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Posts Tagged ‘refugee’

Photo: Daniella Cheslow/NPR
Jeff Britten stands in the doorway of the Baptist chapel in Haverfordwest, Wales, where he meets regularly with other members of his group sponsoring a refugee family. The name of the group is Croeso Hwlffordd, or Welcome Haverfordwest in Welsh.

What can I say? There are kind people everywhere. This story is about the efforts of residents of a small village in Wales to welcome refugee families from Syria. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do — there are so many differences in experience and culture. But these people knew it was the right thing to do.

Daniella Cheslow writes at National Public Radio, “Back in February, Jeff Britten sent a description of Haverfordwest, his town of 13,000 people in southwestern Wales, to a family of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

” ‘I ran around town and took pictures of the castle, the best bits, the River Cleddau,’ Britten says. ‘I produced a map which showed the location of the house, and that everything was in walking distance, supermarkets, schools, a mosque. It was all there for them.’

“He hoped the family, whom he contacted with the help of the Home Office, which controls U.K. immigration, would come live in Wales. At that stage, he knew little about them, only that they were Syrians recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

“Britten is 71 and retired from the pharmaceutical industry. The idea to reach out to Syrian refugees came in late 2016, when he heard that two other Welsh villages had adopted refugees from the country, and he called a meeting in a Baptist chapel in his own town to inspire his neighbors to do the same. …

“The refugees have come to Wales as part of a community sponsorship program that began in the U.K. in 2016. A group of British citizens can commit to providing refugees help with housing, navigating schools and doctors, language and the job search.

“Twenty-five Syrian refugee families have arrived and been settled so far in the U.K. via community sponsorship; of those, six families went to Wales. …

“In Haverfordwest, about 30 residents answered Britten’s call and signed up to sponsor the newcomers. … Jenny Blackmore had worked with Syrian refugees in the nearby town of Narberth and noticed that housing was often a stumbling block to fulfilling the government’s conditions. Landlords had to keep their homes open while the Home Office processed the resettlement application, and the government paid a lower rental rate than the market could offer.

“Blackmore’s mother had recently died and left her an inheritance. She invested it in a three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse in the center of Haverfordwest, with the aim of housing a refugee family.

” ‘I decided it would be a sort of fitting legacy, really, to my mum and dad’s memory, to do something — yeah, it’s an investment for my family, but it’s also a kind of investment in people’s lives,’ she says.”

More here.

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Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Volunteers try to find housing and employment opportunities for asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, Mass. Refugees have government-approved supports. Asylum seekers have nothing.

In the last couple years, since I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I have learned there is a differences between refugees, who arrive in this country fully vetted and eligible for official support, and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers are generally fleeing persecution and danger. One woman I heard about knew that the government in her country intended to arrest her after disappearing her husband for his vocal opposition. When she arrived here, she had nothing.

Numerous groups of US citizens are now organizing to help such people.

Zipporah Osei reports at the Boston Globe, “With more attention than ever on the crisis and issues of immigration, Fowkes knew what he needed to do was to effect direct change. …

“Said Fowkes, “I wanted to do more than just mail a check to an organization. I wanted to have a hand in changing someone’s life.’

“Fowkes and his wife joined ArCS Cluster, a group of volunteers helping refugees and asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville. The group started in the spring of 2016 as an arm of the Malden-based nonprofit Refugee Immigration Ministry, with a mission of helping through person-to-person connection

“Asylum seekers come to the United States to escape issues such as war, persecution, or domestic violence. Once here, they must apply for asylum and then wait at least five months to apply for a work permit.

“While they wait to be approved, individuals can lack access to medical care and face housing insecurity and social barriers that make the process even more difficult. The group attempts to make the transition as smooth as possible. …

“The cluster, which has over 250 members with roughly 50 active volunteers, provides services to asylum seekers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Liberia, and Rwanda. It is the first explicitly LGBT-friendly cluster in the Refugee Immigration Ministry. Although the cluster was formed out of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, all volunteers are welcome whether or not they are affiliated with any religious organization. …

“For many of the volunteers, the connections made with asylum seekers are long-lasting.

“ ‘I have so enjoyed forming relationships with these people. We develop friendships together,’ said [Sarah Trilling, co-coordinator]. …

“The cluster helps the asylum seekers in seemingly small ways as well. After finding out that one of their guests was uncomfortable taking the bus late at night, volunteers took turns driving her home from appointments.

“ ‘They support me morally and financially. This is a blessed group,’ she said of the coordinating team. ‘I love them for all they do.’

“Fowkes and his wife, who live in Medford, have been members of First Parish for more than 20 years. He recently retired and felt he had more time to invest in charity work. The experience of housing an asylum seeker has also had a positive impact on him.

“ ‘This kind of work suits me,’ said Fowkes. ‘You can do a small thing for a great many people or you can do a huge thing for one person, and I just know I’m making a tremendous impact on someone’s life.’

“The couple took in an asylum seeker who had been living on the street. The guest has been living with the pair for more than a year now. The three have dinner together every night, and the couple has introduced him to his family and friends. Fowkes said they have formed a deep connection.

“ ‘He introduces me to people as his American dad,’ said Fowkes.”

More.

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Photo:  Diana Markosian / Magnum Photos
Yazidi refugee children are overcoming fear of the water in Germany.

One reason I was interested in the following story is that I have worked with Yazidi refugees from Iraq like these. One of the people in the family I know actually has relatives in Germany, where the story takes place.

Philip Oltermann writes at the Guardian, “When Hanan Elias Abdo looked over the side of the rubber boat into the deep blue sea, she could make out two large shapes, moving at speed. Were those dolphins? Or sharks? ‘Did you see the fishes?’ she shouted at her siblings.

“Six-year-old Sulin, the youngest, … was lying on top of a thin patch on the boat’s floor and could feel the water moving underneath her. At home, in the Sinjar mountains in Iraq, she had never more than splashed through an ankle-deep brook. What if the floor gave way and she got pushed into the bottomless depths? What, she thought, if the fishes started nibbling at her feet?

“That was in September 2015. Two and a half years later, Sulin stands atop a starting block in northern Germany, takes a two-step run-up, waggles her arms and legs mid-air, before landing in the 2-metre-deep turquoise water and splashing her giggling sisters who are paddling near the edges. Surfacing, she pulls a funny face at the man with the white beard and white slippers applauding her from the side of the pool. ‘That’s it!’ says Günter Schütte, Germany’s first swimming instructor to specialise in helping to cure refugees’ fear of water.

“Schütte is a teacher with 40 years’ experience teaching politics and sport at schools in Wolfsburg, and a passionate swimmer since he was 13. Throughout his career, he says with pride, he made sure that by the end of the school year there was never a non-swimmer in any of his classes. …

“When Schütte realised that many refugees who arrived in Wolfsburg were families from countries with little open water, and that many children had been traumatised by the journey across the Mediterranean, he decided that swimming could become a tool for better integration.

“From October 2015, he booked a two-hour slot every Sunday at a municipal swimming pool and handed out flyers advertising the course at asylum seekers’ shelters in the area. …

” ‘We take our time,’ he says, ‘because when you are scared, time-pressure is the last thing you need.’

“The purpose of the course was to help the new arrivals ease into an unfamiliar element – in a metaphorical sense, too. ‘By learning how to swim, refugees are no longer shut out from the sports lessons at school,” Schütte says. ‘Some of them also get a head start on their German peers – they have a sense of achievement.’ …

“Sinjar province, where Hanan, Helin and Sulin, now nine years old, grew up, is a traditional stronghold of the Yazidi minority who were declared infidels by al-Qaida and actively targeted by Isis in 2014. Helin, now 12, recalls a phone call late that summer from her grandmother, who lived in the next valley along: Isis fighters were approaching and the villagers had run out of ammunition. …

“There was no time to wait any longer. Their mother, the six siblings and a neighbouring couple all piled into a single car and headed for the Turkish border, leaving behind the two family goats and the cherry and orange trees in their garden. Months later, after crossing the Mediterranean and seven different countries, someone sent Helin a photograph of their village. ‘The war had flattened everything,’ she says. …

“For now, the pool can suspend the pressures bearing on them outside. … Hanan wants to go a step further and get the rescue swimming badge in silver, for which she has to take a jump from a 3-metre board, swim 25 metres underwater in one breath, and rescue a drowning person with pull stroke. Asked what she wants to do when she grows up, she doesn’t take long to come up with an answer. ‘I want to become a sports teacher.’ ”

More here.

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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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