refugees

Community Development: From Skills Training to Income Generation

Over the past year, one of the main development goals of the group has been to teach sewing skills. We've watched as the students have grown in ability, creating beautiful, unique items. With one year of experience under our proverbial belt, Make Welcome is working towards tackling the second item on our community development agenda: training in finance and business while we assist the women in generating new income streams.

As a first step towards this goal, we've partnering with Journey Home Crafts. The Journey Home brand is focused on supporting refugee artisans, and both past and present students will have opportunity to sell handcrafted goods through this outlet. In conjunction with this opportunity, we hope to train in personal and business finance  fundamentals, product development, customer outreach, etc.

You can support this next step for our organization by praying for us, by sharing about Journey Home with your friends, and of course, by purchasing items made by our students as they come up for sale.

Celebrating Freedom, Celebrating Refuge

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

It's been 238 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed. Over the decades and centuries, America has often been a place of refuge for those fleeing persecution. And it still is. We welcome in more refugees each year than any other country in the world.

As I celebrate 4th of July today, I'm thankful to live in a country that - while certainly not perfect - is a lighthouse of hope for many around the world. And I'm also challenged to advocate for that gift of freedom and opportunity for others. Let's be a voice against child slavery, human trafficking and unjust governments. And in our own country, let's work for justice for those that don't have a voice or an advocate. God has given us a gift. Don't waste it.

"The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor." (Proverbs 29:7)

The Resettlement of Myanmar Refugees Ends

Over 73,000 refugees from Myanmar have been settled in the United States since 2005. This program has been one UNHCR's largest, but it's now winding down. This particular news item caught my eye since many of our Make Welcome students are from Burma. And it's from hearing their stories and learning about their struggles that led me to get involved in the refugee community. Not only are these women amazingly resilient and brave; they're also wonderful friends and have taught me much more than I'll ever be able to teach them.

But just because the program is ending doesn't mean the refugees remaining in Thailand will have it any easier. Conditions are still not stable enough to repatriate to Burma. And there are still many, many people stuck in the frustrating confines of the camps. According to the report, "There are an estimated 120,000 Myanmar refugees remaining in the nine camps in Thailand, including more than 40,000 not registered by the Thai authorities."

Pray for Burma to have peace once again so that people can go home. Pray for those stuck in the limbo of the camps to have hope. And pray for those who were brought here grace and strength for their new lives.

"Before I Came Here"

During a conversation with an African refugee about his time in the UNHCR camp, he stopped for a moment. Shaking his head, he quietly said, "Life as a refugee in the camps is horrible. I would go to bed at night and pray that God would let me die. It is horrible."

 

From what I've heard elsewhere, he had good reason for that sentiment. Chronic malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, rampant disease and the constant threat of rape for the women. The host country refused to let the refugees farm or even do much work, so most were constantly hungry and had few ways to pass the time. Another refugee who fled the camps to live illegally in an urban center commented, "The conditions in the refugee camp were very hard to bear...I survived by dreaming of the day when I would be back in the DR Congo. But I was doing nothing with my life but dreaming."

At the end of our conversation, my friend again shook his head and commented, "Americans do not understand what it is like. They cannot." And I know he is right. For most of us, our lives have no reference point for what he has experienced. But while we may not understand, we can listen to their stories. We can befriend the brave men and women who have made it this far and learn from them. If nothing else, it helps put "first world" problems in perspective

Potential Refugee Crisis in Central African Republic

Central African Republic is in the thick of a civil war that is likely to result in a wave of refugees. The problem for this landlocked nation is that several of the nations around it are also plagued by interior turmoil, meaning there are only a limited number of places refugees from the CAR can flee to.

Fighting in the last week has driven an estimated 159,000 people from their homes in Bangui, but the total number displaced by turmoil around the country is put at about half a million, Mr. Edwards said. In other parts of Central African Republic, “there are tens of thousands of people who have been in the bush for many months,” said Marixie Mercado, a spokeswoman for Unicef in Geneva. (Source: New York Times, "Violence in Central African Republic...")

Opportunity to Support Refugee Art

One of my favorite international refugee nonprofits is Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). Thanks to their work, I was made aware of how horrific life is for citizens of North Korea. I've heard the country called "the world's largest concentration camp," and that wasn't even referring to the many prison camps in North Korea. Life there is beyond comprehension horrible for the average person.

Because China refuses to recognize the dire straits of the North Korean people, whenever anyone escapes across the border from NK, Chinese authorities immediately repatriate them. There's an network of brave Chinese citizens who operate an underground railroad of sorts to help these asylum seekers find safety, usually transporting them to South Korea. LiNK works to make people like me aware of the crisis and then to help fund the effort to rescue refugees who have crossed the border.

Right now, the LiNK store is featuring a shirt design by the artist Sun Mu. Originally a propaganda artist for the North Korean army, he defected in 1998. He now uses his art to help make the Western world aware of the plight of his homeland. All of the profit from the t-shirt purchase funds LiNK's work. If you're looking for a Christmas present idea, this is a great one.

All the Children of the World

"We do it to show the love of Jesus," is always my answer when my little ones ask why we go to "the sewing place". And this is the primary reason, of course, why we volunteer to watch the refugee children while their mothers learn to sew. My children enjoy it as a play date and I love catching up with all the ladies.

 

I'm thankful to be able to have this opportunity to show my children that Jesus is for everyone, and not just those who look and speak like we do. Jesus does love all the little children of the world. These are not people unlike us. Their children prefer the loud toys just like mine do. Their children cry for their mommas too. And their families need income and support like every other family.

 

Helping, even in a small way, makes me think of what is would it have been like to have been one of the twelve with Jesus. It must have been so exhilarating to be able feed hungry crowds or to witness a hurting soul healed. And this is how it should feel when showing the love of Christ. When you have Jesus you can always help those you encounter.

-written by volunteer Jennifer Taylor

 

The First Library Card

Erin Haywood, an ESL teacher in Clarkson, GA, recently shared on her blog a story about the value of something that we Americans often take for granted - a library card. Haywood took a group of her refugee students to their local library to get their first ever card.

She says, "Do you know what  is spectacular to see? An adult getting her first library card. Also, seeing a group of ESL learners demolish an entire shelf of the coveted Picture Dictionaries. Picture Dictionaries that don’t cost $25 like teacher keeps telling them. This time they’re free. Mind. Blown."

The rest of the post is worth a read. Check it out: When Did You Get Your First Library Card?

Book Review: Human Cargo

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The international refugee crisis is something that I knew very little about up until the last year. American news touches only briefly (if at all) on many of these tumultuous countries that refugees are fleeing from. And even more rarely do we hear stories about the camps themselves. That's why well written books on the subject are such an invaluable gift.

On this blog, we're going to regularly publish reviews of books worth reading if you have any interest at all in refugee issues. The first one is Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees   by Caroline Morehead.

The author spent several years investigating the plight of refugees, focusing on what happens to them once they reach a "safe" country. In the worst case scenario, they've entered a country illegally and are desperately trying to evade repatriation by authorities. Because they have no recognized status, they're often denied education and economic opportunity. I hadn't realized how hopeless the plight is for refugees caught in this type of situation. Trying to immigrate to a welcoming country is close to impossible because of their lack of papers. But if they return home, they often face imprisonment or torture for trying to escape.

In the best of circumstances, those seeking asylum find a welcoming host community and plenty of resources to help them establish new lives. Yet they still struggle with culture shock, language barriers and a lack of education and/or skills that hinder their ability to get a good job. They also struggle with severe post traumatic stress and grief. Depression and suicide are not uncommon.

Caroline Morehead did an amazing job taking a "big picture" look at the refugee problem, yet still connecting you personally with the men, women and children who are at the heart of the issue. As an introductory text to refugee issues, I would highly recommend Human Cargo.