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Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

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In honor of my 3,000th post today, Suzanne is offering a 20 percent discount on anything at Luna & Stella, the site for contemporary and vintage jewelry with which this blog is associated. Just use the code 3000. The offer is good for all of June 2019!

Turning now to two of my blog’s favorite themes — paying it forward and refugees — I want to tell you about England’s Dame Stephanie Shirley, a former kindertransport evacuee, who plans to donate German government compensation to modern-day refugee children.

Are you familiar with the kindertransport that rescued children from Nazi Germany and brought them to England? According to Wikipedia, “The Kindertransport (German for ‘children’s transport’) was an organised rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust. Most importantly, the programme was supported, publicised and encouraged by the British Government, which waived some immigration requirements.”

Imagine that. The government responded to the urgency!

I like that Dame Stephanie, having grown up to be a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, will pay her German compensation forward to help other refugee children. There is still a crisis, just for children from different countries this time.

According to the Jewish News, “Dame Stephanie Shirley, 85, who boarded a train from Vienna in 1939 aged five, founded a software company in 1962 which was later valued at over £3 billion. … She said: ‘I intend to donate my €2,500 windfall to the Safe Passage charity which supports today’s child refugees. …

“ ‘I’m trying to encourage others to donate theirs as well. There are an estimated 500 of us Kinder still in the UK, so that adds up. I’m discussing it with [Lord] Alf Dubs and [Sir] Erich Reich, how we can combine to make a really big donation. …

‘I’m ashamed of how little this country has done to save child refugees in recent years. It couldn’t be more different to the monumental effort that saved so many of us.’

Read more here and here.

P.S. Please buy something gorgeous at Luna & Stella — for yourself, or maybe a June bride — and use that 20 percent discount so my daughter knows my eclectic blog actually sends folks her way.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, a former kindertransport child, who is paying it forward to help young refugees.

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Photos: Giada Randaccio Skouras Sweeny
“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees, and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.” says the founder of Emma’s Torch restaurant, Kerry Brodie.

What are ordinary people supposed to do against the horrors of the headlines? Another violent person who has brainwashed himself with misinformation about immigrants has acted out. He did it in New Zealand, but his online buddies are everywhere.

I am an ordinary person, and here’s all I can do, little as it is. I can donate to causes that work to prevent ignorance and violence. I can remind myself that there are an awful lot of people whose views on immigration are completely different from the evil doer’s. And I can share another story about how one of those people took positive action, to the delight of many.

Amanda Holpuch reports at the Guardian, “Culinary adventures are woven into the fabric of New York City. But in Brooklyn one December night, only one restaurant could offer a five-course meal that began with salmon cake and couscous from Mali and ended with an Iraqi dessert, including in between dishes from Honduras and China.

“The restaurant is Emma’s Torch, a non-profit that teaches refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking the culinary and communication skills needed for a career in the kitchen. Six days a week, diners are offered a menu described as: ‘New American cuisine – prepared by our new American students.’

“The restaurant began as a pop-up [in 2017] before expanding this summer into a bright, airy restaurant known for its earthy black-eyed pea hummus garnished with dried chillies. The New Yorker food critic, Hannah Goldfield, touted their ‘perfect shakshuka’ served during weekend brunch service in her August review of the restaurant. In 2019, they will open a second space at Brooklyn Public Library.

“Emma’s Torch is named for Emma Lazarus, the poet whose words are inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

“On one night each month, Emma’s Torch is also the site of a graduation dinner that showcases the flavors of students’ homes, such as the lotus root dyed pink with dragon fruit sauce that was prepared by a Chinese student for the second course of the December dinner.

“Before the first course was served, as the clock ticked down, the restaurant’s founder, Kerry Brodie, spoke over the sounds of sizzling pans.

“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees,’ she said, ‘and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.’

“In an eight-week, paid apprenticeship, trainees learn how to properly use knives to slice, dice and chop. They also take English classes and participate in mock job interviews. They receive 400 hours of culinary training and are paid $15 an hour for their work at the restaurant and on catered events. In 2017, every graduate was placed in a culinary job. …

“Aya fled Iraq two years ago, fearing persecution because her husband was a professor. Violence against academics became common after the US-led invasion in 2003; the couple were being threatened for her husband’s refusal to obey militias. …

“She studied computer programming for two years but that gave way to cooking, as her efforts were praised by teachers and friends. …

“In Iraq, she could buy their favorite foods cheaply and easily. In the US, she had to craft meals from start to finish, scouring markets for Arab ingredients. … But as Aya kept friends, family and teachers happy with her meals from home, it was clear her future lay in cooking, not computers. The refugee agency Hias connected her with Emma’s Torch.”

Read more about Aya and the work of Emma’s Torch at the Guardian, here.

Emma’s Torch in Brooklyn, NY, is a restaurant that values the contributions of refugees. The name refers to the poem by Emma Lazarus quoted on the Statue of Liberty.

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Photos: Nichole Sobecki for the New York Times
Samuel Lagu set aside five acres of his land in Mireyi, Uganda, for a rice venture in which South Sudanese refugees and Ugandans work side by side.

Sometimes it’s the poor who do the best job of helping the poor. That is also true of nations. Uganda is no utopia, as those who have been oppressed by the government know firsthand, but it’s doing a better job of helping Sudanese refugees than many richer countries. Officials understand that refugees can build the economy, and individual Ugandans have not forgotten when they were in need and Sudanese people helped them.

Joseph Goldstein writes at the New York Times, “Solomon Osakan has a very different approach in this era of rising xenophobia. From his uncluttered desk in northwest Uganda, he manages one of the largest concentrations of refugees anywhere in the world: more than 400,000 people scattered across his rural district.

“He explained what he does with them: Refugees are allotted some land — enough to build a little house, do a little farming and ‘be self-sufficient,’ said Mr. Osakan, a Ugandan civil servant. Here, he added, the refugees live in settlements, not camps — with no barbed wire, and no guards in sight. …

“In all, Uganda has as many as 1.25 million refugees on its soil, perhaps more, making it one of the most welcoming countries in the world, according to the United Nations.

“And while Uganda’s government has made hosting refugees a core national policy, it works only because of the willingness of rural Ugandans to accept an influx of foreigners on their land and shoulder a big part of the burden.

“Uganda is not doing this without help. About $200 million in humanitarian aid to the country [in 2018] will largely pay to feed and care for the refugees. But they need places to live and small plots to farm, so villages across the nation’s north have agreed to carve up their communally owned land and share it with the refugees, often for many years at a time.

“ ‘Our population was very few and our community agreed to loan the land,’ said Charles Azamuke, 27, of his village’s decision in 2016 to accept refugees from South Sudan, which has been torn apart by civil war. ‘We are happy to have these people. We call them our brothers.’ …

“As the sun began to set one recent afternoon, a group of men on the Ugandan side began to pass around a large plastic bottle of waragi, a home brew. On the South Sudanese side, the men were sober, gathered around a card game.

“On both sides, the men had nothing but tolerant words for one another. … As the men lounged, the women and girls were still at work, preparing dinner, tending children, fetching water and gathering firewood. They explained that disputes did arise, especially as the two groups competed for limited resources like firewood. …

“Recent polls show that Ugandans are more likely than their neighbors in Kenya or Tanzania to support land assistance or the right to work for refugees. Part of the reason is that Ugandans have fled their homes as well, first during the murderous reign of [Idi] Amin, then during the period of retribution after his overthrow, and again during the 1990s and 2000s. …

“Many Ugandans found refuge in what is today South Sudan. Mark Idraku, 57, was a teenager when he fled with his mother to the area. They received two acres of farmland, which helped support them until they returned home six years later.

‘When we were in exile in Sudan, they also helped us,’ Mr. Idraku said. ‘Nobody ever asked for a single coin.’

More at the New York Times, here.

A goat shelter on the land that Ugandans such as Mark Idraku lent to a refugee from Sudan. Queen Chandia, who cares for 22 children, some of whom lost their families in Sudan’s civil war, said the donated land has made all the difference.

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Photo: Thomas Stanley
Hadi Jasim was an Iraqi translator for the US military. Now he’s a “global guide” at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

As you know, I’m a fan of immigration and of welcoming refugees to this immigrant-built country. It’s not usually easy for immigrants once they get here. They are required to find a way to support themselves within a few months, and, if language is a barrier, they must learn English as soon as possible.

Some immigrants start their own business. Some — even if they are highly skilled — take jobs that don’t need English. I know a Haitian immigrant who, for example, was a physician with years of experience who nevertheless took a kitchen job and was grateful to find work.

Once in a while I read a story like the following, in which some wise boss or institution finds a really creative way to employ an immigrant.

Emma Jacobs reports at Public Radio International (PRI), “At the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Moumena Saradar directs a group of visitors to a glass case containing an enormous gold headdress and beaded shirt — the burial garments of Queen Puabi, who died around 2550 BCE. They’re a highlight of the museum’s Middle East gallery, reopened in April after a $5 million renovation.

“ ‘Queen Puabi’s burial jewelry is one of my favorite objects in the gallery,’ says Saradar, who goes on to explain that in Syria today, people still save up for gold jewelry for their wedding. She shows pictures of packed jewelry shops in Damascus, walls glittering from floor to ceiling.

“Saradar is among the museum’s new tour guides — immigrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq who can make connections between the ancient artifacts and the present-day cultures.

“Saradar and her family arrived in Philadelphia as refugees in 2016, and she now works as a medical interpreter during the week and gives tours of at the gallery on weekends. …

“As a guide, Saradar went through intensive training to prepare her to give detailed historical tours and respond to visitors’ questions. She says she practiced on her five children.

“According to Kevin Schott, the Penn Museum’s education programs manager, Saradar and the other guides offer something local docents can’t.

“ ‘At some point in almost every tour somebody will say, “What about today? Do they still eat these things today?” Or, “Is this place still a place people go?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I can’t answer your question.” ‘

“These guides are expressly trained to weave their own personal stories and memories into their tours — things they would feel comfortable talking about over and over again.

“Another guide, Hadi Jasim, spent his summers as a child at his grandfather’s house in southern Iraq, near the source of many of the objects in the gallery: the ruins of the ancient city of Ur.

“ ‘Sometimes we used to take the soccer balls and play’ because it was an open area, Jasim says. ‘Sometimes we used to play like other games like seek and hide, you know, kids’ games.’ …

“Fresh out of college near the beginning of the Iraq War, Jasim became an interpreter for the US-led coalition forces in 2004. He went on to work for the UN in Iraq doing communications and anti-trafficking work. In 2017, he finally received permission to come to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa for Iraqis who worked with the US military.

“Now, Jasim has a job in food service at a local hospital. He says the museum work has become more than a second income.

“ ‘Sometimes, even if I don’t have tours here, I just show up to work, go through the Middle East gallery, go and see the clay tablets and see the carvings,’ he says. ‘It just brings my memories back.’ …

“ ‘Being close to your heritage is something that makes you feel like okay, now I’m back. You know, I don’t feel like I’m a stranger [any] more.’

“Jasim will have more colleagues joining him at the museum in the future. The Penn Museum plans to hire guides for all of its global galleries.” More at PRI, here.

I find many things to love about this story, but if I had to choose one thing, do you know what it would be? It would be the look on these two guides’ faces. A look of peace.

Photo: Idil Demirdag
Penn Museum global guide Moumena Saradar came to the US as a Syrian refugee two years ago.

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Photo: Martin Kaste/NPR
Tempelhof, a German airfield once used for the Berlin airlift, is now a big, open park featuring recreational activities and temporary housing for refugees.

I recently learned that Germany has a reputation for repurposing old buildings in ways that maintain aspects of historical significance. That seems to be true of how the country is adapting an old airfield to modern uses.

Sam Shead reported at Business Insider, “Berlin is a city full of abandoned buildings with long and troublesome histories. But one building has been through more turmoil than most: Tempelhof Airport. …

“Tempelhof has been used to test some of the world’s first aircraft, house World War II prisoners, and give the people of West Berlin a vital lifeline to the outside world during the Cold War. It’s also been used to film movies such as ‘The Hunger Games,’ ‘The Bourne Supremacy,’ and ‘Bridge of Spies.’ …

“Tempelhof was designed to wow visitors to the new Third Reich capital of Germania. It represents the monumental thinking behind Nazi architecture and it’s a landmark in civil engineering. …

“Berliners flocked to the airfield to see early airships and balloons being tested. It was here, for example, that the Humboldt balloon was launched on its maiden voyage on March 1, 1893. …

“At the end of World War II, the US, British, French, and Soviet military forces divided and occupied Germany. Berlin, which was also divided into occupation zones, was located far inside Soviet-controlled eastern Germany.

“There was initially an alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union in Berlin, but on June 24, 1948, the Soviet forces blockaded rail, road, and water access to parts of Berlin that were controlled by the Western Allies.

” ‘The United States and United Kingdom responded by airlifting food and fuel to Berlin from Allied airbases in western Germany,’ the US Office of The Historian website says. ‘The crisis ended on May 12, 1949, when Soviet forces lifted the blockade on land access to western Berlin.’ …

“The airport eventually ended up with many of the things that are commonplace in airports today, such as restaurants.” Shead adds that the airfield is now used by “kite surfers, rollerbladers, allotment enthusiasts, artists, cyclists, joggers, jugglers, batton twirlers, and dancers. …

“Tempelhof is also home to Germany’s largest refugee shelter. There were 3,000 refugees from countries like Iraq and Syria living in a hangar at one point, but that number has fallen to about 600 as German authorities have relocated many of them, while others have returned home. There is enough space in the hangar for 7,000 refugees. … The shelter is closed to the public, but there is a refugee cafe in Hanger 1 the public can visit and provide German lessons.”

I must say, I like to think how very unhappy the WW II owners of this airfield would be about that. Justice served.

More at Business Insider, here.

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Photos: UNHCR/Anders Aalbux
Kerstin and Åke are Swedish senior citizens who say they have learned a lot from the young refugees who are
their IT guides and are recommending the service to their friends.

Although I generally bristle when assumptions are made about older people not knowing how to use a smartphone or computer, I have to admit that technology ignorance does characterize many seniors. So I’m not going to get on my high horse about young immigrants to Sweden sharing IT knowledge with the elderly and using the experience to improve their Swedish. I think it’s an important win-win — especially as Erik’s mother has explained to me that there needs to be more effort to help refugees learn Swedish.

Anders Aalbu writes for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, “It is a Saturday in Karlskoga, in the middle of Sweden. Kerstin and her husband, Åke, have each brought their smartphones, a tablet and a laptop. They’ve got a slew of questions, and they admit they might have already asked some of them. But Setrag and his colleague Sara don’t mind. A repeated question is just another opportunity for them to practice Swedish.

“While working as an IT guide, Setrag speaks slowly. But so do the seniors who come to the public library every Saturday to learn how to use their computers and smartphones. They don’t mind that their teachers are refugees, as speaking slowly makes it easier for them to understand each other.

“Wearing his blue IT guide shirt, Setrag patiently explains to Kerstin: “But now you want to travel by bus, so you have to open another app, because this one is for buying train tickets,’ Setrag says. As the app loads, Setrag explains to Kerstin that the initial message that shows up is a one-off. ‘You’ll only see this the first time. It’s supposed to give you an idea about how to use the app,’ he explains as he points to the spot saying ‘Next.’

“Setrag Godoshian, 20, came to Sweden from Syria in 2014. He has spent three years in the introductory programme learning Swedish. A certain level of Swedish speaking skills was needed for him to become an IT guide. Now Setrag gets to speak lots of Swedish, has his first important job in Sweden, and he’s more integrated in the local community. In return, numerous seniors are improving their IT skills.

“Sara Alaydi, 20, is also a Syrian refugee, who arrived in Sweden in 2015. Becoming an IT guide has led to major changes in her integration into the Swedish society. ‘It has helped me so much. I’ve become more social, for instance, also at school. My experience from the job as an IT guide helps with all the group work we have in class,’ she explains. ‘Elderly people tend to speak a little bit slower, which makes it easier for us. And it also makes it less nerve-racking to talk to them, so we constantly get a chance to practice,’ Sara says. ‘And we’re more confident speaking with them, even though we make mistakes,’ Setrag adds. …

“IT Guide Sweden started in 2010. Its founder, Gunilla Lundberg, was approached by two teenagers, both having just arrived in Sweden, and in need of a summer job. Gunilla asked what they were good at, and the answer was ‘we’re good with computers.’ Today, IT Guide is present in more than 20 Swedish municipalities and employs about 200 young IT Guides. …

“IT Guide Sweden was nominated for the Swedish Door-Opener Award for 2018, an award recognizing Sweden’s best integration initiatives.”

Read here about how working as an IT guide often provides young immigrants with good references as they move into the job world.

Marketing and spreading the word about IT Guide to elderly Swedes is one part of the job for these young refugees.

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Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Some businesses are finding that refugees make great employees.

I know refugees who are eager to work at any job so they can start supporting their families. They are so grateful for a second chance at life, difficult as starting over may be, that they often make enthusiastic and loyal employees. In fact, the research shows that retention is high (and not just because poor English skills keep some in low-level jobs).

As Adele Peters reports at Fast Company, “When an Atlanta-area manufacturer was struggling to keep workers on staff, they turned to a new pool of applicants: refugees. Engent, which makes headlights for Tesla cars, started working with a staffing agency called Amplio Recruiting, which connects refugees with full-time jobs, in 2016.

“One of the first hires, a refugee from Afghanistan named Rafi who had worked as a translator for the U.S. military–-and then had to flee after the military withdrew and insurgents bombed his house because he helped the Americans-–took the job soon after moving to the U.S. Nearly two years later, he’s still there, and is now a shift supervisor at the company. …

“A new report looking at companies that hire refugees saw [that] 73% had higher retention rates for refugees than for other employees. Among a handful of companies that shared detailed internal data with the researchers, the turnover rate for refugees was 7% to 15% lower than for the workforce overall. …

“For businesses, better retention rates save money. A 2012 study estimated that if a worker leaves and they are replaced, that costs around a fifth of the worker’s annual salary. In the jobs studied in the report–including jobs in hotels, factories, and meat packing plants–workers typically earned around $13 an hour. For companies, that means saving $5,200 a year for each worker who doesn’t need to be replaced. …

“ ‘The things that cause somebody to leave a job-–it’s usually either that life is messy or that you get a better job,’ [acknowledges] Lisa Cooper, president of Figure 8 Investment Strategies. ‘I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people whose lives have been disrupted in horrible ways have some messiness to deal with, maybe more than people who haven’t had a refugee experience.’ …

“Still, the company has also witnessed the benefits that companies in the report saw-–people who are refugees tend to have a stronger sense of loyalty to a job. ‘Someone who has been forced to flee their country because of violence or persecution and is now in a new country is really eager to build a new life and settle down and provide for his or her family,’ says [Gideon Maltz, executive director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees]. ‘I think then when a company offers them a position, I think refugees really crave stability, and I think they really feel a sense of loyalty to companies that might have taken a chance on them.’ ”

Read about other benefits in addition to retention at Fast Company, here.

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