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Office of Refugee Resettlement Newsletter - August 2015

Published: August 3, 2015

CONNECTIONS Newsletter bannerConnections and our biweekly update—Quick Connection: Updates and Announcements from ORR—are intended to help resettlement stakeholders and mainstream partners access information needed to become better engaged and work together as Refugee Champions, welcoming and championing the successful integration of newcomers to our communities!

This issue of Connections features:

ACF Marks World Refugee Day with Inspiring Panel Discussion

In honor of World Refugee Day, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) organized an event to celebrate the incredible journeys of inspiring change-makers, community leaders, artists, and advocates who transitioned to the U.S. through the resettlement process. Following keynote remarks from Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg, Bob Carey—ORR’s Director—spoke to a room filled with colleagues, family members, and advocates as he introduced the panelists— Ruby Jade Corado (El Salvador), Leela N. Kuikel (Bhutan), Rana Jafaar Yaseen (Iraq), Dr. Masood Sadaat (Afghanistan), and Mariela Shaker (Syria)—recognizing each for their “unique voices, that together show a body of resilience which brings a new richness and vitality to our American society, and is very much the embodiment of the American spirit.” The testimonies that followed were inspiring.

Ruby Jade Corado wove the journey of her upbringing in El Salvador to her arrival in the United States and struggle with her passage to the greater Washington, DC area. A lifelong advocate for LGBT Human Rights, Transgender Liberation, Immigration Equality, and access to health care, Ruby fled civil war when she was 16—falling into poverty in DC, but also “into happiness” and freedom. It was through this experience that Ruby “dreamed that one day I would provide services for people like me. For people that are special.” This dream led her to found Casa Ruby, providing homeless LGBT and transgender youth and adults with a safe space and vital services. Her story was a testament to her dream coming true.

Dr. Masood Sadaat spoke of resistance and perseverance, both in his home country of Afghanistan and in the United States. A practicing physician in Afghanistan, Dr. Sadaat advocated for the fair treatment of women and children. It was his progressive work that forced him out of Afghanistan. “Under Taliban, education was taken away from us. We were driven into the Middle Ages, killing heritage and culture for identity.” Dr. Sadaat is striving to gain a medical license in the United States, while working to help other international medical graduates and supporting his daughter.

The ability to adapt through hardship was further evidenced by Rana Jafaar Yaseen’s story. A career poet, published author, jewelry maker, artist, and continued self-starter, she moved around the Middle East, and then arrived in the U.S. just two years ago with a box of books. Rana recalled, “When I came here all the doors were closed. I will never give up, I can start from scratch.”

Paradox was brought to life in Leela N. Kuikel’s reflection of his native Bhutan. The country perhaps best known for its “gross national happiness” policy has also produced an epidemic of mental health issues for its exiled refugee population. Leela spoke of his work to capitalize on the resiliency of his community, working in policy at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, founding the Bhutanese American Organization in Philadelphia, and running an ORR Ethnic Community Self-Help Grant.

The event ended with a stirring solo performance by violinist Mariela Shaker. As a young girl, Mariela used to dream of traveling to the United States as an international violinist. She did not think she would be fleeing war. At 24, she said it was her music that helped her through the transition from Syria to the United States. Following her performance, audience members celebrated the many accomplishments and reflected on the challenges, power, and spirit of those who spoke.

Refugees Valuable Employees for Massachusetts Bread Maker

If you follow your nose through the cities and towns north of Boston, it will lead you past the sweet scent of candy in Revere; the rich aroma of roasted coffee beans in Malden, and, of course, all types of seafood caught and processed all along the coastline. But drive or walk through Lynn, Massachusetts, and you’ll pick up the scent of freshly baked bread. If you follow it to its source, you’ll find yourself in front of 161 Pleasant Street, the home of Traditional Breads. 

The commercial bread factory is located just a dinner roll’s throw from the New Americans Center (NAC), an ORR-supported coalition of voluntary agency affiliates and Ethnic Community Based Organizations (ECBOs) that provides a range of post-resettlement social services to refugees on the North Shore. It is also a key hiring partner of NACs employment team, employing refugee clients and making its workforce of approximately 170 one that features people from 26 different countries. An estimated one third of Traditional Breads’ workforce are refugees.

Owner Fitzroy Alexander, himself an immigrant from the Caribbean nation of Grenada, established Traditional Breads in 1999. He discovered his passion for baking as a young man, through one of his first jobs upon arrival in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As his knowledge grew through practical experience, he moved on to study the art of baking formally at the American Institute of Baking (AIB) and also in Europe. He was just 22 years old when he joined several partners to open his first bakery, Signature Breads, which he helped to grow and succeed over the next 18 years. Just a year after his early “retirement” in 1998, baking was ingrained in his psyche and he discovered he really missed it. Alexander opened Traditional Breads, which currently produces seven categories and more than 200 different varieties of preservative-free breads and baked goods sold commercially to restaurants, grocery chains, and wholesale distributors. 

Refugees Valuable Employees chefsTraditional Breads works closely with the NAC job development team to place refugees into employment. The ovens operate 24 hours per day in three shifts from Monday through Friday. Wages vary with the shift and the assignment, but start at $9.25 for first shift; placements are all full-time with benefits, including health insurance as needed, dental insurance, vacation and sick time. The company readily promotes employees as they learn the process, with one refugee rising to the rank of Production Supervisor.

While some refugees remain employed by Traditional Breads for more than two years, the average stay is around one year, says Alexander. “The biggest challenge we have been experiencing lately is that they tend to leave to move to other states due to the [high] cost of living.” Health issues and relocation for family reunification also contribute to the out-migration, but skyrocketing housing costs—especially for families—is a challenge echoed by resettlement agencies and employment counselors throughout the greater Boston area.

Career laddering is key, and English language fluency is an important tool. Beginning in 2010, Traditional Breads hosted on-site ESL classes for employees, in collaboration with the NAC and a state grant. The program, "English at Work", lasted for three years (2010-13), taught by NAC teachers who created a Picture Dictionary that is being used to date. The success of the program prompted Traditional Breads to reinstitute the classes, hiring NAC teachers directly for English classes to start in the fall.

Alexander is proud of the refugees in his workforce and supports their growth and development, acknowledging that without them, he would have nothing. “As an immigrant myself, I believe in giving new immigrants the opportunity of earning their living, the opportunity to prosper within the company and show them that it is possible to succeed in this country.”

He has been honored on multiple occasions for his contributions to job creation and economic growth in Lynn, including the 2004 Governor’s Inner City Investment Award, and one of the Immigrant Learning Center’s 2014 Immigrant Entrepreneurs of the Year, in the category of Business Growth.

When asked what advice he would give to newly-arrived refugees, Alexander responded, “No matter where you start even if it is at the bottom, it is a stepping stone to your future growth. There is something to learn in each opportunity.”

Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire Featured in White House Report

The White House Task Force on New Americans featured several promising organizations in the strategic action plan it released earlier this year: Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents. The Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire (BCNH), an ORR grantee founded in 2009, was among those featured. 

Bhutanese Community of NHBCNH’s Executive Director and co-founder, Tika Acharya, arrived in New Hampshire with his parents and sisters after fleeing turmoil and persecution in Bhutan and spending more than two decades as refugees in Nepal. As they settled in, Tika noticed unmet refugee needs, and through discussions with the local community, he and other where able to launch BCNH to provide refugee services.

Initially, BCNH received small grants through a community foundation to help newly arriving refugees by connecting them with public benefits, health services, employment support, and other community resources. In 2011—the same year New Hampshire saw an influx of Bhutanese refugees—BCNH received a state social service grant. This was followed by an ORR Ethnic Community Self-Help grant in 2012, a state grant to serve older refugees in 2013, and a new partnership with the local VOLAG on a child care grant.

In its six years, BCNH has already achieved impressive results. In 2013, with the support of African, Iraqi, and Bhutanese community leaders, BCNH was awarded almost $500,000 in a Health Insurance Marketplace Grant that has allowed them to provide education on the value of health insurance and how to enroll in 16 languages; this effort has reached an estimated 5,000 people already. With its engaged Board of Directors, 7 full-time staff, 12 part-time staff, and volunteers in two offices BCNH delivers over 10 programs to the community.

Looking to the future, Tika is constantly researching best practices and seeking out and implementing innovative approaches to provide services. He hopes to create a legacy for future generations including preservation of Bhutanese culture; diversifying programming to include asset and youth development, entrepreneurship, and support for in-demand jobs; and building stronger financial institution relationships. 

Survivors of Torture Program Offers Hope and Healing

ORR’s Services to Survivors of Torture (SoT) program provides funds for treatment centers in 20 states across the country that provide rehabilitative services to those who have suffered torture at the hands of repressive regimes. One such survivor is John, who recently spoke at a Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) event to mark the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

In his home country, John worked as a senior manager with an international bank. Married with children, a nice home, and a successful career, John enjoyed a good life, except for the hardship of living under a ruthless dictator and oppressive regime. The regime, which has ruled since 1980, regularly uses threats and force to stifle civil society—intimidating, torturing, disappearing, and/or killing people in order to maintain its power and control. As an advocate for democracy and rule of law, John became active in an opposition party, and thus became a target of the regime.

He began to live under threat to his life and freedom and, one day, regime militia captured him, beat him severely, and left him for dead. This was the point he realized that he must flee for his life and take precautions to protect the safety of his family.

With a valid multi-entry visa to the United States that he had obtained previously for business reasons, John arrived at Washington Dulles airport and declared himself as seeking asylum protection. Eventually, he was granted asylum and moved to Minnesota where his only friend in the United States lived.

After settling in Minnesota, John was affected by the traumatic experiences of his past. He isolated himself. He felt angry and defensive. He kept thinking about being beaten and left for dead. A person he knew encouraged him to contact CVT. While he was initially skeptical that CVT could help, he called anyway, a decision that helped him find the support, relief, and healing he needed. Today, John works at large national bank and is a volunteer teacher.

Efforts Underway to Link Refugees to Head Start and Child Care Programs

The ACF Offices of Child Care (OCC) and Head Start (OHS) each administer programs that help low-income families and children, including refugees. Through the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF), OCC promotes family economic self-sufficiency and helps children up to age 13 succeed in school and life through affordable, high-quality early care and after school programs. Head Start programs promote school readiness of children under age five from low-income families through education, health, social, and other services. Head Start services are responsive to each child and family's ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage. Further, Head Start programs are required to do community needs assessments with include considering newly arriving populations and varying cultural and linguistic needs.

Efforts Underway article imageBecause low-income refugee families can benefit from CCDF and Head Start, ORR has frequently partnered with OCC and OHS on a variety of activities. For example, last year ORR and OCC jointly issued an Information Memorandum: Refugee Resettlement and Child Care Partnerships that called for partnerships to increase refugee families’ access to high-quality child care. ORR, OCC, and OHS also worked to develop a joint webinar and national resource document on linking refugee resettlement and early childhood networks. These efforts directly support the ACF Strategic Plan as well as the interagency efforts led by the White House Task Force on New Americans to expand opportunities for linguistic integration and education.

While initiatives such as the Arizona Refugee Head Start Project and the Judy Centers in Maryland make an effort to ensure refugees have access to quality early child services, there is more that can be done.

As recently noted on the ACF Family Room blog, officials from ACF Region III and Maryland Departments of Human Resources and Education recently coordinated a day-long symposium that brought together child care, Head Start and refugee resettlement professionals in order to facilitate partnerships across programs.

Participants at the Maryland conference learned basics about refugee, child care, and Head Start programs, and heard about current projects that link these programs together. Participants then brainstormed ways they could work together, including plans to send child care and Head Start professionals to refugee resettlement agencies and making sure refugee families know about Head Start health services, like oral health.

Upcoming Events and Deadlines for Resettlement Stakeholders

  • The Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) initial registration from May 20, 2015, to August 18, 2015, for eligible nationals of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone (and people without nationality who last habitually resided in one of those three countries). Watch USCIS Director León Rodríguez announce the extension in English and French. Read details in a Federal Register notice published June 25.
  • As part of the America ReFramed documentary series, World Channel will feature American Heart, a moving documentary about the intersection of refugees who need American healthcare and the doctors who provide it. Seven years in the making, this award-winning documentary takes viewers on an intimate journey into the lives of three refugees who now call America home. It centers on a remarkable health clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota, which serves as a crossroads for these chronically ill refugees and their devoted doctors. The health care challenges they face are daunting, made more complicated by the trauma they carry from the past. Despite failing health and life-threatening health emergencies our protagonists lead remarkable lives; their outlook and trajectories surprising even to their doctors. American Heart will air Tuesday, August 11th at 8:00 pm EDT on World Channel.
  • Serving refugees requires a community-wide engagement across this nation, particularly for programs and agencies combating poverty and responding to the health and human service needs of low-income and underserved populations. As mentioned in the last issue of Connections, OCS-funded Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) services can complement ORR’s programs, and help connect ORR-eligible populations to critical mainstream resources. On August 13, 2015 at 2:00pm EDT, ICF International, an ORR TA provider, will discuss how CSBG can be leveraged to meet the needs of refugees. Click here to register for this informative webinar. 
Last Reviewed: November 13, 2018