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Posts Tagged ‘welcoming’

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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: Anna Mindess
One of Ba-Bite’s colorful salads: red cabbage with mung bean sprouts, dried figs, arugula and feta and the creamiest hummus. The restaurant is like a welcoming family for immigrant workers.

Lisa, who lives in Oakland, California, put this nice story about an Oakland restaurant on Facebook. If I ever go to Oakland, I’m going to visit Ba-Bite in person.

Anna Mindess writes at KQED Food, “They’ve won accolades for their silken hummus and rainbow of organic salads, but for the owners of Oakland’s Ba-Bite, the most precious thing the almost two-year old restaurant can display right now may be the Sanctuary Restaurant poster on their front door. …

“Ba-Bite is Hebrew for ‘at home.’ Even though most of Mica Talmor and Robert Gott’s employees don’t speak Hebrew, (besides English, they speak Spanish, Maya, and Arabic) they completely understand the concept. The majority of them — like most food service workers in the Bay Area — are immigrants. After walking across deserts at night, being shortchanged or abused in other restaurants where they could not complain, working at Ba-Bite feels like they have found a family.

“Russell Chable manages the kitchen at Ba-Bite and is responsible for set up, prepping, and cooking. He grew up in a tiny town in Mexico’s Yucatan. … He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to his lead position in Ba-Bite.

“After eight years away from home, Russell missed his mom. Sure, he would talk to her on the phone every week, but he wanted to see her face. So this determined young man decided to build his parents a cell tower so that he could FaceTime with his mom. Six months ago, he made contact with a man back in Mexico who outlined what would be needed: laptops, cables and a cell tower. Russell had his uncle check out the man and then sent money. Now he uses FaceTime to talk to his mom every week, and his parents have a small business renting out computer and internet time. …

“Fatima Abudamos is from Jordan and works as cashier. She also holds the distinction as Ba-Bite’s best falafel shaper. As she stuffs the green balls with sheep’s milk feta, she says, ‘This is an amazing place, just like a family. I’ve worked here almost two years. Mica is not like a boss, she’s more like a friend. She doesn’t scream if you make a mistake; she explains things. I feel safe here; it’s my second family.’ …

““We pay all of our workers well,” says Gott. “Partly because we know how expensive it is to live here. My experience is that more often than not, immigrants are working multiple jobs or longer hours, and forgo taking time off at all costs, as they want to or need to make money. …

“[Food runner Kasandra Molina says,] ‘This space here doesn’t feel like a workplace, it feels like home. We all get along. They care about our opinions and feelings. They don’t treat us just as employees; it’s more like a family.’ ”

More at KQED, here.

Are you in Oakland? Check out Ba-Bite at 3905 Piedmont Ave. Phone: (510) 250-9526

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