont, and its interest in refugees.

“Mayor Christopher Louras has unveiled a plan, developed in near-secrecy, to resettle 100 Syrian refugees who fled the onslaught of the Islamic State and are exiled in sprawling Jordanian camps. …

“Most residents appear ready to welcome the refugees, mindful of the harrowing images of Syrians desperately seeking refuge outside their ravaged country….

“ ‘The benefits, economically and culturally, that we will recognize is exactly what the community needs at this time,’ said Louras, the grandson of a Greek immigrant who fled the Ottoman Turks a century ago. ‘As much as I want to say it’s for compassionate reasons, I realize that there is not a vibrant, growing, successful community in the country right now that is not embracing new Americans.’ ” More at the Globe.

Photo: Giles Duley/UNCHR
Volunteers from Nagu, a small island in Finland, laugh with refugees during a New Year’s Eve concert put on by local musicians.

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In a recent Wired article, Sarah Zhang calls the humble tarp “an aid worker’s secret weapon.” I had no idea the amount of work that went into developing a reasonably priced tarpaulin that won’t fray or get too hot.

“Ask an aid worker,” writes Zhang, “and the paeans to tarpaulin come pouring out. Cheap, lightweight, and waterproof, ‘tarpaulin is the most common shelter material,’ says Joseph Ashmore, shelter consultant for the International Organization for Migration. Responders and survivors can use tarpaulin for roofs, fences, and flooring—but don’t limit your imagination to shelter. ‘I’ve seen people dry rice on it, in latrines, as bags, as trousers, as umbrellas,’ Ashmore adds.

“Not all tarpaulin is created equal, though. The Red Cross catalog’s tarpaulin is the crème de la crème of plastic sheeting. … These obsessively engineered 4×6 meter plastic sheets last years, and it all goes back to one French … .

“Patrick Oger was a purchasing officer for Doctors Without Borders when he first got the tarpaulin assignment in 1993. …

“Working mostly alone — while still doing his job as a purchasing officer — Oger completed the specifications for tarpaulins in three years. Since 1996, the Red Cross, UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and Oxfam have given out millions of tarps manufactured to those specs. Factories in China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, and Kenya churn out the tarpaulin to use all over the world. And they’re cheap, at just $15 a pop in the Red Cross’s catalog. ‘We’ve really made a good product. It is saving money. It is saving lives,’ says Oger.”

Read here how Oger befriended and learned from an engineer at the Danish company where tarps were previously sourced (a company that charged a high price because it had patented the eyelets) and how he kept making technical improvements and testing them.

I like that Oger is still inventing. I’ll never make a blanket judgment about purchasing officers again.

Photo: Reuters/Corbis
Tarps are unloaded for distribution for internally displaced people in Mubimbi, South Kivu, DRC, on March 4, 2013. 

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A US student studying in Hungary was stunned by the refugee crisis at his doorstep and felt compelled to do something.

David Karas wrote in early November at the Christian Science Monitor, “Among those struck by the extreme hardships confronting the refugees is a graduate student from Mobile, Ala., who had been traveling in Europe. Motivated to find a way to help, he used his background in information technology and software to help provide something in high demand but extremely scarce: information.

“David Altmayer has launched the Refugee Help Map – an interactive mapping platform using Google tools that provides details on where refugees are traveling and what needs they have – to assist volunteers in best providing aid.

“ ‘At the beginning, it was just to get more information out there,’ Mr. Altmayer says. ‘I started helping in the first place because I couldn’t just sit by and not help. And then I just tried to find ways that I could best use my skill set to help.’

“Altmayer had worked in Seattle on IT and software projects, and is currently pursuing an MBA and master’s degree in global management through the Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management and the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In order to finish his degree, he had to select a couple of courses that would be held abroad. …

“ ‘I live about one kilometer [0.6 miles] from the main railway station here in Budapest,’ he says, By mid-August, migrants had begun to flock to the station to take shelter. ‘Every day there were more and more people basically living there – camping, setting up tents, sleeping on cardboard,’ he says.

“Some of Altmayer’s friends had been providing support to refugees, mainly by bringing them meals. Altmayer noticed other volunteer groups were providing assistance. Wanting to learn more, he began to explore online – only to discover a need that he and his computer-literate colleagues could help to address.

“ ‘More and more people had been asking where they could get information in English,’ he says. Most efforts to provide information were in Hungarian. Before he knew it, he had become part of a group that launched an English website, making details about locations and needs accessible to English-speaking refugees and volunteers. …

“In the first six weeks the map was online, it received more than 80,000 views. It is constantly updated with markers indicating the location and urgency of needs, as well as comments about conditions facing refugees.

“ ‘There are so many people using it and counting on it,’ Altmayer says.”

More here. I do love stories about people working to solve a problem by offering the skills they have.

Photo: Andrea Giuliano
US college student David Altmayer created the online Refugee Help Map while living in Budapest, Hungary. Here he is shopping for supplies to help  migrants in Serbia.

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The president recently handed out the Medal of Freedom awards. Maybe in the excitement around around Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison, and John Glenn, you missed that Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, also was honored.

Fox News-Latino wrote, “The White House will present the lifelong unionist and immigrant rights advocate with the Medal of Freedom. …

“Huerta’s sense of justice developed from an early age. Raised in Stockton, Calif., Huerta watched her father work for little pay in the fields, while her mother managed a hotel that often let poor migrants stay for free, according to the Daily Beast.

“Along with César Chávez, Huerta founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which later evolved into the United Farm Workers of America. …

“Using strikes, marches, boycotts and hunger strikes, the UFW has defended the interests of farm workers. … Huerta has been arrested 22 times and been beaten for her activism.

Notwithstanding her run-ins with the law, Huerta has been influential in passing far-reaching legislation. Her accomplishments as a labor rights activist include helping pass California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 and helping secure disability insurance for California farmworkers. …

Huerta launched the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2002, with the mission of supporting community organizers and budding political leaders.Read more.

Getty Images

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