The Refugee Resettlement program is part of the International Institute of Rhode Island. Our mission is to enable all area residents, especially immigrants and refugees, to become self-reliant, invested participants in our communities, while fostering respect and understanding among all people.
This blog is a means of communication between IIRI and those who are interested in volunteering or helping out with events related to refugee resettlement in Rhode Island. It is also a means of sharing news and stories pertinant to refugees and refugee resettlement.
What is it like working or volunteering in an office of refugee resettlement?
Well, that answer changes every day. Here is my perspective (an intern, sitting in a cubicle in the center of everything):
To my left, I hear French being spoken. Somewhere in front of me, a southeast Asian language, perhaps Nepali or Burmese. To my right, job counseling meetings in both fluent and broken English. There are children running around, young couples looking for work, and elderly individuals trying to make ends meet while simultaneously trying to adjust to the absolute culture shock of living in America after being in their home countries and refugee camps for many decades.
Life in this office is always changing, but one thing remains the same. Our caseworkers, staff, and volunteers are caring and passionate individuals trying to help people live their lives here in America. Every day there are new people and different tasks to do. As an intern, I help newly arrived refugees find their way around the city (Providence). I teach them how to use ATMs, navigate the public transit system, and get to important medical appointments. I do the little things that are actually incredibly important in the process of adjusting to American life.
Although our caseworkers work so hard at managing different clients’ cases, they simply don’t have the time to tour them around the city and teach them how to use buses and other things like that. This is where interns and volunteers come in. We provide that extra time and effort that really helps refugees resettle. You get to work one on one with people from all over the world, and in turn, you learn so much. It’s a truly enriching experience.
If YOU want to help out in this incredible process, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Mary Ellen Lynch, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following email has circulated around the office, and I figured that I would reach out to the Tumblr community. If you or anyone you know is from Rhode Island and is an immigrant or refugee, share your story! Just send us a message :)
I wanted to reach out to all of you because for the Welcoming RI project we are looking for local immigrants and refugees in RI.
The project involves a pair of 2 Providence College Global studies students interviewing each immigrant/refugee and producing a final story that will be displayed at IIRI along with a portrait canvas photo. The interview will most likely occurring at the beginning of October for 1-2 hours and there will be an opening reception to introduce each immigrant/refugee and their story.
We’re hoping to interview a total of 16 individuals for the project from diverse countries of origin, gender, age, geographic location in RI, and sectors (health, education, business, etc).
Displacement and refugee resettlement affects entire families, from newborn infant to oldest grandparent. The UNHCR and organizations such as IIRI work hard to service all of these people, provide the best care, and reunite families.
This first news article discusses the Early Childhood Development Center that has been started in Nepal for refugee children between the ages of 2 and 5.
“Looking at the desperate situation of many children…both in the camps and in the host community, we felt the need for a special day care facility which provides a safe and nurturing environment for these children,” said Sangita Khatiwada, Senior Protection Assistant at UNHCR’s sub-office in the eastern Nepal town of Damak.
This article tells the story of an incredibly strong 99 year old woman from Bhutan.
Unlike many elderly refugees in eastern Nepal’s camps who pass their time reading scriptures and chatting with each other, 99-year-old Bishnu Maya Bharati grabs her refugee identity card and visits the UN refugee agency’s office every now and then, asking about her resettlement case.
I was born in Bhutan, where the government and people discriminated against my family because of our language, religion, and ethnicity. When I was very young, my family escaped to Nepal. A refugee camp was my home for the next twenty years. This camp was just rows and rows of bamboo huts. We refugees were not allowed to work in Nepal and had no opportunities for moving forward.
My trip to the United States was my first experience with a plane ride and I felt suffocated. I saw and experienced such things that I had never imagined—it was amazing. On February 2, 2011, I arrived in the United States. After spending one night in New York City, I finally reached my destination of Providence, Rhode Island. What a surprise to see snow for the first time! My caseworker and some of my family members met me at the airport. In that moment, my emotions ran from extreme happiness to extreme anxiety. When we arrived at our new home, I had to learn how to use the lights, the door locks—everything. After the International Institute [a USCRI affiliate] helped me to get settled, they found me a job. I work hard and earned enough money to buy a car. It was very difficult at first, but I can now understand American English and have become very comfortable in my new home.
Keshab Bhandari, a Bhutanese refugee at IIRI, featured in the USCRI 2011 Annual Report
A little while ago, I mentioned that the International Institute will be merging with Dorcas place this coming December. This is going to be a fabulous opportunity for both organizations, as it will increase the resources for both. Our education and work training departments will become much stronger, and better able to service the population of Rhode Island.
Today, some of us from IIRI went to Dorcas Place for a tour. We learned about the many services they provide. Here is just a brief summary:
Immigration reform? How about education reform first? The Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University reports that just 64 percent of native-born Americans could pass the naturalization test immigrants must take to become a US citizen. Immigrants applying for citizenship pass the simple civic literacy test at a rate of 97.5 percent according the the survey, released last week.
We stopped some people in Times Square last week and asked them some of the the questions. For the answers, watch the video:
1. Who is Susan B. Anthony?
2. Name a U.S. territory.
3. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
4. How many US senators are there?
5. Who is the current vice president of the US?
6. Who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court?
7. Who is the speaker of the House of Representatives?
How many questions can you answer correctly? Leave your answer in the comments below.
One of the services we provide at IIRI is citizenship classes to help immigrants and refugees to pass this test. While looking through the study materials, I myself found that I did not know the answers to many of these questions!
What do Rhode Islanders value? What are some common values that all Rhode Islanders share?
Rhode Island (specifically Providence) has the highest Liberian population in America.
Liberia, a West African country about the size of Tennessee, wasn’t colonized until 1822. What makes Liberia different from any other country in Africa—or any other country in the world, really—is the fact that its first foreign settlers were freed American slaves. The settlement was the brainchild of the American Colonization Society—an organization working to “repatriate” African-American slaves to Africa. That first colony of former slaves was built on a 36-mile-long and 3-mile-wide strip of land that the ACP purchased—most say forcefully—from a group of local tribes. In 1824, the colony was named Liberia, after the Latin word for liberty, and the capital was named Monrovia, after President James Monroe.
As the colony flourished, more and more American states started shipping freed slaves back across the Atlantic. In 1847, the Americo-Liberians voted in favor of independence. Not surprisingly, Americo-Liberian culture was deeply rooted in the antebellum American South, and a stark split formed between the Americo-Liberian colonizers and the Africans who had been there all along. In a bizarre version of the conditions they’d left behind, Americo-Liberians acted as the master-class over local tribes they forced into slavery. For over a hundred years, Liberia was ruled by a small number of families whose ancestors had been on that first ship back to Africa in 1822. In Africa, Liberia was known as “Petite America.” Then, in 1980, an African named Samuel Doe murdered the President in a military coup. From 1980 until 2003, Liberia was in a state of virtually continuous violence, resulting in over 200,000 Liberian deaths. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country, many of them to America, and many of those to Rhode Island.
With an estimated 15,000 Liberian residents, Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Liberians of any state in the country. Though Liberians only make up 0.4 percent of Providence’s population, Providence maintains one of the three largest Liberian immigrant communities in America.
Rhode Island is a small state. Rhode Island reminds us of Liberia. Liberia is just a little larger than Rhode Island.” Elaine Traub, Liberian nurse.
“I can drive from here, two blocks, and meet another Liberian, and go downtown, and wherever I go, I will meet Liberians.” Eleanor Gaye, Liberian restaurant owner.