Posts Tagged ‘providence granola’

I’m beginning to think that this period of history will come to be known as one of enormous creativity. It’s not just isolated incidents. I was working on the upbeat story below and skipping back and forth to Facebook, where each sign from the marches and each costume seemed to outdo the last — and where I saw women on the US-Mexico border weaving their hair together Friday — when it hit me. One and one and 50 have already made a million. And there is no sign of stopping.

The story I wanted to share is on a creative effort to help refugees, this time in the Netherlands.

Liz Alderman described it at the NY Times.

“Mahmoud al-Omar leaned over a sewing machine in the basement of a former prison being used to house refugees and began stitching jeans for a popular clothing line. With more than 15 years experience as a tailor in Syria, he zipped through one pair and moved on to another, methodically filling a small order.

“The job, set up by a Dutch organization that matches refugees with work opportunities, is only temporary. Yet after Mr. Omar fled his war-torn hometown, Aleppo, two years ago, just having a place to go each day felt like a salvation.

“ ‘Working is completely necessary to speed up integration,’ said Mr. Omar, 28, who still struggles to speak Dutch, hindering his chances of a full-time job. ‘I want to become independent as soon as possible, so I can start giving back to the country that took me in.’

“When more than one million men, women and children streamed into Europe last year to seek a haven from conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, governments viewed the labor market as the quickest path to absorb newcomers. The sooner people started working, the thinking went, the faster they could get off government aid and start contributing to the economy.

“Yet permanent jobs have proven elusive. The lack of language is a big barrier, as is a skills mismatch. Some refugees do not have the right experience, while others cannot get their professional qualifications or degrees recognized.

“Private initiatives have sprung up across Europe to help. The Refugee Company, the Dutch group that steered Mr. Omar toward work, is one of scores guiding refugees into professional networks and opportunities to improve employability.” More here.

From the company’s About page: “Our mission is to empower refugees. We believe work is the best tool to integration; through work, refugees can blend in with their society and build up a new meaningful life in The Netherlands. We speed up integration by providing opportunities for newcomers upon arrival to utilize their talents again. …

“We decided Refugee Company will focus on craftsmanship. We provide work opportunities in the creation and hospitality sector, as that is where our roots lie. We see a growing demand for craftsmen and horeca [Hotel/Restaurant/Café] staff in the Netherlands.” More.

The Providence Granola Project does something similar in Rhode Island, though on a smaller scale. Language is definitely a barrier, so if you have always liked explaining English to people, consider volunteering near your home.

Photo: The Refugee Company


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A year ago, I retired from a magazine job I’d held for ten years to see if I could offer more-direct service to people. From January until October I worked at a quasi-public agency that allowed me to connect a bit with lower-income clients. But I wanted to focus more.

What I really wanted to do was to help refugees and other immigrants learn English. So after getting my feet wet in the refugee world as a volunteer blogger for one nonprofit, I retired completely and started to volunteer at three other agencies. So far, it’s tremendously satisfying.

It took a while to set this up, however. It turns out that although most nonprofits need help, few have the infrastructure to move volunteers smoothly into useful roles.

Organizations I reached out to in Massachusetts didn’t respond, and getting a response in Rhode Island required contacting the leadership. Understandably, they then had to take the time to assess whether I had shown any previous interest in helping immigrants with English. (I had life experiences and volunteering that related, but for work that was exactly the same as what I wanted to do, I could claim only a few hours on a United Way Community Care Day.)

The largest organization, an official resettlement agency, wanted to see if I could be empathetic to frustrated adult learners who might have been accomplished in their home countries and were now starting from scratch with a whole new alphabet. And they needed to evaluate whether as an unpaid person I would show up consistently.

Their schedules weren’t necessarily my ideal schedule, but I finally cobbled something together that keeps me busy two and a half days a week.

I definitely had to talk some people into it. At one place where I now volunteer two mornings a week, the teacher hadn’t answered the email I sent after the volunteer coordinator gave it to me. I tried again. She then responded that she had enough volunteers but I could come observe. So I showed up. And stayed. Believe me, she has really needed me with her large class of immigrants, many of whom arrived only months ago from the Congo or Syria.

One aspect of the work that has been particularly interesting has been comparing three different organizations and three different approaches to teaching English. The differences relate in part to students’ different levels of English. In addition to those who have just arrived, there are people who may have been in Providence many years but could function just fine using Spanish. There are others who had no schooling as children and may turn written pages upside down.

I am learning, meeting new people, and having new experiences, which I love. I love seeing someone’s face light up when they suddenly “get it.” I love feeling like this work is important.

Many people I know are asking themselves lately, “What can I do?” There are needs out there in many different fields of interest. I think all the seekers will eventually find the right thing. It may take a while to put it together.

Photo: Genesis Center
Immigrants having fun with learning at Genesis Center in Providence.

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