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Posts Tagged ‘refugee’

Photo: Jaida Grey Eagle/Sahan Journal.
Remona Htoo, an immigrant from Mynamar (Burma), with her book My Little Legs at Como Lake in St. Paul, MN on January 13th, 2021. (Minnesota in January? She must be freezing!)

Since 2016, I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from vastly different cultures as I volunteer to help teachers in English as a Second Language classes, currently online.

Right now, I’m thinking of one woman who was originally from Myanmar (Burma) and who spent many years in a refugee camp in Thailand. She eventually landed in Rhode Island with her husband and children. It was there that I met her.

Myanmar is unfortunately known mostly for brutal military rule and suppression of rights activists and minorities. Among those minorities are the Karen people. I knew a little about them, but had not met any until the ESL class. There is good reason to believe that their language and culture are in danger of being lost, particularly as English becomes the primary language for their children.

Andrew Hazzard has a story on a Karen woman who decided to do something about that. The article was published at Sahan Journal, “the only independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit digital newsroom fully dedicated to providing authentic news reporting for and with immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota.”

Hazzard writes, “Remona Htoo didn’t have any children’s books growing up. Now, she’s publishing one of her own. 

“Htoo was born into a Karen family fleeing the civil war in Myanmar. She spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Thailand before her family resettled in Idaho, in 2007. At the time, the 12-year-old spoke no English. 

“Refugees don’t choose where in the U.S where they end up. A significant population of Karen people came to Minnesota, but only 20-odd families landed in Idaho, Htoo said. …

“While attending college at a small Christian university, she began taking trips to the Sawtooth Mountains, where she fell in love with the landscapes of mountains, pine trees, and clear lakes. 

“ ‘It was me trying to cope with stress, trying to cope with the trauma I had. It was a healing mechanism for me,’ Htoo said. 

“Ten years ago, she met a young Karen man online who lived in St. Paul: More than 17,000 Karen people live in the city and neighboring Maplewood. The two shared early childhood experiences in the refugee camps and struck up a relationship. Now, the two are married, with a 22-month-old daughter, Emma, and live in St. Paul’s east side. 

“Htoo, 27, began taking her daughter on outdoor adventures: backpacking and camping in the summer; and sledding in the winter. The family goes near and far to experience nature. … In the summer, the family hits the road to visit national parks like Glacier, in Montana. Emma has already seen 10 national parks — more than many adults. …

“ ‘After I became a mom, I realized there are no children’s books in Karen,’ she said. ‘I wanted to read a book in Karen for my daughter.’ 

“So, Htoo took action. She wrote and self-published My Little Legs, a book she said is about ‘being outdoors and what your little legs can do.’  Emma, her daughter, served as inspiration for the main character. She wears a traditional Karen shirt in the illustrations, created by local artist Mikayla Johnson. The book is bilingual, with English and Karen script. 

“There are very few children’s books, or books in general, published in Karen in the United States, and much of what exists originated in St. Paul. … St. Paul Public Library recognized the need for more Karen language literature. The library system has published three children’s books in Karen since 2015, according to spokesperson Stacy Optiz. The most recent is Children’s Stories, a collection of five traditional Karen folk stories, released in 2021.

My Little Legs targets families with children ages 1–3. In compiling the tale, Htoo looked back at Emma’s own development milestones, like learning to crawl and walk. She also wanted to create an outdoor adventure story that featured southeast Asian characters, and to inspire a curiosity about the Karen people for other American readers. 

“ ‘I don’t think people think we are the outdoor type,’ Htoo said. 

“People of color make up about 20 percent of Minnesota’s population, but only 5 percent of state park users, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources data. Many Minnesotans of color feel isolated in outdoor spaces. In response, groups like BIPOC Outdoors Twin Cities emerged, where people can find diverse friends to hit the trails or go fishing.” 

Readers can order Htoo’s book by emailing NawHaChu@gmail.com. More at Sahan Journal, here.

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Photo: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff.
Aminullah Faqiry, newly arrived with his family in Rhode Island, was an interpreter for the US military, in Afghanistan. He talks with Edward Fitzpatrick about his life there and his sorrow about the failure of 20 years of fighting the Taliban.

Because I’ve volunteered with refugees for several years, I know firsthand that these people do not leave jobs, friends, and family in their home country because they prefer to live in the United States or any other country. They leave because the situation at home is untenable. And it breaks their hearts.

Consider the sadness of the former military interpreter who recently arrived with his immediate family in Rhode Island, forced to abandon other family members who are now in grave danger. Ed Fitzpatrick, a reporter for the Boston Globe, talked to him.

He writes that Aminullah “Faqiry said he was overcome with emotion as he prepared to board the plane to leave Afghanistan, and people began looking at him, wondering why he wasn’t happy to be escaping an incredibly precarious situation. But he knew the source of his tears.

“ ‘I am a very patriotic person,’ Faqiry explained. ‘I cried for my people, for my country, for the system being destroyed, for so many sacrifices that we had made.’

“He said he cried for the family members he was leaving behind — for his mother and father, who are struggling with health problems, and for the widow and the children of his brother, who was killed by the Taliban. …

“He said he was crying because the Afghan people had been ‘liberated’ before the Taliban arrived.

“ ‘Women were able to go to school, and a girl was able to walk on the streets free without tension and without fear,’ he said. ‘Afghanistan was growing up. We were on the move to compete in the world.’ …

“But now, he said, it was clear ‘We were going to go back — my country was going to be thrown back like 50 years. … We are leaving everything behind to the Taliban, who we fought for 20 years and who are a terrorist organization. … We were not able to hold on — we had fallen. … I wanted my country and my people to have been peaceful. It just didn’t happen,’ Faqiry said. ‘I was crying because we lost everything.’ ”

But as you know, people do what they have to do. Most refugees regroup, find or create work to support their families, and give back to their host countries. Today, in Virginia, former refugees are offering a warm welcome to Afghans.

Story Hinckley reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “For many Americans, it’s difficult to imagine what the tens of thousands of newly arrived Afghan refugees are going through. 

“But Arshad Mehmood doesn’t have to imagine. He knows. Only seven years ago, Mr. Mehmood was in their shoes, fleeing Pakistan. He describes being kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban for being a local politician. 

“Now, as the regional coordinator for a national nonprofit, Mr. Mehmood as well as his team in northern Virginia, many of whom are refugees themselves, is helping these new arrivals with everything from finding apartments to translating school enrollment forms from English to Pashto. They have assisted more than 80 Afghan families over the past three months and expect to help almost 200 by the end of the year.

“And while this practical aid is important, says Mr. Mehmood, it’s not what newly evacuated Afghan allies need most right now. That would be encouragement and empathy. And here in Virginia, Afghans are finding this support in local communities – especially from the refugees who came before them.

“ ‘English was my third language, but I did it. We live a good life here,’ says Mr. Mehmood. His wife, who is a manager at T.J. Maxx, feels welcomed to wear her hijab on the job. His daughter will start her first year of college this fall, and his son is a defensive star on his American football team.’ ”

Read on. There is light in darkness. Perhaps after reading these stories, you will find a way to help a refugee family. And if like blogger Milford Street you already do help refugees, please share a word about your experience.

More at the Monitor, here, and at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Book Aid.
Says Book Aid International, “With very little to do in the camps, many [refugees] enjoy coming to the library to read.

Having learned from the Guardian in early 2020 how Greek refugees were enjoying the services of a mobile library, I was happy to find a post from this year that says it’s still going — despite Covid challenges.

Book Aid reports, “ECHO is a mobile library based in Athens, Greece. Founded in the summer of 2016, its mission is to provide people seeking asylum with books, learning resources and a shared community space whilst they live in the camps. …

“We spoke to one of the coordinators of ECHO, Becka, about the library, the people who use it and the ways it impacts the many lives it reaches. 

People often say, ‘If the library wasn’t there, people would still be living,’ and yes, they’d be alive, but they’d be existing.

“ ‘The educational services within the camps are extremely limited, the WiFi is patchy or non-existent and these camps are not safe places. There is no neutral community space, nowhere you can just relax that’s warm and comfortable, like a library. If we wanted to set up permanent library spaces it would be extremely challenging, so we bring in our lending library service once a week. Even though it’s just once a week and it’s an outside space, which isn’t ideal, we have a rug for children and we have spaces for adults so people come to us to relax and learn. 

” ‘There’s very little to look forward to in these camps, and one of the very few things you can actually do is sit and read a book, either for study or for the sake of exploring a different world. With the pandemic affecting our access to the camps, it’s clear that people notice when we’re not there. Covid-19 has exacerbated a situation which was already very bad. …

” ‘Thanks to Book Aid International, English books are fortunately one of our less stressful things. These are one of our most used resources because they support people who are learning English. Greek is a very challenging language, and not everyone living in the camps will settle in Greece for life.

” ‘There is no effective long-term integration programme or much holistic support for refugees. Most people imagine Greece as a sort of stopping off point; so learning English can be a useful tool for the future. It’s part of building up self-reliance and self-confidence to be able to support yourself in a new life in Europe. Without access to books that becomes really difficult.

” ‘For many people, like young mothers, grappling with the alphabet and being able to start to have basic conversations in English can be extremely empowering. It’s almost like repairing that sense of “I am capable, even in really terrible situations, of taking control of my own learning to benefit me and my children for the future.” …

” ‘People like new books… who doesn’t!? It makes a difference seeing something that is not battered and torn. It’s like, “this is for me. Everything else in this camp and this life is old and horrible. But here is a new book that they brought for me to use.”  

“I think people often say, “If the library wasn’t there, people would still be living,” and yes, they’d be alive, but they’d be existing. For our library users and friends in the camps, books are invaluable.’ ”

Read more at Book Aid, here, and at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock.
A giant puppet representing migrant children, Little Amal, has crossed Europe “on foot” from Syria. She is seen here in Antwerp, Belgium.

‘We’re not politicians, we’re saying to people: remember refugees are people. We hope that the memory of this odd, beautiful child walking through a village or city or over the mountains helps change the weather a little bit.’

I liked this visceral approach to helping those of us who have no need to migrate to feel the humanity of those who do.

Harriet Sherwood wrote about the idea at the Guardian in September, “The transcontinental odyssey of Little Amal will begin its final stage this week when the giant puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian girl reaches the shores of the UK after walking thousands of miles across Europe.

“Bells will chime and choirs will sing as Little Amal appears on the beach on Tuesday in Folkestone, Kent, after making the same cross-Channel journey that has been taken so far this year by more than 17,000 people seeking refuge from conflict, hunger and persecution. …

“ ‘It’s been challenging, it’s been difficult at times, but it’s also been amazing and incredible,’ said David Lan, one of the producers of The Walk, who has been ‘on this journey right from the beginning three years ago, and on every step of the way’ since Little Amal left Gaziantep near the Turkish-Syrian border at the end of July.

“The idea of Little Amal’s journey in search of her missing mother evolved from The Jungle, a highly acclaimed play about young refugees in a camp near Calais that opened at the Young Vic in London in 2017. The play’s producers, the Good Chance theatre company plus Lan, Stephen Daldry and Tracey Seaward, came up with the idea of taking its message of displacement, loss, dignity and hope to villages, towns and cities across Europe.

“Little Amal, whose name means hope in Arabic, was created by Handspring, the company that made the equine puppets in War Horse. She stands 3.5 metres (11ft 5in) tall and is operated by a team of eight puppeteers working shifts to control her legs, arms and facial features. …

“Since leaving Gaziantep, Little Amal and her entourage of about 25 people have navigated Covid border requirements to cross from Turkey to Greece and then through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France to the UK.

“Along the way, they have taken part in concerts, parties and workshops. In Rome, Little Amal was blessed by Pope Francis. In many places, thousands of local people have walked with her through their town or village.

“But the most powerful connections had been with refugees, said Lan. ‘People who are marginalised, shoved to the side, see a representative of themselves or their children centre-stage and being celebrated. That’s very moving.’

“Only in one place has the welcome been less than warm. In Kalambaka, a village in northern Greece, which is home to ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries built into rocks, the village council decided not to receive a ‘Muslim doll from Syria,’ as the mayor described Amal. ‘It’s distressing, but it’s how the world is,’ said Lan.

“In London, Little Amal will celebrate her 10th birthday on Sunday 24 October at a party at the V&A. Children from all over the capital have been invited to join in musical performances and workshops. Yotam Ottolenghi is coordinating a team of chefs to create a giant birthday cake consisting of several hundred cupcakes in a rainbow of colours and flavours.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Image: Ibrahim, 13.
The photography of Ibrahim, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, is featured with the work of other boys and girls in the book i saw the air fly, by Sirkhane Darkroom (Mack, 2021). Proceeds go to the Her Yerde Sanat-Sirkhane charity.

Today’s story is about trying to provide some fun for children caught in the failures of a grownup world. Adults of good will can’t fix everything for these youngsters, but whatever they manage to do can mean a lot.

Sean O’Hagan reports at the Guardian, “Serbest Salih studied photography at college in Aleppo, before fleeing Syria with his family in 2014 as Islamic State fighters advanced on his home town of Kobani. He is now one of an estimated 100,000 refugees living in the historic city of Mardin in south-eastern Turkey, just a few miles from the Syrian border. Having initially found work as a photographer for a German NGO, Salih’s life changed dramatically in 2017 when, while wandering with a friend through the city, he discovered a sprawling refugee community living in a group of abandoned government buildings in the working-class Kurdish district of Istayson.

“ ‘It was a place where Turkish Kurds and Syrian Kurds lived as neighbours, but did not communicate,’ he says, ‘They were strangers who spoke the same language. It was at that moment that I thought to use analogue photography as a means to integrate the different communities.’

“Working with Sirkhane, a community organisation, and with initial funding from a German aid organisation, Welthungerhilfe, he began hosting photography workshops using donated cheap analogue cameras. ‘Digital is easier and quicker,’ he tells me, ‘but the analogue process teaches children to look more carefully and also to be patient, because they have to take a picture without seeing the result instantly. For them, there is something therapeutic and healing about the whole process.’

“Salih now runs the Sirkhane Darkroom in Mardin and, since 2019, has travelled to neighbouring towns and villages with the Sirkhane Caravan, a mobile version of the same. Children from the age of seven come to his workshops to learn the traditional skills of shooting on film and processing the results in a darkroom. …

The results, as a new book, i saw the air fly, shows, are often surprising. Rather than reflect the traumas of their displacement, the pictures tend towards the innocent and joyous …

“Family portraits, blurred shots of their friends at play, children jumping, hiding, posing with their friends or tending their animals. Throughout, there are more intricately formal compositions that catch the eye: a cluster of hilltop buildings, the irregular geometry of electricity wires crisscrossing the sky. …

“The book has parallels with Wendy Ewald’s Portraits and Dreams: Photographs and Stories by Children of the Appalachians, also published by Mack, in which she taught practical photography to kids from a poor rural community with often startling results. Like that project, i saw the air fly is a testament to the undimmed imagination of the very young, however impoverished their circumstances, but also to Salih’s faith in the transformative power of analogue photography. …

“As the children progress though the workshops, he tells me, they are given specific subjects to photograph. These can range from the everyday (the garden, the home) to the more socially aware – child labour, child marriage and, tentatively, gender issues. ‘Often, when we begin, the girls don’t think they can be as good as the boys,’ he says. ‘Sadly, that is what the adult world has taught them, but soon they are shooting pictures about their lives and experiences. The camera gives them the confidence to do that.’

“On the Sirkhane website, videos and photographs attest to the sense of wonder the children experience in the darkroom as the images they have shot finally appear. …

“Salih’s plans to ‘expand the caravan workshops so we can go to the most affected places’ have been put on hold since the pandemic began and he has had to teach online. ‘It has been difficult,’ he says, ‘because most of the children do not have smartphones or internet access.’ …

“The publication of i saw the air fly is a singular achievement. It is also, in many ways, a humble book – all the images have been selected by the children themselves, their often low-key charm attesting to the essentially democratic nature of the medium, and its ability to surprise. ‘People think that if you give a refugee child a camera, the results will be sad,’ says Salih, ‘but instead most of these photographs are all about joy. They are small moments of private happiness.’

“All proceeds from the sale of i saw the air fly will go to the Her Yerde Sanat-Sirkhane charity, whose aim is to provide ‘a safe, friendly and embracing environment’ for children caught up in conflicts.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.
Paul and Millie Cao, the subjects of a short documentary contender in 2020, pose with filmmaker Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt. The 92nd Oscars was broadcast in February, right before the pandemic.

Walk Run Cha Cha was a 2019 American documentary short with an inspiring message about the multicultural role of ballroom dance in America. It was directed by Laura Nix of the New York Times, which distributed the film. Ada Tseng wrote about it for the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s a bustling weeknight at Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra. The disco lights flicker over couples scattered across the dance floor, and the speakers blast Mandarin-language pop.

“Chipaul and Millie Cao, who come at least four nights a week, practice the routine they’ll be performing for their anniversary party. It’s a jive and cha-cha number set to a medley of Michael Jackson songs.

“They are planning a January party to mark three milestones: their 30th wedding anniversary, Millie’s birthday and Chipaul’s 40 years in the United States.

“This month they got another reason to celebrate: Walk Run Cha Cha, a 20-minute short documentary directed by Laura Nix about the Caos’ real-life refugee love story, made the Oscar shortlist for documentary short. …

“The Caos met the director when she stumbled upon Lai Lai while researching mini-malls in the San Gabriel Valley for another film project. Intrigued, Nix started taking group classes. …

“Chipaul works as an electrical engineer, Millie as an auditor. They didn’t start taking ballroom dancing classes together until about seven years ago, but they have gone on to perform in dance competitions and events all around Southern California. …

“The Caos, who are ethnically Chinese but were born and raised in Vietnam, met as teenagers in the 1970s. During the war, a Vietnamese government ‘morals code’ banned dancing even in private homes. Parties were held anyway, and Millie still remembers a shy Chipaul reaching his hand out and asking, ‘Shall we dance?’

“But only six months after they met, the young lovers were separated. The Viet Cong came to power, and Chipaul knew he and his family had to leave.

“Unlike Millie, who lived in Saigon, Chipaul’s family lived in a small town where it was obvious who was Chinese Vietnamese. He went to a Mandarin-language school, his mother was a businesswoman, their community had money and property to be confiscated. They soon became targets. …

“Chipaul, 20 at the time, and his family took an early boat out of Vietnam and stayed at a Taiwanese refugee camp before coming to America.

“It took six years for him to figure out how to get Millie here. The process involved sponsoring her on behalf of her long-estranged father, who was living in the U.S.

“ ‘I came by plane, after two unsuccessful attempts by boat,’ she says. ‘That is something like God arranged, because if I escaped like the boat people, I probably cannot survive.’

“Nix’s short documentary tells the Cao’s love story as a series of new beginnings — how they had to restart their relationship after Millie came to the U.S. and how they’re now just learning to enjoy their lives and reconnect through dance after decades of being in survival mode. …

“She describes a moment before a performance, as Chipaul nervously takes off his Patagonia jacket to reveal a sequined costume.

“ ‘The crowd went, “Wow!” ‘ Nix says. ‘And then they dance, and the place went crazy. People were crying. They gave them a standing ovation.’ …

“The full-length feature will have more of the Caos’ backstory as well as more fantasy sequences that express what they are feeling emotionally through dance. Because, to Nix, Walk Run Cha Cha is more than a love story. It’s about the importance of remembering and celebrating the history of immigrants in the U.S.

“ ‘You have Eastern Europeans teaching Latin dance to people in the Chinese diaspora from Vietnam,’ says Nix, who is French Canadian and English. ‘To me, that’s the best version of America.’ “

More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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Image: Mayyu Khan/Mohammed Rezuwan.
“The Blind Mother,” an illustration by Mayyu Khan, a Rohingya artist living in a Bangladesh refugee camp, from Rohingya Folk Tales, by Mohammed Rezuwan. 

While we’re on the subject of saving languages (see yesterday’s post), let’s look into how preserving folk tales can help keep a threatened culture from disappearing.

Few cultures are more threatened than that of the Rohingya of Myanmar, and today’s article is about a young folklorist in a Bangladesh refugee camp who is determined to do something about that.

Stephen Snyder has the report at Public Radio International’s The World. “Mohammed Rezuwan is on a rescue mission: The 24-year-old who lives in Cox’s Bazar — the world’s largest refugee camp — is working to save Rohingya traditional stories before a generation of storytellers dies off.

“Rohingya people have lived in the region for over a thousand years, but Myanmar’s government considers them foreigners from neighboring Bangladesh. Over the last four years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been driven out of Myanmar by government troops and local militias. Many now live in dozens of refugee camps.

” ‘We, Rohingya people, have our own culture, tradition. We are on the brink of losing all of them, unfortunately,’ Rezuwan said in a WhatsApp voice message from Kutupalong, one of more than two dozen encampments in Cox’s Bazar, on the coast of Bangladesh.

“The crowded area accommodates families who live in tents and shelters along narrow alleyways. United Nations figures put the exile population in the camp at nearly a million — four times the number of Rohingya still living in Myanmar.

“Rezuwan lives in a bamboo shelter with his wife, his mother, a brother and a sister. The family fled their home in Maung Daw, in the Rakhine district of Myanmar, on Aug. 25, 2017, as their village was set ablaze in a campaign that has forced most Rohingya out of Rakhine.

“ ‘I remember the gunshots ringing out like thunderclaps, the bullets strafing the sky like clouds of hungry locusts,’ Rezuwan wrote in the author’s note of his book, Rohingya Folktales: Stories from Arakan, as told by Rohingya refugees.

“ ‘On that terrible day, my family and I ran to a nearby mountain where we hid for three days before we decided to cross the border to Bangladesh.’

“In 2020, after several years at Cox’s Bazar, he took on the role of folklorist — recording stories passed along in the oral tradition by Rohingya elders.

“ ‘Folk tales are used by Rohingya people to teach morals and lessons to their youngsters,’ he said. ‘I, myself, decided to make a book.’

“Rezuwan speaks his native Rohingya and learned to speak and write Burmese in school, but his English is largely self-taught. He spent a year collecting material for his English-language book, and the online version now includes 19 stories from storytellers in several of Cox’s Bazar’s camps.

Research was no easy task. Rezuwan doesn’t have a car or bike, so he walked, sometimes up to five miles, to meet with each storyteller and record his or her story on the phone. …

“ ‘The hardest part is finding and meeting the people from different sorts of camps,’ Rezuwan said. ‘After all, not everyone has the same talents to remember the stories — just because they are uneducated — and so, finding the right person to tell the story was finding a gem from the ocean.’

“The Rohingya language is primarily spoken, without a standardized written script. Rezuwan translated the stories by playing back his recordings and, word by word, constructing English versions of the tales. He then pasted them into WhatsApp and sent them to his editor and friend, Alex Ebsary, in Buffalo, New York, who corrected grammar and word usage. Ebsary said he intentionally edited the stories with a light touch.

“ ‘Folktales are not a universal language,’ he said in a phone interview. ‘You know, if you read these folktales, some of them are quirky. They’re kind of not even the morals that I would think of when thinking of a folktale.’ …

“Rezuwan said his mother used to tell him the story known as ‘A Hunter and a Flock of Heron.’ The version he collected from Rashid Ahmod, a 60-year-old resident of Kutapalong, was essentially the same story he heard as a boy, he said.

“The story is about a hunter who catches a group of beautiful herons in his net. The herons all try to escape by flying around in all directions, Ebsary explained. Rezuwan said the moral of the story is that birds — and people — can’t manage to go anywhere until they cooperate. …

“​​Since coming to Kutupalong, Rezuwan has organized an educational network where Rohingya children — unable to attend schools — can follow the same curriculum taught in Myanmar. He also works with humanitarian groups as a guide and interpreter.”

Read more here.

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Photo: Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe.
Phalla Nol of Lowell weeded rows of garlic in her plot at White Gate Farm in Dracut.

I’ve really been intrigued by the Boston Globe “States of Farming” series — “occasional stories looking at Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers in New England.” Today’s article addresses how a Cambodian who arrived here as child went about building a well-respected produce business.

Jocelyn Ruggiero writes that after Phalla Nol’s family “entered the United States as refugees in October 1981, they settled in Revere. Nol spoke ‘a little bit’ of English and could understand well enough to get along at the local high school, where the students were friendly. The adults in the community weren’t as welcoming.”

After an act of arson that left Nol’s family homeless, they rebuilt their lives in Greater Boston, got jobs, and made friends.

Her father “was 71 in 1998 when he retired from the New England Seafood Company and was among the first participants in the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, an initiative of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. The farmer training program supported his plot at Smith Farm, a training site owned by the Dracut Land Trust, where New Entry trained him in such skills as sourcing seeds, selling produce, using small farm equipment, pest and disease management, and drip irrigation. …

“Although Nol ‘loved the farm,’ it didn’t generate enough revenue to interest her. ‘He didn’t care about money, but me, I do care about the money.’ Beginning around 2007, however, Nol saw an opportunity for profit. She began purchasing produce from Cambodian New Entry farmers and graduates and resold those vegetables at local farmers’ markets. This proved to be a financial success.

“In 2013, New Entry found that they had more Southeast Asian crops from their Cambodian farmers than they could use in their CSA. So Hashley approached Nol with a proposition.

“ ‘Phalla was . . . already organizing and buying and selling from other farmers for her own markets,’ [New Entry director Jennifer Hashley] said. New Entry proposed that Nol become a ‘broker’ of sorts between the farmers and Whole Foods. ‘We helped her get the necessary insurance and distributor’s license she needed to aggregate orders among the farmers and sell directly to Whole Foods. We also connected her to Russo’s in Watertown to do similar wholesale sales.’ …

“Tony Russo, the owner of Russo’s in Watertown, has nothing but respect for Nol after doing business with her for eight years. ‘Phalla’s remarkable. . . . She’s honest, she’s responsible, she’s skillful. All the products she gives us are always just what they’re supposed to be, never less than that, and she’s fair with her prices. She’s a very hardworking person in a very difficult business environment. She’s a tower of strength.’

“Today, Nol leases five acres from the town of Westford and a smaller plot from the Dracut Land Trust. Her sister drives from New Jersey to help every weekend, and nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives do what they can to chip in. Although Nol pays a couple of people to plow and till, her mother, Kimsan Ly, ‘is with me 24 hours. . . . She’s my main helper. She’s stronger than me!’ Nol and her mother begin many days at 5:30 in the morning, and some nights harvest until well after dark, preparing for farmers’ markets and wholesale deliveries. Since so much of the business’s financial success is tied to her family’s help, Nol is unsure of what the business will look like 10 years from now. ‘The older we get, the more challenging it is.’ …

“Despite the challenges and despite the uncertainty of the future, she’s proud of the business she’s built: ‘My stand, what a crazy thing,’ Nol laughs. ‘At my stand, people line up, from here to there,’ she says, making a wide gesture. ‘They fight to get to my veggies!’ ”

For more on the family’s difficult history in Cambodia and both challenges and successes in American, check out the Globe, here.

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Photo: Alight (formerly American Refugee Committee)
The nonprofit called Alight, which believes in “doing the doable” amid daunting challenges, knows how to make a huge difference with just a small gift. For this tea lady in Sudan, the gift was a few chairs for customers.

I love this nonprofit and want you to know about it. It used to be called American Refugee Committee. Today it is Alight, an organization that focuses on doing the doable for those in need, including refugees here or in camps around the world. I get Alight’s e-newsletter, and it’s always full of inspiring stories about places many people think of as hopelessly damaged. Here are some words of cheer from Sudan.

Alight’s “Changemakers 365 is all about doing the doable. It’s about opening our eyes to the opportunities to make an impact in a person’s life with relatively few resources – and making change each and every day of the year. …

“Tea ladies are a neighborhood institution in Khartoum. They provide the place – a piece of shade and a place to sit – for the community to meet, connect and share a cup of tea. They don’t earn much at all, but they really are the glue that holds together communities.

“Fatima’s tea stand is right outside [Alight’s] front door. And that’s given us a great opportunity to get to know everyone who lives and works in the neighborhood.

“We wanted to thank Fatima for her service to the community, so we asked if there was anything she needed.

“ ‘Chairs,’ she said, immediately! Fatima’s stools weren’t very comfy and she wanted everyone to feel at ease as they discussed neighborhood happenings and the news of the day.

“It was an easy wish to grant. 30 minutes later we delivered a couple dozen chairs to an astonished Fatima.

“ ‘I’m the most happiest ever!’ ” Click here.

“Mayo is a large section of the city that is home to people who’ve relocated to Khartoum, mostly from western Sudan. And inside Mayo, there’s a neighborhood called Mandela that refugees from South Sudan now call home. Some came fleeing conflict near home, others were seeking the opportunity of the capital and the chance at a different future.

“For most the promise hasn’t lived up to reality. But there is a group of changemakers in Mayo determined to change that. Samira and Kemal lead the Green Hope Association for Peace and Development. They don’t have any regular funding. So, when they decide to do something new, they mostly just bootstrap it by gathering resources and talent from their own community.

“Green Hope offers adult education, skills training for women in carpentry, welding, food service, handicrafts, electrical repair and more. They even offer a food-for-work program for the vulnerable elderly in the neighborhood, providing food staples in exchange for seniors collecting trash in the community. But Green Hope’s primary mission is running a K-8 school for 200+ students.

South Sudanese and Sudanese students attend together in harmony. Teachers are college educated. There are no funds for teacher salaries, so they volunteer. And when the school day ends in the afternoon, they have to find some small jobs to make ends meet.

“Green Hope is abundant with hope, joy, possibility and a can-do spirit. But scarce in almost everything else. When we asked the students how we could help, their response was unanimous. Books! …

“So they gave us a list and we headed to the store to buy all the books that students from 5th to 8th grade would need to prepare for their high school entrance exams – Arabic, English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Science. The budget allowed for a notebook and pen for every single student in the school. And we received a donation of storybooks for the younger children – so everyone in Green Hope received at least one book. For many, their first ever book.

“ ‘We’re so happy, we want to dance,’ Samira told us. And they did.” More.

“Green Hope Founders Samira, Kemal and a group of women had built the center themselves some 15 years ago. At night!

‘We built at night, because construction work wasn’t really acceptable for women. AND we all had to work to make a living during the day,’ Samira told us.

“The school is compact, but there’s space for separate classrooms for all of the grade levels. What there wasn’t was a chair for every student. Some kindergarteners sat on the floor. Other kids shared chairs. We knew we could do something about that.

“We called up a local furniture maker and he got to work building wooden and metal chairs – small ones for the younger kids and big chairs that would work for older students and for the adults who come to Green Hope for adult education and skills training.

“The kids had also asked us for some exercise materials, so we grabbed some soccer balls and jump ropes. And we had enough left over to buy a small stock of crayons and JUMBO coloring books for the two, three and four-year olds who accompany their older siblings to school – and sit so nicely, by the way – because their mothers are at work.

‘You may think that what you have done here is small, but it will make a big difference for our children,’ said Kemal. ‘Thank you for coming back to us down this bad road.’

More.

If you’re feeling down, you can sign up for the doing the doable newsletter or follow Alight on Facebook or Twitter @We_Are_Alight . Alight has earned the top rating at Charity Navigator.

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Photo: Christie’s
Alireza Hosseini, a refugee from Afghanistan, says of his 2019 painting “Embrace God”: “I was a man who did not know a god. I went to a sage and he told me to imagine two chairs: one for me, the other for God.” (Story at the
Guardian,)

It can be discouraging being a refugee if your new countrymen see you more as a concept than an individual. That is why a program in France, though struggling itself, has been determined to do something that opens minds.

PBS NewsHour‘s “Arts Canvas” recently posted a report by Jeffrey Brown on letting refugees tell their stories through their art.

“JEFFREY BROWN: Portraits of migration, the troubles faced along the way, the trauma of making a new home.

“ABDUL SABOOR: I’m from Afghanistan, but, sometimes, I say from nowhere.

“BROWN: Photographer Abdul Saboor experienced it himself. In Afghanistan, he says, he worked in transportation for the U.S. Army, but fled when the Taliban began threatening him and his family. During a harrowing two-year journey, part of it spent in an abandoned train station in Serbia, he began taking pictures with a donated camera.

“SABOOR: When I show to the people, I say, that’s not normal, how we lived there.

“BROWN: His photographs became a bridge to overcome language and other barriers and raise awareness about the plight of refugees, which he continues to do in Paris. … Saboor is one of some 200 refugee artists from more than 40 countries now getting support from the Agency of Artists in Exile.

“On our visit to its makeshift building off the Seine River, an Ethiopian man belted out a traditional song with accompaniment from this phone. Across the hall, a Yemeni woman used her vast trail of official asylum-seeking papers, accumulated over two years of navigating France’s legal process, to create an art installation. … And a Kurdish actor who fled Turkey practiced a monologue about his first days in Paris. …

“Judith Depaule is director of the studio, which opened in 2017 with funding from the French Ministry of Culture.

“JUDITH DEPAULE: In the beginning, you are, like, in the state of shock. … because nobody wants you there. It’s difficult. You have to do a lot of papers. … It’s like a panic. …

“BROWN: President Emmanuel Macron has sought to criminalize illegal border crossings, while tightening restrictions on asylum, even as far-right parties in the country call for more.

“But France also has a long tradition of being a sanctuary for artists, including Pablo Picasso and James Baldwin. The idea here was to give artists a place to connect with one another, to work on and exhibit their crafts, and to help with all the practical challenges of living as a refugee.

“ARAM TASTEKIN (through translator): First of all, they helped us find a place to live. Secondly, they helped us get a work visa, find a lawyer. Some people needed psychologists, things like that.

“BROWN: Kurdish actor and drama teacher Aram Tastekin fled Turkey in late 2017. So, why did you leave Turkey?

“TASTEKIN (through translator): Because it’s complicated living there. I’m a conscientious objector. I am anti-military. I’m an artist who tries to make art and theater in the Kurdish language, to protect the Kurdish language. But when we make Kurdish art or theater, they always say it is terrorist propaganda. And that really hurts. How can a language be terrorist propaganda?

“BROWN: In 2018, graffiti artist and painter Ahlam Jarban fled her native Yemen amid its years-long civil war. She says she faced added persecution for her family’s Somali and Ethiopian roots and for her wanting to be an artist as a woman. She left everyone and everything behind, and says she still doesn’t know if it was the right decision.

“AHLAM JARBAN: Because, all of us, we are we are without our families. So we feel lonely. We feel — there is a lot of problem. But when we are together, when we speak, when we share this story, it makes us a little less stressed, make us little — keep fighting. So it is good to have this place. …

“BROWN: To further make its case and showcase its artists, the agency recently presented its third annual month-long festival titled Visions of Exile. …

“JARBAN: When they see our artwork, they don’t see it as a refugee. This see it as artist, and artist make this thing. We do all this journey to be something. We have hope, and we are human before we come.” More here.

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Photo: Victoria Bouloubasis/The World
The Al-Khasrachi family lived on the Guilford College campus in North Carolina for months after arriving in the US as refugees. The father had received threats while working for a US military contractor in Iraq.

I know from my own experience as a volunteer in a refugee resettlement agency that there are few refugees coming through today although the need is greater than ever. Some agencies, like the amazing Alight (formerly the American Refugee Committee) have chosen to “do the doable” at refugee camps abroad. Other agencies and individuals give extra love to the few families still arriving — at the same time reaching out to other immigrants who live here. Today I have a story about people who welcome others with open hearts.

Victoria Bouloubasis reports for The World at at Public Radio International [PRI], “Growing up in Burundi, Blaise Pascal was fascinated with R&B music from the United States. … According to Pascal, studying those lyrics helped him become fluent in English with no formal training.

“Pascal, 31, never forgot this teen pastime. When he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 2019, music helped him ease into his new life. It also helped that he was part of the Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR) program, an organization that provides housing and utilities for refugee families and individuals like Pascal. The organization was founded in 2015 at Guilford College and later spread to six other college campuses across the country. …

“Pascal also took advantage of the resources at his disposal at Guilford College, like the music room and soccer field. He met fellow musical minds, professors and students with whom he hosts regular jam sessions. He would also send videos of himself singing and playing guitar with his new friends to his older sister in Burundi over WhatsApp. …

“His sister raised him after their Congolese parents died when Pascal was still a young child. The siblings survived the civil war that their parents did not. Both have applied for refugee status; Pascal was resettled to the US while his sister waits. … Pascal [says] without his sister, it has left a ‘big, big darkness before me.’ …

“ ‘To go to zero is an enormous blow to the refugee resettlement program,’ says Diya Abdo, the English professor at Guilford College who created ECAR. …

“It’s also forcing resettlement agencies and supporting organizations like ECAR to rethink the future. Further cuts would be devastating to these organization, but there would be opportunities too, says Abdo — to re-focus efforts on refugee communities already in the US and finding ways to support them. …

“On a global level, the number of people seeking refuge and asylum is at 70.8 million — an all-time high — according to the UN Refugee Agency. But a mere 7% of those seeking refuge have been resettled. …

“ ‘This is about supporting human beings who are seeking security,’ [Abdo] says. ‘This should be framed always as hospitality and empathy, and it’s a way to diversify and enrich our communities.’ …

“In 2015, she asked Guilford’s president Jane Fernandes for permission to use a house on campus, framing the project against the backdrop of the college’s Quaker history.

The campus historically served much like a parish in supporting one another and the college was a site of refuge during the Underground Railroad. …

“Marwa Al-Khasrachi, her husband Ali and their three boys arrived in Greensboro from Baghdad on March 8, 2017. … The Al-Khasrachis were placed in the Guilford College house and given more than the allotted three months, since no one else was arriving. …

“The kids found immediate playmates within the community (which includes nearby housing for students who are also parents) that helped ease them into life in the US. …

“Marwa Al-Khasrachi and Abdo developed a friendship that has now withstood almost two years, one ECAR house and two apartments. Sharing an Arab heritage and rambunctious children close to the same age — Marwa is mom to three and Abdo to two — the mothers quickly became friends. … Marwa says she didn’t have continuity in friendships in Iraq, and they felt more circumstantial than cultivated.

” ‘I didn’t believe in friendship, but now I do,’ says Marwa, with Abdo translating for her. …

“The relationships built and shared experiences with Abdo give the Al-Khasrachis a sense of normalcy as they overcome the hurdle of survival and learning to flourish in a new place. Both Church World Service [CWS} Greensboro and ECAR will continue their work despite what the government may decide — by focusing on supporting communities already here.

“ ‘We have so many community members who support our work,’ says [Megan Shepard, director of Church World Service Greensboro]. ‘It couldn’t seem further than what that rhetoric is on a national level.’ ”

More at PRI, here.

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Photo: Alight
The former American Refugee Committee, now called Alight, focuses on “doing the doable.” Alight maintains that when things seem impossible, there is always something good that can be done.

For many years, I’ve been a fan of the American Refugee Committee, now called Alight. Since the nonprofit took the new name and began to focus on “doing the doable,” I’ve enjoyed periodic news about its Changemakers.

Here is the story of a teacher who wanted to understand things firsthand. I will just point out that the term “refugee” is ordinarily applied to those who come here officially, having been screened by our State Department and accepted in advance. Now that the US is accepting so few, those of us who work with migrants are seeing more climate “refugees” and economic “refugees” — some documented, some not. This is the story of a guy who wanted to help them.

“Howdy! My name is Bill Boegeman, and I’m a high school social studies teacher in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Some of my students are from Central America – refugees now living in the U.S., many of whom made the journey to the States alone.

“Their stories are amazing – spending hours in cramped semitrailer trucks and trunks of cars, hiding from the Federales and narcotraficantes as they trekked across the Mexican desert. It’s difficult for me – and my other students – to imagine what these young people have been through, what hardships they have already endured, and the complexities they’re faced with now.

“So I wanted to go see for myself … and to try to make a difference, one day at a time.

“I traveled with Alight to the Rio Grande Valley, a vast area encompassing the southern border of Texas and parts of Mexico. In some ways, it feels a little bit like two countries living in one, cultures blended and economies interconnected. And now, Mexican-American communities are coming together with some incredible changemakers – Catholic Sisters, who Alight has recently partnered with – to serve the new waves of families who are searching for a better life.

“We began our work at La Posada Providencia, a migrant shelter just outside of San Benito, Texas. It’s a landing spot for many migrants released from detention centers with nowhere to go.

“Five years ago, Ángel was one of those migrants.

“After immigrating from Honduras and five months in detention, Ángel spent three months at La Posada where he was provided with a bed, regular meals, and mentoring services. Following a brief stint in Indianapolis, he returned to the shelter as a volunteer. Fast forward a few months and Ángel was converted into a full-fledged employee — the house cocinero — a position he still holds today.

“In addition to his cooking duties, Ángel helps to organize the shelter’s mochilas – to-go bags provided to clients who are ready to move on to their next destination. These bags include non-perishable food items, personal care products, a change of clothes, and other items that will help them along this next stage of their journey. It was here that we saw an opportunity.

“Over a lunch that Ángel prepared, La Posada’s current residents were able to provide us with ideas of items that would be useful to migrants in their mochilas as they depart the shelter for their next destinations. We landed on two primary items that we could provide: Spanish-to-English dictionaries and chapstick. While seemingly unrelated, these two things would be helpful to them in their future journeys (in the case of the chapstick, particularly those headed north). They were also absent from the supply closet on the La Posada premises.

“I asked Ángel what made La Posada Providencia such a special place. ‘It’s more than a shelter,’ he said, ‘It’s a house, a home, a family.’ ”

More at Alight, here.

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Photo: Mevan Babakar
Years ago, a 5-year-old Kurdish refugee received a bike from a kind man in the Netherlands. Recently, Mevan Babakar, now an adult, tracked down the man known only as Egbert to express her lasting gratitude.

As we break our hearts over what is happening to today’s Kurdish refugees, it may be time for a story about the beauty that can occur when refugees are treated with respect and compassion. The story is also about the good side of social media.

Megan Specia reported at the New York Times in August, “Memories of a brand new bicycle — and the mystery man who gave it to her when she was a 5-year-old in a Dutch refugee center — have played out as vignettes in Mevan Babakar’s mind for most of her life.

“Ms. Babakar, now 29, said the generous gift from a man whose name she couldn’t remember had shaped her childhood. On Tuesday, she suddenly found herself reunited with the man whose face had flickered through her memories for more than two decades.

“And it all began on Twitter.

“ ‘I was a refugee for 5 yrs in the 90s and this man, who worked at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands, out of the kindness of his own heart bought me a bike. My five year old heart exploded with joy,’ Ms. Babakar wrote in a post on Twitter, before pleading with the internet to help her track him down.

“The photo she shared — a fading snapshot of the man that her mother had kept — was among a handful of belongings they had from that time. When he gave her the bike, she said, it made a lasting impact.

‘I remember feeling so special. I remember thinking that this is such a big thing to receive, am I even worthy of this big thing?’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘This feeling kind of became the basis of my self-worth growing up.’

“She and her parents fled Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on the Kurdish population in the early 1990s, which included a gas attack on a village near their home. Their journey took them to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia — where her father stayed behind to work for the next four years — and eventually to the Netherlands. …

“Ms. Babakar took a sabbatical from her technology job in London this summer to retrace the journey, and visited Zwolle to spend a few days attempting to piece together her scattered impressions of her time there. … While there, she wrote a Twitter post that she described as a ‘last-ditch attempt’ to learn more about the man who had struck up a friendship with her and her mother, and gave her the bike.

“Within hours, Arjen van der Zee, who volunteers for a nonprofit news site in Zwolle, saw the photo and recognized the man.

“ ‘I looked at the picture and immediately knew this guy who I had worked with in my early twenties,’ said Mr. van der Zee. … Mr. van der Zee made contact with the man’s family on social media, and they put the two in touch.

“ ‘He started to tell me that he remembered Mevan and her mother,’ Mr. van der Zee said. ‘He said he always told his wife, if there were people he wanted to see again in his life it was Mevan and her mother.’

“They quickly scrambled to arrange a meeting with Ms. Babakar, who was due to travel back to London in the coming days. …

“ ‘He was, I guess, equally overwhelmed,’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘It was like seeing a family member that you hadn’t seen in a long time. It was really lovely.’ …

“Ms. Babakar was ‘incredibly humbled’ that her story had resonated with so many people around the world — both fellow refugees and those who just felt touched by the tale. … ‘I think it’s really easy for people to forget or to feel really powerless in the face of these big, abstract problems that we hear about all the time,’ she said. “It’s really a comfort to remember we are all very powerful in the way that we treat others. Especially in the small acts, we are powerful.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: Stitch Buffalo
Stitch Buffalo says it’s “advancing social justice for refugee women in Buffalo, NY, by creating opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and economic empowerment through the textile arts.”

Every individual and every community has its own way of responding to newcomers from other countries.

You would never know it from the headlines, but there are a lot of people who, being curious about foreign cultures or perhaps knowing what it was like for their forebears to be immigrants, feel friendly toward the latest arrivals. Maybe they just smile. Or maybe they work on some integrating initiative, like this charming one in Buffalo, New York.

Maura Christie reports at Spectrum News, “At first glance, it may not seem like much, ‘Embroidery floss, beads, scissors, fabrics, solid colored fabrics,’ said Dawne Hoeg, Stitch Buffalo’s executive director. But these common household items have quite literally bonded refugee women to [the city of Buffalo].

“Stitch Buffalo started as a project back in 2014 as a way to give those women a space of their own to learn and share ideas at different textile workshops.

“Now, five years and a storefront later, workshops are open to anyone in the community and many of the refugees have gone from being students to standing in front of workshops as teachers.

” ‘It’s an exciting opportunity for Buffalo people to come and have an authentic experience learning from a woman from Thailand or a woman from Burma, where she has learned this skill and is willing to share it with us,’ Hoeg said.

‘Some of their stitches are very different from the ones we do and it’s just a beautiful opportunity for a cross-cultural exchange.’

“Women also sell their one-of-a-kind, handmade items in the retail space, anything from pins to bracelets and ornaments. But every two months, that space gets transformed for Second Stitch. The nonprofit uses mainly donated materials, and anything they’re not able to use is sold to the community.

” ‘What we decided to do is to take those materials, sort them, measure them, organize them and turn them back over to the community at a reduced rate,’ Hoeg said. …

“No matter what project the women make next, or how much they sell it for, the love and support they receive from their adopted hometown is priceless.

” ‘It’s the making, but it’s also the selling,’ Hoeg said. ‘When you create something and you see that somebody else finds value in it enough to purchase it, that empowers you, that builds a confidence. That’s what I see happening with the women here is that they are empowered through the skill and the support they receive from the community.’ ”

Find some wonderful pictures at the Stitch Buffalo website, here, and at Spectrum, here.

Hat tip: Beautiful Day. Beautiful Day is a Providence-based welcoming initiative that teaches refugees and other immigrants basic job skills in the process of making a range of fantastic granola products. If you follow them, you will be alerted to new varieties you can buy, and you can read stories from around the country like the Stitch Buffalo story. I like to send their beautiful gift baskets to family members at holidays.

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Photo: The Providence Journal / David DelPoio
Refugee campers line up for lunch beneath a portrait of George Washington at Camp RYSE in Providence. The camp is specifically targeted to cater to refugee children.

I work with refugees and other immigrants as a volunteer in Providence, and I thought I knew about most of the refugee initiatives there. Then along came a Providence Journal article about a summer camp for refugee kids that reminded me I am still learning.

Kevin G Andrade reports, “If you sit down with Jetu Neema in the Highland Charter School cafeteria this summer, you are likely to get a quick and enthusiastic Swahili lesson.

” ‘Jena laka nani? [What is your name?]’ she asked the Journal reporter at Camp RYSE Tuesday afternoon, before teaching him how to respond. ‘Jena langu nina etwa … [My name is…]’

“Though energetic and friendly, as children tend to be, those at RYSE — an acronym for Refugee Youth Solidarity through Education — all have one thing in common. They are refugees from war, disaster or dictatorship all over the world. …

“Tanzania — which has had a relatively stable government compared with those of its neighbors such as Mozambique, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — has hosted many refugees over the years according to Bienfait Jaigado, a 14-year-old junior camp counselor whose family came to the U.S. after escaping unrest in Burundi about 5 years ago.

” ‘I was little, I did not know why we were coming,’ Jaigado said, a common story among campers who knew only that they and their parents had to leave their homes. … ‘I was getting bullied a lot in school [when I immigrated] because of my skin color and … basically because I was new and did not know the language.’ …

“Jaigado said that when he came to the camp as a camper, it was a cathartic experience that made him want to give other refugee children the same opportunity.

‘All I know from my first days in camp is that I felt welcome,’ he said. ‘In camp, people were respectful of my race and my traditions.’ …

“Beginning in 2011 as the Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring Initiative, the RYSE program’s mission is two-fold, to provide a safe space for refugee children and to catch them up on education they may have missed out on due to the chaos of life. …

“The camp includes classes in the mornings that focus on improving literacy and mathematics skills to prepare the students for entering the next grade level. Yet the courses also make sure to incorporate folklore and history from the dozens of languages, cultures, and nations represented there. …

“RYSE also concentrated on hiring support staff from the communities where the children live to offer additional support to the campers and their families.

” ‘We work with translators from the community,’ said Donia Torabian, the camp’s director of family and community outreach. ‘We try to hire drivers from the community … It is exhausting, but it is work that fills your soul.’ ”

More here.

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