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Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

jeannetteandevon

Photo: Beautiful Day
The photo above was taken before social distancing. But the nonprofit Beautiful Day has made Covid-19 adjustments like the rest of us and continues to train refugees in making delicious products.

It’s been a while since I wrote about the Rhode Island miracle called Beautiful Day (originally Providence Granola Project), and I want to update longtime blog readers while also letting newer readers know about this amazing initiative.

The nonprofit was founded in 2012 by Keith Cooper, who grew up among missionaries in foreign lands. It gives workplace training to refugees and supports itself not only by donations and grants but by selling the delicious products the trainees learn to make. I laid in a haul of my favorite granola at the beginning of the pandemic, and I must say it cheers me up every day.

On March 27, Keith wrote on his blog about the childhood that shaped him.

“I was born during a curfew. I grew up in a war zone. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been having flashback memories from my childhood. We lived in the central highlands of Vietnam, in a town called Kontum, not far from the border or Laos and Cambodia. We lived near a US military airport and compound which we always called MAC-V.

“So military conflict was part of the context for daily life. Just the way things were. My siblings and I had a bullet shell collection. My mom sometimes kept flowers in a brass mortar shell. My parents were linguists working with indigenous peoples who were in the process of being displaced by the war. There were visitors and stories, adults making decisions or talking in a certain tone of voice. There were sometimes flares and gunshots at night, the whir of Chinook and helicopter blades.

“When I was around 4 or 5 … my dad built built a cement-walled bunker under the house with steep steps going down from a wooden trapdoor. Some of my earliest memories, either real or imagined, came from that bunker.

“For some reason I remember the light down there as a beautiful emerald green. I remember a cylindrical kerosene heater with pretty blue flames. My dad had been in ROTC and part of a reserve unit, so he knew enough to make a guessing game of estimating the distance and counting down to the boom of mortars. For some reason, having a shaking boom correctly predicted for you by a voice you love counters any surge of fear….

“I know we can all feel the world getting a shaking these days. I suspect there will now be a break between a pre- and post-carona world and our pre- and post-carona lives. Yet my flashback memories remind me how significant the little things are. My mom pinning laundry. My puppy and a paper birthday hat. The bright scent of coffee blossoms or taste of ripe coffee cherries.

The fact that I remember these better than artillery booms reminds me to make room in my life these days for the small things.

“I’m painting the ceiling of my entryway a twilight blue and a woman at our local hardware store spent a half hour on the phone helping me choose the right finish. What a kind gift from a stranger. And we made a special trip to the store today for cake flour. Tomorrow my daughter and I will bake a lemon birthday cake for my sister. One of my daily joys now is going for a walk around dinner time. Never before have I seen so many apartment lights on or smelled so many wonderful things being cooked in our neighborhood. It has a completely different feel.

“Even in a great shaking there are joys.” More.

Earlier this month, Keith emailed supporters about how Beautiful Day is managing in the pandemic, which has coincided with moving into a new kitchen.

“Everything went as smoothly as could be expected given the new space, the new equipment, and the new routines. The trainees worked long hours making hundreds of [granola] bars and bags of Mochaccino Hazelnut, Ginger Muesli and Pistachio Cardamom granola. …

A big challenge has been to make sure that everyone maintains proper social distance while still having enough room to dance.

“That’s right, dance! The owners of the kitchen left us a big Bluetooth speaker along with a playlist of spirited tunes. When the trainees aren’t listening to music from their own countries, they are blasting top 40’s hits and bouncing around. The Bluetooth has been a big hit and has helped everyone stay productive and focused. Morale is high. …

“We have so much to learn from our trainees in times like these. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they remain upbeat and strong. And they are dancing.”

My past posts on Beautiful Day may be found in 2012, 2015, and 2018.

Buy something yummy for yourself or send a care package to a shut-in, here. You won’t regret it.

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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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Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau
Primary school teacher Sylviane Zins with a class of refugee children. “They are motivated students who really want to learn,” she says. The tiny village of Thal-Marmoutier, France, has set a welcoming example for all.

There are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country other than their country of birth — an increase of 49% since 2000 — according to figures released by UN DESA on December 18, 2017. Violence and famine are often the reasons migrants try to get their children to someplace safer.

Fortunately, even in countries whose governments are hostile to migrants, some citizens follow their hearts and provide comfort. Others are following religious traditions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which exhort believers to welcome the stranger.

Céline Schmitt and Kamilia Lahrichi filed a report in April from Thal-Marmoutier, France, for the UN Refugee Agency.

“On a winter’s day, a group of refugees newly arrived from Africa walks through the falling snow in a village in eastern France. Some of the 800 residents of the peaceful Alsatian commune of Thal-Marmoutier, moved by their ordeal, gather to welcome them and help them take their first steps towards a new life.

“For the next four months the 56 women, men and children will be hosted by Franciscan nuns in their convent as a French non-profit organization, France Horizon, helps them put down roots. …

“The mayor of Thal-Marmoutier, Jean-Claude Distel, said the operation had gone smoothly. ‘The refugees have appreciated the welcome they received from the residents and, for our part, we are glad we were able to make a small contribution to their resettlement and provide them with all they need to integrate into the life of the nation.’

“Here are the stories of some of those involved.

“Abdel … is the France Horizon official in charge of the refugees’ reception and accommodation in the village. Abdel lives temporarily in the convent. … A clinical psychologist, he is passionate about assisting people in difficult circumstances, including asylum-seekers. ‘Over time, we realize that the people we welcome are people who have experienced atrocities,’ he says.

“When the group arrived in Thal-Marmoutier, Abdel and his team of seven organized activities, such as cooking workshops and yoga classes, with other local government organizations.

“Today, a medical team working with Strasbourg University Hospital provides health checks for the refugees, under Abdel’s supervision. The new residents take it in turns to see the doctor and make sure they are fit and well.

“Abdel works on raising residents’ awareness of the refugees’ circumstances. ‘I am satisfied and proud to welcome and reassure the refugees and the villagers and explain to them that we shouldn’t have prejudices or stigmatize people we don’t know,’ he says.”

Meanwhile, outside the convent’s schoolroom, “The strains of the traditional song ‘Alouette’ can be heard. … The children sit on the floor while the teacher stands in the middle and mouths the words. This class is a springboard to enrollment in a public class.

“ ‘These are just delightful students,’ says the teacher, Sylviane. ‘They are motivated students who really want to learn. They give their all to learn.’ ”

Then there is Nicolas, social and educational coordinator with France Horizon. “No one understands the refugees’ circumstances better than Nicolas, a refugee himself. … He has been a devoted humanitarian since he helped distributed food to Rwandan refugees seeking refuge in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘It gives me great pleasure to help others to make progress,’ he says. ‘That’s what I enjoy most in life.’

“Nicolas fled the DRC because of the instability there and sought political asylum in France, where his brother lives. He became a French citizen in 2009.

“ ‘Leaving Africa and ending up here is like moving from one planet to the other,’ he says. ‘These refugees have never seen snow and have never lived in Europe.’

“Nicolas is studying for a doctorate in education. ‘For refugees like us … training and education is the only way to move forward.’ ”

More.

Sign at Families Belong Together rally, June 30, 2018, Rhode Island State House.

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More here.

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Photo: Målerås
Glassworkers in the Målerås factory in Sweden. The company successfully brought on refugees when it was short-handed.

This story combines two of my great interests: Sweden and helping refugees. Erik’s homeland showed compassion by taking in 32,000 asylum seekers in 2015, but in a win-win scenario, some Swedish design companies have benefited.

Alicia Brunker writes at Architectural Digest, “Rather than fear that refugees will take jobs away from locals, the Nordic country views Syria’s tradition of handicraft skills as a way to smoothy integrate its people into their own design-centric society. This mindset is especially true for the design community in southern Sweden, also known as Småland, a vast region that family-run glass workshops and international heavyweights, such as IKEA, call home. …

“Five years ago, the Scandinavian design purveyor began working with the women’s co-operative [Yalla Trappan ] to offer marginalized groups opportunities for livelihood, including Syrian refugees who have settled in southern Sweden without employment. As a way to give them economic independence, IKEA hired 10 women to work at their Malmö store, offering sewing services. …

“Whether a local customer needs a quick repair to their Ektorp sofa cushion or requires custom embroidery, the women at IKEA’s Malmö store will take the order at their sewing atelier and stitch it off-site.

“Beyond in-store sewing services, IKEA has recently teamed up with the Jordan River Foundation, opening up a production center in Amman. … At the facility, the Jordanians and an IKEA designer collaborated on a new range of textiles — including pillows, rugs, and baskets — that meld both culture’s styles into a single object. …

“The Jordanians lay the yarn on the floor and weave by hand on their feet. However, with IKEA’s ultimate goal of making these women employable in the future, they plan to teach the refugees more modern stitching practices with machines for upcoming collections.

“Inadvertently, IKEA has also provided employment for refugees through their annual Art Event. This year, the design giant enlisted local glassworks company Målerås to work with international artists on a limited-edition series of contemporary glass figurines.

“During the production process, the factory was short-handed and decided to add a dozen new contractors, four of which were Syrian refugees, to their workforce. Though they didn’t have glass-making experience, the men were familiar with working with their hands. Through an eight-month training period, the refugees learned the various steps of production and they picked up on their new country’s language and culture. …

“Benny Hermansson, owner and CEO of Gemla Möbler, the country’s oldest furniture factory, says the practice of working with craftsmen from other regions dates back to the 19th-century. … One of the [Syrians] who joined Gemla worked at a furniture company back in Syria, crafting headboards and cabinets out of wood. …

” ‘There are fewer and fewer schools educating students in these fields,’ [Hermansson] says. ‘It has become difficult to recruit people with the right competence. We have a need, and so do these refugees.” More here.

This is reminding me of a Syrian carpenter that I helped out a bit last year. He was thrilled to find work in Rhode Island installing insulation. I wonder if he has gotten into woodworking since then.

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Photo: WeWork
Global shared-workspace company WeWork offers coffee, local beer, ample space for community events — and jobs for refugees and veterans.

Here’s a business that expects to do well by doing good. It’s shared-workspace company WeWork, which a news outlet in Philadelphia says has started offering jobs to refugees.

Marielle Mondon at PhillyVoice reports, “WeWork, one of the biggest companies spearheading the transition from traditional offices to millennial-luring co-working spaces, has announced a new commitment to hire 1,500 refugees globally in the next five years.

“The announcement comes just days after the company announced it would also hire the same number of veterans in its offices over the next five years. WeWork began seeking refugee employees through a pilot program based in New York [in 2017], working with the International Rescue Committee for a total of 50 hires. …

“In addition to encouraging WeWork offices to reach their hiring quotas, the company will also help provide refugees with mentorships and language courses. …

“Several other companies have made public initiatives to offer refugees a means of employment as they try to establish their new lives. … Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022. … Companies including Chobani and Uber made similar promises.

“WeWork CEO Adam Neumann told the Washington Post that the refugee pledge was … a way to help solve the growing problem of refugee displacement.

“The Post reports that the refugee jobs during the pilot program in New York [involved] workers taking care of the daily maintenance and tenant assistance needed in WeWork spaces.” More here.

You know what? Although the WeWork target client is a millennial, I can easily see an elderly person who can afford office space signing up to use his computer there and hang around young people — the way some older folks use libraries. I wonder if anyone would mind.

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Kurds in Ireland


Photo: Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
Carrick-on-Shannon, a small town in the west of Ireland, where a group of Kurdish refugees were resettled from Iraq over a decade ago.

No one should claim that adjustment to life in a completely unfamiliar world is easy, but when refugees have no choice but to try and when communities have many kindhearted people, it can work.

Here is a story of how Kurdish refugees adapted to life in Ireland, of all places — and how their new home adapted to them.

Megan Specia writes at the New York Times, “A bold black-and-red sign announces Jamshid Ghafur’s business — ‘Kurdish Barber’ — up a narrow flight of stairs just off the main street of Carrick-on-Shannon in western Ireland. …

“ ‘I am happy with this small business,’ he said as he gestured around the shop with pride. ‘I feel like home here.’

“Mr. Ghafur, 37, is part of a thriving group of Kurds who adopted this small town as their own after a United Nations-supervised refugee resettlement program brought them here more than a decade ago.

“Kajal Allakarami, 29, was 17 when she arrived. … ‘Maybe it wasn’t our ways, maybe it wasn’t our traditions,’ she said, ‘but the way they respected us was huge.’

“In 2005 and 2006, around 100 Kurdish refugees, most Muslim, arrived in Carrick-on-Shannon, population 5,000, plucked from decades of displacement. …

“The government provided social welfare and language courses for the adults, while the children enrolled in the local schools. Volunteers brought food and clothes, [Fawzieh] Amiri said. Among them was Nora Burke, a Roman Catholic nun, who visited Mrs. Amiri weekly to help her practice English.

“Still, the adjustment was not easy. Sister Nora said some locals resented the state-funded support the Kurds received.

“ ‘Carrick-on-Shannon was not prepared,’ she said. ‘They just arrived and some in Carrick thought: “God, who are these people? Where did they come from? What are they here for?” ‘ …

“But bit by bit, the Kurds established themselves. …

“For members of the younger generation, resettlement has been a complex process of not just understanding Ireland but of coming to terms with their Kurdish and Irish identities. …

“Some found the adjustment more difficult. Jabar Azizi and his twin brother were 16 when their family arrived.

“ ‘My age group, it was really, really difficult for us,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘Even though I was in Ireland, my mind was somewhere else.’

“Still, he made it through school, and credits the small town.

“ ‘They respected us and our religion,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘They respected the way we wanted to live.’ …

“But it took tragedy for the Azizi family and the rest of the Kurdish community to know they had found a true home with their new Irish neighbors.

“In March 2012, Jalal Azizi, Jabar’s twin, was swimming with friends in the Shannon river during a rare warm snap when he got into difficulty and drowned. The whole town was shaken. Shops shut their doors and residents lined the road to pay their respects as the 21-year-old’s funeral cortege passed by.

“ ‘To be honest, we didn’t expect that with our brother,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘His death really touched everyone.’ …

“ ‘When he passed away, we saw all the community from Carrick-on-Shannon gathering in my house,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘It is something I will never forget in the years to come; it is something I will tell my son about.’ ”

More here.

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On September 20, Moby took part in #giveahome 2017 – a day of secret shows in homes around the world in solidarity with refugees. It was organized by Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds. Watch here, http://on.moby.com/2gUdSuL.

Many artistic people are sensitive to the struggles of the disenfranchised. That’s why as many as 1,000 musicians answered a call from Amnesty International to contribute their talents in support of refugees this past September.

Writes Amnesty, “Across more than 200 cities in 60 countries, musicians, artists, activists and local communities came together in a statement of support for the world’s refugees.

“Give a Home, a collaboration between Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds, saw living rooms across the globe play host to more than 300 special performances from some of the world’s leading musicians. …

“From the thousands of Rohingya currently fleeing Myanmar, to the desperate situation faced by those escaping conflicts in Syria and South Sudan, the world is in the grip of its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. The global refugee population now stands at more than 22 million people.

“ ‘As the Secretary General I travel a lot and meet a lot of different people. But one person I have never met is a refugee who wanted to be a refugee. By definition, a refugee is a person fleeing a desperate situation of conflict or persecution. They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world,’ said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. …

“Of those 22.5 million, almost all are hosted outside the wealthiest nations, with just ten of the world’s 193 countries hosting more than half its refugees.

“ ‘While it’s a huge number, refugees represent only 0.3% of the world’s population. When we look at it that way, it seems crazy to me that we can’t find a home for all of them,’ said Salil Shetty. …

“Amnesty International’s research shows that four in five people around the world are open to welcoming refugees, while a recent attitudes survey by the World Economic Forum show that a huge 85% of young people in the US would welcome refugees.” More at Amnesty, here.

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4948

Photo: The Guardian
One recent immigrant from Pakistan was welcomed into the home of Jo Haythornthwaite of Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow, an example of individuals stepping up to help refugees.

The hostility to immigrants that fueled the Brexit vote in Britain gets all the attention, but there are other voices. There are always other voices.

Gregory Maniatis writes for the Open Society Foundations about refugee outreach across the British Isles.

” ‘I can’t solve the whole Syrian crisis, but I can do something, for a few people.’ The words of Olwen Thomas, from the port of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, probably sum up the feelings of many people around the world, as we follow news reports about the terrible difficulties that have faced refugee families fleeing the conflict in Syria, as well as other crises around the world.

“Thomas, and other members of her community, are now doing something significant through their involvement in the Fishguard Refugee Sponsorship Group. The group was one of the first to respond to a UK scheme first announced last July by the British Home Affairs Minister Amber Rudd and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby — the leader of the Anglican Church.

“Under the Community Sponsorship program, local groups agree to sponsor refugee families and help them integrate into life in the UK by assisting with things such as finding housing, securing access to medical and social services, arranging English language tuition, and supporting them towards employment and self-sufficiency. …

“One Welsh group in the small town of Cardigan has raised £12,000 as part of its application to the scheme. Vicky Moller, a member of the group, told the BBC … ‘People are very, very keen to help.’

“The sponsorship model being launched in towns and cities across England and Wales is partly inspired by a hugely successful effort launched in Canada in 1979, when the mayor of Ottawa, Marion Dewar, mobilized an effort by community groups to settle 4,000 mostly Southeast Asian refugees. To date, Canadian communities and citizens have resettled almost 300,000 refugees through its private sponsorship program. …

“Chris Clements, a director of Social Finance UK, … has noted the shortcomings of ‘traditional’ refugee resettlement in the UK, which has left many refugee families isolated and struggling to adapt to their new surroundings. This in turn results in high rates of unemployment, depression, stress, and other problems.

“Community sponsorship, Clements says, ‘enables local people to take responsibility for resettling a refugee family, supporting and empowering them to rebuild their lives.’ ”

More here.

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The ancient city of Palmyra has been virtually destroyed during the war in Syria, along with other historic sites. Refugees will be trained to be part of the rebuilding.

If this works out, it certainly would be poetic justice. The idea is for Syrian refugees to be given the opportunity to help rebuild a world historic site destroyed by Isil [ISIS].

Here’s what Anny Shaw reported at the Art Newspaper. “The World Monuments Fund (WMF) is launching a £500,000 scheme to train Syrian refugees living in and around the Zaatari camp on the Jordanian border in traditional stone masonry. The aim is to develop skills so that cultural heritage sites that have been caught in crossfire or destroyed by Isil can be rebuilt once peace is restored to Syria.

“Organisers of the training course, which is due to launch in the border town of Mafraq in Jordan in August, are also hoping to recruit Jordanian students in a bid to alleviate some of the pressures put on the local community by the volume of people fleeing war-torn Syria. The project is being developed with Petra National Trust, a Jordanian not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to promote the protection and conservation of the Unesco World Heritage site of Petra.

“ ‘There has been enormous destruction in Palmyra, Nimrud and Aleppo,’ says John Darlington, the executive director of the World Monuments Fund Britain, which is working with the New York-based WMF on the scheme. ‘When the dust settles, one of the things that will stop restoration is that we will see money going into places like Palmyra but the skills on the ground won’t be there. Because so many people have left, there’s a huge skills deficit.’ …

“The blueprint for the Syrian project came from a similar scheme begun by the WMF in Zanzibar two years ago. While the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral was being repaired, an intensive programme of skills development was also launched. There is now a pool of local trained stone masons to help with future repairs.

“ ‘We are looking for stone masons who are already living in the local community or in the refugee community. It’s a long-held tradition in that part of the world,’ Darlington says. ‘We don’t want to parachute in a load of experts and then leave. The idea is to train people who will become trainers themselves, so it will cascade.’ ”

More at the Art Newspaper, here. Hat Tip: ArtsJournal.

 

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