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Posts Tagged ‘refugee’

Photo: Elissa Nadworny/NPR  
Cathy Meaney (right), a volunteer with International Neighbors, has befriended an Afghan refugee family in Charlottesville, Va.

Here’s a story of how one person can make a big difference. The one person I’m thinking of is a teacher who started a nonprofit to help refugees in Virginia. After launch, there was another “one person” and another and another.

In fact, quite a few kind Virginians were concerned to learn that refugees have to start taking care of their own needs in 90 days — a nearly impossible task in a strange place where you don’t know the language.

Elissa Nadworny has a report at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Here’s a number: 90. That’s how many days most refugees arriving in this country have before the basic resettlement money they get from the government runs out.

“But once that three months is over, there are still so many things recent arrivals need. That’s what Kari Miller saw over and over as a teacher in the public schools in Charlottesville, Va.

“In her classes, students who had recently arrived in the U.S. as refugees were struggling with all kinds of problems, like serious dental issues, or a lack of winter clothes or just the challenge of adjusting to life and school in a new land and a strange language. …

“She asked her principal for permission to take children to clinics, to buy them winter coats, to go home and meet their families. … Seeing them every day at school gave her an idea: Connect these families to their Charlottesville neighbors.

“Working out of her garage, Miller started the nonprofit International Neighbors. That was two years ago, and the organization has now grown to more than 200 volunteers. Many of them work full-time jobs but are ready to jump in to help families in that crucial period after the government aid runs out. …

“There are so many questions: Where can I get a car? Is school closed today? How do I turn on my shower? And, please, help me fill out all this paperwork!

“Paperwork, that’s the real currency in the United States, says Liza Fields, a member of International Neighbors’ board. … Fields helps refugees fill out those many, many forms — mostly for medical care but also dental work, school needs and, of course, paying bills. …

“The No. 1 request refugees make of International Neighbors is for a car. That’s usually followed closely by another related request: driving lessons. The organization provides money for lessons. But some volunteers like Helga Hiss are willing and able to give lessons. That, says Kari Miller, is the sweet spot. …

“Last fall, Hiss started giving driving lessons to a woman named Neegeeta, who moved to Charlottesville with her family from Afghanistan about 2 1/2 years ago.

” ‘It was very, very difficult life,’ Neegeeta says as her 18-month-old son, Musadiq, crawls into her lap. She asked that we use only her first name in order to protect family members who remain in Afghanistan.

“That first year in the U.S. was so hard, Neegeeta says, that they thought about moving back to Afghanistan. She felt isolated. She was working on her English, taking care of her three children, and dependent on a bus transfer to get her to appointments. …

“But, month by month, things got better. Her husband got a good job. The family got a car. They moved into an apartment downtown.

“Neegeeta credits much of this newfound confidence to volunteers like Hiss, who she says helped her feel welcome as she drove around her new city, laughing — and praying — in Hiss’s Toyota Camry.

“Those lessons, Neegeeta says, changed everything. Gave her freedom.”

Read about the nonprofit’s varied programs — including the one that pairs Charlottesville and refugee families who have similar characteristics — at NPR, here.

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Photo: Rhode Island Inno
Refugees learn US workplace skills thanks to a nonprofit called Beautiful Day.

For my taste, there can never be too many admiring articles about Beautiful Day (aka Providence Granola Project). I find the nonprofit’s model to be both wise and kind, and my only wish is that more markets would carry the products and more employers would hire the refugees after graduation.

I’ve known a number of immigrants who have gone through the training (including the somber Congolese girl above, who is still learning to share her radiant side more often).

Bram Berkowitz writes at Rhode Island Inno, “On many accounts, granola is considered a nutritious, lightweight and high-energy snack that has become a popular breakfast item, as well as a pick-me-up for hikers and campers.

“But at the Providence-based nonprofit Beautiful Day, the crumbled, whole-grain based food has become a path to the labor market for many refugees that come to this country lacking the skills needed to obtain a job.

“Keith Cooper, a former campus ministry veteran, founded Beautiful Day about 10 years ago as a granola business that employs refugees in order to give them hands-on experience and training they can use later on to gain permanent employment.

“As the United States prepares to take in the least amount of refugees since the 1980s, Cooper is gearing up to double growth at Beautiful Day so the organization can expand its services by taking on more refugees or train refugees for longer periods of time. …

“The organization finds refugees through various agencies, such as the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. Cooper said typical candidates are those that have extremely high barriers to entry, whether its lacking cultural literacy or English speaking skills.

“Cooper said he chose granola because its non-perishable, healthy and a food that requires a lot of work to make, but not a lot of finesse.

“ ‘I had never run a food production company, but we have been determined to become our state’s premier granola company,’ he said, adding that the organization uses local distributors and suppliers when possible. ‘We try to use the highest quality ingredients we can to make granola people will really like.’

“Beautiful Day provides 200 hours of work to refugees in various parts of the granola business, which gives them experience for when they apply to their next job. The placement also comes with a stipend and has opportunities for refugees to interact with others in the community when the company goes to public places like farmer markets to sell the granola. … Cooper said most of the kitchen workers go onto entry level jobs such as working at a laundromat, in a warehouse, as a janitor or sometimes in food production.

“ ‘Most lack English language, but they can still learn pretty quickly how to look someone in the eyes during an interview,’ he said, adding that all of the program participants, many of whom lived for years in refugee camps, are extremely eager to work. ‘The primary skill we teach is confidence … In a lot of work settings you may not need much English, but you absolutely have to be able to communicate when you do or you don’t understand something. That takes confidence.’ …

“Cooper sees huge scalability through online subscriptions and consumer sales. He is also looking to sell directly to universities and law offices, which will also help spread Beautiful Day’s mission because subscribers receive a postcard each month with a story about a new trainee. …

“ ‘People can do something about refugee resettlement. … By making a small choice about what you eat for breakfast or for a snack, you can provide crucial on-the-job training for someone who otherwise can’t get a job.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau
Ablaye Mar, an embroiderer from Sénégal, collaborates with Sabatina Leccia, a French artist and fashion designer, as part of a refugee program in France called La Fabrique Nomade. 

One of the hardest necessities facing migrants is leaving behind careers that took years to develop. That’s why a program started in France is so inspiring. La Fabrique Nomade gives one group of refugees — artisans — a chance to make a living from what they know best.

Kamilia Lahrichi and Bela Szandelszky write about the initiative for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

“Many hands are at work in Yasir Elamine’s pottery workshop in Paris. They cut, pound, squeeze, stencil and shape. Yasir, a potter from Sudan, and his French students swap ideas and aesthetics. As a refugee, he thought his life as an artist was over. The work of La Fabrique Nomade, a UNHCR-supported NGO, helped change his mind.

“La Fabrique Nomade encourages artisans among refugee and immigrant communities to retain and pass on their traditional crafts, from weaving and embroidery to pottery and woodworking.

“The group promotes their work and showcases it at design fairs. It supports the artists themselves, helping them to make connections in the art and design scene in France. It helps equip them with basic job-seeking skills such as building a portfolio and CV.

“The founder of La Fabrique Nomade, Inès Mesmar, says the goal is not just to enable refugees to use their talents but also to share valuable skills with the local community. For refugees, she says, it is about changing attitudes, ‘to allow them to transmit their knowledge, rather than being people who just receive help and assistance.’ ”

The UNHCR story is here. Check out DW for more detail, here.

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Water for Congo

Photo: Ideo
Asili, an enterprise designed by the American Refugee Committee (ARC), IDEO.org, and the people of Kabare in the Congo, has distributed millions of liters of clean water to people who didn’t have any. In the photo, a prototype offers sample cups of Asili water outside a Sunday church service. 

One of my favorite organizations is the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee, which does good work all around the world. In this story about bringing clean water to people in the Congo, they demonstrate the importance of asking the local people what they want, consulting with them on how work should be done, and enabling them to take charge.

In the Congo’s Kabare region, ARC partnered with residents and USAID to create a community-run business called Asili, and Asili partnered with residents and the design firm Ideo to launch a clean water initiative.

The project is described at Ideo.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been beset by decades of war, deep poverty, and an underdeveloped infrastructure for international development projects. Yet Asili — a community-run business delivering essential services in the Kabare region — is flourishing, thanks to the pride, strength, and ingenuity of the Kabare locals.

“[It] offers clean water, agricultural services, and a health clinic to area communities. Designed by the American Refugee Committee (ARC), IDEO.org, and the people of Kabare themselves, Asili has distributed millions of liters of water, seen local farmers’ incomes and outputs jump tremendously, and had thousands of patients at its three health clinics since they were established in 2014.

“Perhaps what’s most important, especially in a landscape of failed international development projects, is that Asili was born from — and is run by — the people of Kabare.

“In 2013, the American Refugee Committee (ARC) approached IDEO.org with a bold challenge: How might we build a community-owned, for-profit business in eastern DRC to support better health and improved livelihoods? …

“The early results have been truly remarkable. Since Asili was launched, 60 kilometers of pipeline have brought 5.3 million liters of clean water to previously overlooked villages, and this influx has helped cultivate a new local agriculture ecosystem. In addition, world-class healthcare has been delivered to over 3,000 people in some of the most vulnerable communities on earth….

“The Asili team have totally embraced human-centered design, and Congolese staff are hard at work building prototypes, iterating on what’s working, and using a design approach to build the next steps for this remarkable organization.” Wow.

In my ESL volunteering, I have had the privilege of meeting many Congolese refugees. To say that life in Congo is hard would be a gross understatement. Projects by Asili represent hope.

More at the American Refugee Committee website, here, and at Ideo, here.

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Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP
Characters from the Afghan Sesame Street. A MacArthur Foundation grant will enable the Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee to roll out a version for Syrian refugee children.

Even if they make it to relative safety, children often suffer the most from wars and dislocation. In addition to the trauma, there is the problem of education, which is unavailable or spotty in refugee camps.

That is why people of goodwill are reaching out with programs that can both comfort and teach. Jason Beaubien reports on one example at National Public Radio.

“The MacArthur Foundation will give $100 million to Elmo, Big Bird and their buddies to massively scale up early childhood development programs for Syrian refugees.

“Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee won a global competition by the MacArthur Foundation seeking solutions to what the judges called ‘a critical problem of our time.’

” ‘The most important thing to remember is that the humanitarian system is designed to reach people’s immediate needs — to keep people alive, feed them, make sure that they have shelter,’ says Sarah Smith, senior director of education at the IRC. The global humanitarian system, she says, isn’t very good at supporting displaced children. ‘And the fact is these children are likely to stay as refugees for their entire childhood.’ …

“The IRC and Sesame Workshop plan to launch what they’re describing as the ‘largest early childhood intervention program ever created in a humanitarian setting.’ …

“It will be distributed over traditional television channels, the internet and mobile phones. It will also serve as an educational curriculum for childcare centers, health clinics and outreach workers visiting the shelters where refugees live. The workers will deliver books to kids and caregivers.

“Sherrie Westin of Sesame Workshop says … ‘These Muppets will be created to reflect the children’s reality so that children can relate with them. … One of the Muppets may have had to leave home. She may live in a tent. She may become best friends with her new neighbors.’ …

” ‘We know that in their first years of life the trauma that children are experiencing has the greatest impact on them,’ Westin at Sesame Workshop says. ‘And yet they receive the least support.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
Mohammed, a Palestinian, bakes cheese twists with his host family in London.

Here’s another example of individuals in the UK stepping up to give refugees a welcome — while providing themselves with an experience that feels more meaningful than donating money or sending “thoughts and prayers.”

Alicia Canter, Kate Lyons and Matt Fidler write at the Guardian,
“It’s a simple premise: people with a spare room in their house are matched with a refugee or asylum seeker in need of somewhere to stay.

“And it’s a popular one: before 2015, Robina Qureshi’s organisation, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), used to provide about 600 nights of shelter a year to people with nowhere to go. In the 18 months since September 2015 this has risen to 29,000 nights.

“ ‘We were getting bombarded with people. … They said, “I want to do something.” ‘ …

“There are numerous points in the asylum process that asylum seekers and refugees can find themselves becoming destitute and homeless. Perhaps the most common is when they have their claim refused – at which point support payments stop and they are forced to leave their accommodation.

“People in this situation often find themselves homeless, without the right to work or receive benefits, unable to approach the local authority for help, and yet, in many cases, feeling unable to return to their home country. …

“ ‘The ones I feel really sorry for are the people who have been left destitute for years on end. People take them in and let them be human, and take them into a warm home where people care for them,’ says Qureshi.

‘What the hosts found out was that they were meeting a need in themselves – a need to give. Our society is so wealthy and our houses are stuffed full, but there’s that need to help others.’

“Mohammed, 35, from Palestine, [lives] with Joanne MacInnes, an actor and activist, in west London, and on weekends her daughters Malila, 12, and Eve, 14. …

“MacInnes has hosted six people in her house, but Mohammed is, she and her girls agree, their favourite. ‘He’s the nicest of them all,’ says Eve.

“Currently the family are trying to find Mohammed a wife. He uses his local mosque’s dating service, but says that because of his precarious immigration status he is not considered a desirable match. …

“Mohammed says he was shy when he moved in and nervous about how the family would respond to him.

“ ‘First time I come in here, I’ll never forget, Malila gave me a hug and speak with me,’ says Mohammed. ‘I was shy, Malila come in straight away, hug and speak with me and is not shy, you know. Eve is shy and Eve after two weeks spoke with me. And Joanne spoke with me. I feel family. Listen, I don’t speak English, but I hope you understand me. My dad is dead, my mother is dead [and] my sister. Joanne, Mali and Eve are my family.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau
“When you see their desire to learn, it gives you a boost of energy,” says Brigitte Dubosclard, who volunteers with refugees.

I can never get enough of stories about people helping people. A good example is seen in this article on a French village welcoming refugees.

Céline Schmitt wrote for the refugee agency UNHCR, “In November 2015, Pessat-Villeneuve, which has a population of 550, opened the doors of the château as a reception and guidance centre for refugees from Calais and Paris. [As of April 2017], it has hosted 136 refugees. …

“[Mayor] Gerard Dubois strongly believes in solidarity, in mutual support, and while it was an easy decision for him to open a reception centre for refugees in Pessat-Villeneuve, he had to persuade residents that it was the right thing to do. It was not as easy task. At a public meeting, organized in November 2015 when the centre was opened, he says he felt like a ‘bull in the ring.’ In the weeks afterwards, he even received death threats, but solidarity was stronger.

“Hatred is noisy,’ he says. ‘Solidarity is quiet, but inspiring and effective.’ …

“Dubois believes that initial fears stemmed from the fact that locals did not know the new arrivals. Any apprehension, he says, disappeared once they had met them. ‘Meeting and getting to know each other changes everything. It’s as simple as that. I don’t call them refugees, but guests.’ …

“Brigitte Dubosclard is a volunteer at the reception centre in Pessat-Villeneuve. A retired teacher, she gives French lessons to the refugees and also runs a clothing store. She was the first to volunteer to help during the public meeting organized by the mayor when the centre opened.

“ ‘When I realized that there was a general feeling of fear, I immediately said that we are here to help, that France is a country that has always welcomed refugees for many years,’ she says. ‘I asked just one question: What do they need?’

“Brigitte opened the clothing store with help from non-profit organizations Secours Populaire Français and Secours Catholique, as well as donations from the public and local shops. …

“Sandrine Menuge has been the head of Pessat-Villeneuve primary school since 2000 and saw the arrival of refugees as an opportunity to talk about diversity with the children in her class. She tasked them to find faces of 100 children throughout the world in 100 days.

“ ‘We searched for photos to see where they come from, what they look like, how they live,’ says Sandrine. …

“One afternoon, she invited two refugees, Mary from Eritrea and Ali from Sudan, to come to the school. The local children asked them about their journey. ‘We looked on the map to see all the countries they had to go through to come to France. They found them very brave.’

“The children also understood why the refugees had to leave their homes. ‘They realized that in some countries, children are afraid that bombs will fall on their heads. It was a wonderful shared moment.’ …

“[Amir, a 27-year-old from Afghanistan,] travelled on foot, by truck and boat, by any means possible, to reach safety.

“ ‘I feel better now,’ he says, from the reception centre in Pessat-Villeneuve. ‘I have accommodation. I have friends. There are good people here. It is important that people understand why we are here. We are refugees. I don’t want to take benefits from the government. I want to start my life for myself.’ ”

More at UNHCR, here. And thanks to my twitter friend Jane for passing this story along.

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