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Posts Tagged ‘refugee’

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Photo: Ryan Donnell/Sesame Workshop
Grover from “Sesame Street” in a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh. The Lego Foundation will provide $100 million over five years to the makers of “Sesame Street” and their partners for a program for refugee children.

Most of what we know about the situation of Rohingya refugees — expelled from Myanmar (Burma) for their Muslim beliefs — is pretty dire. But here and there we see positive efforts to lessen the pain of living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, especially for children. Read about this partnership among humanitarian relief organizations, Sesame Street, and Lego.

Karen Zraick writes at the New York Times, “Can play help refugee children heal from trauma?

“That’s the belief behind a new partnership formed by the Lego Foundation, Sesame Workshop and organizations working with Syrian and Rohingya refugees. In its first major humanitarian project, announced [in December], the foundation will provide $100 million over five years to the makers of ‘Sesame Street’ to deepen their work with the International Rescue Committee in the countries around Syria, and also to partner with the Bangladeshi relief organization BRAC.

“The aim is to create play-based learning programs for children up to age 6 in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Bangladesh. The programs will teach basics like the alphabet and numbers, but will also emphasize social and emotional development to counter the effects of stress and suffering. They will be offered both to displaced children and to some of their potential friends in host communities.

“Officials at the organizations involved said that helping children’s brains develop during their first years — when they are absorbing information like sponges — is crucial to helping them become healthy and successful later in life, and that play is an excellent way to do it.

“ ‘We know from child development research that the best way for children to learn is through exploring their world and play,’ said Sarah Smith, the senior director for education at the International Rescue Committee. …

“The families’ needs are great. In addition to basics like adequate food and shelter, children need to foster ties with nurturing caregivers to heal from what they have witnessed and endured, said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, a director of Global TIES for Children, a research center at New York University that will conduct testing and evaluation for the program.

‘Part of the magic of human development is that very few experiences doom a child to ruin,’ Dr. Yoshikawa said. ‘But we have to address the risks early. This is particularly critical in these first years.’ …

“Erum Mariam, a program director for BRAC, said that many of the 240 play labs the organization has created for refugees were built by the children’s fathers and painted and decorated by mothers and children.

“ ‘We place a lot of emphasis on culture and on strengthening community engagement,’ she said. Within those centers, trained facilitators focus on providing enough structure to make children feel safe, while allowing for spontaneous joy.

“ ‘When a child enters the humanitarian play lab, we want the child to feel very happy and very connected to their culture and heritage,’ she said.” More here.

You may recall I wrote about Sesame Street helping Syrian refugee children, here.

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Photo: Barbara Crossette/PassBlue
Fathiah Zakham studied tuberculosis in Yemen until a bomb destroyed the university where she was working. Through the Scholar Rescue Fund, she received safe haven in Helsinki, Finland, to study.

Scholars and scholarship are generally endangered in authoritarian countries and in war zones. Fortunately, there are activists determined to keep the search for truth alive among all nationalities. The Scholar Rescue Fund was established to place refugee scholars in safe institutions where they can continue their work. Even in today’s isolationist America, refugee scholars are getting a future.

Deborah Amos reported on international placement efforts at National Public Radio (NPR) last fall.

“Around the globe, more scholars are now threatened and displaced than since World War II began. In response, U.S. universities have sponsored endangered scholars and recently created a consortium that offers a broader academic community to refugee scholars threatened by war and authoritarian governments.

” ‘There is a moral obligation to do something,’ said Arien Mack, a psychology professor at New York City’s New School for Social Research, who launched Endangered Scholars Worldwide in 2007 to draw attention to the threats facing academics. She now oversees the New University in Exile Consortium, which will bring exiled scholars together over the next two years for seminars, workshops and conferences. The New School has recruited 10 other universities to the consortium, and is urging more to join. …

” ‘We are trying to nurture intellectual capital, we are saving brains,’ Mack said at a Sept. 6 event in New York City to launch the project. ‘Even when [refugee scholars] are safe, what is painfully absent is that they don’t get integrated, they are isolated, they suffer from estrangement.’ …

“Syrian academic Mohammad Alahmad, a specialist in Arabic literature, had to negotiate with Islamist radicals to continue teaching at Al-Furat University’s campus in Raqqa. In 2014, the militants declared Raqqa the capital of the Islamic State. …

“He escaped the city with his family, smuggling them across a dangerous border into Turkey after ISIS shut down his university. He was awarded a fellowship by the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, an organization that helps arrange emergency placement and funds for academic figures at risk. He was matched with Georgetown University where he is now a lecturer at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. …

“The Scholar Rescue Fund, established in 2002, has helped more than 700 scholars find academic placements in 43 countries. About 40 percent have been placed in American educational institutions.

“Indian activist and academic Binalakshmi Nepram says her work advocating for gender rights and a women-led disarmament movement in her home state of Manipur, in northeast India, led to threats and intimidation. … Now she is a visiting scholar in residence at Connecticut College.

” ‘We have all left everything behind,’ she said. … Her placement in Connecticut is a lifeline. She has continued her activism, giving a recent lecture on how the women of Manipur state worked together to confront violence in a decades-old armed conflict between insurgents and the Indian military.

‘Before I got this job, [American] people told me I could be a bartender or a babysitter,’ she said. ‘Every job has its dignity, but we have our skills.’

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Rebekah Welch, Missoulian
Two refugee children hurry to watch a soccer game at Fort Missoula in Montana.

I’m back volunteering with refugees and other immigrants, and it feels great. I took a hiatus to rethink my schedule after my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer. Now I’ll be doing only one day a week instead of three, assisting at a morning ESL class in a Providence resettlement agency and an afternoon class down the street. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile in retirement.

In today’s story, volunteers and staff at some unusually stable refugee programs in Montana feel the same. The article reminds me that my ignorance of much of the country has kept me from appreciating how every state has people with similar values.

In October, Kim Briggeman wrote at the Missoulian, “Montana’s lone resettlement office is just big enough to dodge the ax lowered by the [administration’s] slashed refugee cap, but small enough to escape the staff reductions others face.

“ ‘In Salt Lake City we were staffed to serve 600 arrivals (per year). Well, when you get half of that, you start losing staff,’ Patrick Poulin said in Missoula last week.

“Poulin is acting regional director of 13 International Rescue Committee [IRC] offices in seven Pacific Northwest states, and serves as executive director of the one that opened in Missoula two years ago. …

“The U.S. State Department has ‘pretty much told resettlement agencies’ that offices serving fewer than 100 refugees a year will be shuttered, Poulin added.

“Missoula’s IRC office received 115 refugees in fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30. Poulin said that was up from 78 in the first full year, and included a welcome but unexpected rush of 26 Congolese in July and another 23 Congolese and Eritreans in August. Those represent the top two months for refugee arrivals since the IRC began receiving them in August 2016. …

“The U.S. Secretary of State [announced] in mid-September a proposal to lower the number of refugees allowed into the country from a maximum of 45,000 to 30,000 for fiscal-year 2019. Both are fractions of the 110,000 set by President Barack Obama in his final months of office in 2016, a cap that was ratified by Congress. …

“ ‘This is not only the lowest goal in the history of the U.S. program — the average has been 95,000 — but puts U.S. resettlement, as a proportion of population, well behind Sweden, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom,’ noted a guest commentary co-authored by Helena mayor Wilmot Collins that appeared last Monday in The Hill. Collins [is] a refugee from Liberia. …

“Missoula Federal Credit Union (MFCU) … donates roughly 7.5 percent of its annual net income to community programs like these. …

“[Mary Poole of volunteer-reliant Soft Landing Missoula] said it was another reminder of how Missoula Federal and its president, Jack Lawson, have supported local refugee resettlement from the start.

“ ‘We’ve had, I think, three or four meetings with Jack where he’s asking, “What’s next? What can we do beyond money to help?” And of course there’s always an answer for that,’ she said.

“The IRC works with schools and organizations to set up classes such as English language and computer literacy courses to help refugee families integrate into the community. In the credit union’s case, it’s financial literacy support. …

“[Gwen Landquist of Missoula Fed] said a ‘fantastic’ family of Congolese has agreed to be taken under the wing of a financial mentor from MFCU for a year.

“ ‘The husband and wife met at a refugee camp and moved here in July with their three children and one of their mothers,’ she said in an email. …’ The husband speaks about seven languages, including English, and his kids are learning Spanish in school. He has taken some prep classes to prepare for attending school. He is currently employed and is eager to get a car so they can get to church and work.’ …

“A study that came out in July found that the 4,600 refugees and other immigrants in the Missoula region generate more than $26 million in tax revenue each year and contribute disproportionately to goods produced and services provided.”

More at the Missoulian, here.

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I lifted this from Beautiful Day, an organization I’d like you know about if you don’t already.

Founder Keith Cooper writes, “A couple months ago a guy named Scott Axtmann brought a great group of interns from his church (Renaissance) to visit our kitchen facility at Amos House. We did the things we usually do — greeted the trainees, chatted with our chef and other staff, then sat out in the dining hall to talk more about mission and share thoughts about resettlement, the job market, and being a part of positive change in our city.

“This is an aside — but if you live in driving distance of Providence and are interested in our work, you should stop by for this kind of tour. Plan to come after 5 on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If possible give us a couple weeks warning. A tour doesn’t take long, but seeing something with your own eyes usually takes the strangeness out of it. I know we are intense and painstaking about the way we make granola, but making granola is still not rocket-science. Neither is job training. What I always find mysterious in our kitchen (though I know we’ve also been painstaking about creating this atmosphere too) is the laughter shared by a group of trainees and staff who don’t even share a language. This is always the thing that reassures me that we are doing something right. But please take this as an open invitation. These tours are part of our mission to connect more people with refugees. Our organization may lack a lot of things, but we’re rich in relationships with former refugees and would love to share our wealth with you.

“Anyway, during that tour Scott challenged me in the style some faith leaders have perfected—encouragement that leads to self discovery. In this case, he created space for me to say something I hadn’t intended to say. The gist went something like this:

Scott (to the interns): Keith writes a [something flattering here] blog for Beautiful Day about immigration and refugee resettlement.

Me (grimacing): Oh thanks Scott. Actually I’ve hardly been writing anything this year.

Scott: Really? Why not? You should be. [Then, to the interns, some thoughts about how critical it is for people of faith to welcome refugees and what a privilege it is. Scott has a contagious enthusiasm about our city that I love.]

Me: Honestly, I feel like I’ve lost my voice over this last year. I’m really struggling with it.

Scott: You had better get it back.

“Then suddenly we all had to go.

“That was back in July and I’ve been chewing on this ever since. I’m pretty sure I intended to answer his question by complaining about how busy I am, how many hats I need to wear. These things are true and I say them all the time. Saying I lost my voice instead provoked me to think about what’s happening to or in me. Beautiful Day works with marginalized people who, for the most part, are hidden and voiceless — most obviously because they don’t speak English and don’t yet understand much about American culture, but also because they’ve had experiences of being chased away, silenced, discarded, warehoused. We live in a country that has welcomed them, yet is also growing more ambivalent and sometimes openly hostile to them. I believe we all have something critical to learn from these voices.

“So how can I possibly advocate for voiceless people if I don’t have a voice myself?

“And another thought: isn’t saying I’m voiceless another way of saying I’m afraid. What am I afraid of?

“But, okay, Scott. Thank you both for the compliment and the invitation to think. Here’s my idea. I’ll try to start writing more often. I know I need to do this right now if only because we are heading into the holiday season when we hope (need!) to sell about 75,000 dollars of granola in 3 months. These sales are vital to our training program, so I need to be connecting and resonating with our customers.

“(And, a sideways invitation here: as part of this sales initiative, we are currently launching efforts to increase traffic to our website. Part of what helps attract traffic is interaction, so if you appreciate anything in this blog and what Beautiful Day is doing, please speak up and comment either here or on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. It’s okay if you disagree as a long as you’re not trolling. A voice isn’t very real until it’s in dialogue.)

“Along the way, maybe I can try to figure this out by writing it out. I know one of my fears is that I just can’t write an Inc-style business post where I try to play the confident hipster entrepreneur and wax eloquent on how great our product is, how well we are doing, how hard we work, and which fancy apps we use. Something about who I am and about working with voiceless people makes that impossible. Nor can I promise that it will be consistent or coherent or polished. It will need to just come out of what’s in my head at that moment with what time I’ve got available. But I’ll give it a try. Maybe I’ll rely on some of the internet’s favorite formats like top 10 lists. But I’ll try to let it be a real voice. I suspect I’m not the only one trying to retrieve theirs these days.”

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Photo: Lisa Marie Summer for the New York Times
A German opera company invited current refugees to be part of its production of “Moses,” lending immediacy to the story of exile.

Powerful stories from any century speak to the human condition in any other century. Thus, for example, the story of exile in the opera “Moses” speaks to the sense of dislocation that today’s refugees experience. To drive home that point, an opera company in Germany has invited current refugees to participate in a production.

Joshua Barone reports at the New York Times, ” ‘We tell the story of Moses because it is actually our story,’ one teenager, a refugee from Afghanistan by way of Iran, said in the Hazaragi dialect to the German-speaking audience at the Bavarian State Opera here on a recent Sunday evening.

“Others chimed in: ‘The story of Moses is also my story,’ they said in French, Kurdish, Greek and Arabic.

“They were the cast of ‘Moses,’ a feel-good yet sobering new production by the Bavarian State Opera’s youth program, written for refugees, children of immigrants and born-and-raised Bavarians.

“In the opera, a mixture of new music by Benedikt Brachtel and adapted excerpts from Rossini’s “Mosè in Egitto” [“Moses in Egypt”], the teenagers tell the story of Moses — common ground for followers of the Bible, Torah and Quran — with Brechtian interludes about refugee experiences and current events.

“The director Jessica Glause, who created the libretto based on interviews with refugees in the cast, has concocted a blend of humor, horror and youthful energy that hardly feels like a didactic documentary about Europe’s refugee crisis. Behind the scenes, ‘Moses’ has provided a way to learn German and make friends — in short, to make the process of migration a little less painful. And audiences have responded favorably. …

“Theater about the refugee crisis has proliferated in Germany since migration into the country reached its peak in 2016. But rarely has the hot-button issue — which continues to threaten Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power and fuel the rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany, or AfD — entered the realm of opera, much less children’s opera. …

“Ms. Glause, who had volunteered on boats in the Mediterranean, also wrote the libretto for ‘Noah,’ after interviewing many of the same young refugees who are in ‘Moses.’ She described the process — hearing stories of loss, danger and fear from teenagers — as acting as both an artist and a counselor.

“Among the people she spoke with were Ali Madad Qorbani, a young man from Afghanistan who fled to Iran, then Europe, after his father had disappeared; and Zahra Akhlaqi, also from Afghanistan, whose mother came to Europe first while she and her sister waited in Iran, where, she said, they were forbidden from going to school but would dress up like students at home and play pretend.

“Now, their lives are slightly more stable, though just as precarious as any refugee’s. …

“There are still monologues of how and why some of the cast members came to Europe, but much of the material is about reconciling their faiths and cultures with those of Germany — including one humorous passage about trying German beer for the first time. But they also describe how they don’t always feel welcome, such as a scene in which the plagues in Moses’s story give way to one person describing signs near Munich that say refugees overrun Germany like locusts. …

“In interviews, [youth program director Ursula Gessat] and Ms. Glause were quick to say that their job is to reflect the world around them, and that it would be irresponsible to ignore the refugee crisis. Indeed, Ms. Glause said that conservative politicians may change their minds if they met the cast of ‘Moses.’

“ ‘I would tell them to come see this show,’ she said. ‘Come hear these stories.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post
Stores along Main Street in the refugee-welcoming town of Ellicott City sustained severe damage after flooding in May. Grateful refugees were determined to help out after all the kindness shown them.

Not only do refugees contribute to both the US economy and the budget, but many are eager to return kindnesses shown to them when they were first finding their way in an unfamiliar land. In this article, Syrians did some fund raising for a small, flooded town that had welcomed them. Terrence McCoy reported the story for the Washington Post.

“The first time Majd AlGhatrif saw this historic mill town of colonial buildings at the confluence of the Patapsco and Tiber rivers [in Maryland], he thought of Syria.

“The structures, built of gray stone, and the history they evoked, reminded him of the timelessness and architecture of his hometown, Sweida, in southern Syria. He soon bought a house here, in 2013, then opened Syriana Cafe & Gallery, in 2016, and came to view everything about Ellicott City’s people — their kindness and decency — as an antidote to the fear others were expressing over Syrian immigrants like him.

“So when floods again ripped through here in May, killing a Maryland National Guardsman, closing businesses up and down its historic district and producing images of destruction recalling the floods of 2016, he vowed to do anything he could to help a community that had become his own.

“The result of that vow came to fruition [September 22] at Syriana, where he presented the city with a check for $10,000, which he had raised from Syrian Americans from all over the country who had seen the destruction and wanted to show their gratitude not just to Ellicott, but also to the United States for accepting them.

We wanted this to be a payback from Syrian Americans to a generous America,’ said AlGhatrif, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, handing an oversize check to community leaders.

“The check was a rare bit of good news in a city that has survived 246 years but is now reckoning with its own mortality — one more town grappling with existential questions, as the globe warms and natural disasters increase in frequency and ferocity. …

“The community is considering a sweeping $50 million plan to mollify future damage from flooding, but it would require the demolishment of as many as 19 buildings, cleaving out a piece of history in a city whose livelihood to a large degree depends on that very history.

“What we have to realize is that if we don’t do something, the town will die,” said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R). … After the last flood, he said, ‘the calculus changed.’

“AlGhatrif witnessed that firsthand. … He knew that the community meant a lot not just to him, but also to other Syrian immigrants and refugees. His cafe employed several who, after years of fear during the Syrian war, had come to feel safe in Ellicott City.

“One was Safa Alfares, 17. She was born in Aleppo, whose scenes of war and bodies still dominate her thoughts. [She] had arrived expecting to face Islamaphobia. …

“But as she learned English, in which she became fluent in less than two years, and after she found a job at Syriana, her sense of foreboding gave way to something she had not experienced since the beginning of the war: calm.”

This is such a touching story. Read more here.

Hat tip: @bostonmigration ‏on twitter.

 

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Photo: Kurdistan 24
There are many strays in the Kurdistan Region, with few resources available for animal care and protection. In a refugee camp, a young man whose veterinary education was cut off by war does what he can with what he’s got.

Although it’s true that some refugees are crushed by loss and dislocation, others face up cheerfully to the way things are. A story from Kurdistan24, a television station, provides a moving example.

With contributions from Chiman Adil, Nadia Riva reports from Erbil, “A young Syrian Kurdish refugee has been appealing for other animal-lovers to help in bettering the fate of stray animals in the Kurdistan Region while running a veterinary clinic in a camp.

“Ayaz, a Syrian Kurd living in the Kawergosk camp near the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil, fled the civil war which has been plaguing his country for nearly eight years.

“Before popular Syrian protests erupted across Damascus and other cities, Ayaz was a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The conflict, however, prevented him from completing his studies, with universities closing down and violence spreading. …

“Ayaz sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region, as hundreds of thousands of other Syrian Kurds have done, but did not let his situation affect his care of animals. … He has called for the promotion of animal rights at the camp, hoping to raise awareness and change the culture among the newer generation toward animals. … Ayaz has rescued cats, birds, turtles, and rabbits, which he keeps in his shelter at the Kawergosk camp.”

On twitter, Glenn Greenwald has been trying to raise money for this cash-strapped operation. You may remember that I wrote about Greenwald’s own animal-welfare efforts last month in a post describing how he hires homeless people to care for stray dogs.

More here.

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