Never Settle: One Story of Finding Better Ways to Serve New Arrivals

This reflection comes from Francesca Sifferlin, our Refugee AmeriCorps member this year. She took over our already robust new arrivals orientation class, looking for ways to improve the curriculum and make it more accessible to new arrivals. As my year of service as a Refugee AmeriCorps member at MCC comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on what we have accomplished. The creation and launch of our In-Home Intensive Cultural Orientation (ICO) classes has been a rewarding highlight. MCC’s Intensive Cultural Orientation (ICO) workshops empower newly arrived refugees by providing them with the education, skills, and resources they need to succeed and attain self-sufficiency in Minnesota. Typically, students attend a 3-week classroom-based workshop that covers the topics of transportation, safety, health, education, immigration, financial literacy, renter’s education, home orientation, and job readiness. In order to expand the accessibility of these workshops and ensure everyone can participate, we developed a version … Continue reading

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Life Before I Was a Refugee

Recently, an organization called the World Wide Tribe produced a short video called, quite simply, “Life Before I Was a Refugee.” It’s an incredibly moving and powerful piece featuring interviews with Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees living in a camp in Greece. Please do yourself a favor and spend two minutes watching it (link below)! Each of the interviewees speaks in English, making it possible to connect even more immediately with these individuals who share about their beautiful cities before war destroyed them, the jobs they enjoyed, the college degrees they were pursuing, and the happiness of being together with family and neighbors. Life Before I Was a Refugee Media coverage makes it easy to forget that refugees are anything other than a mass of humanity living in poverty-stricken camps, with no past and no future. But it’s not true. Each refugee is an individual, a person, and they have … Continue reading

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Reflections from the other side:

Have you ever stopped to wonder what refugees thought America would be like? Many refugees and immigrants have heard the stereotypical stories about streets paved in gold and gleaming skyscrapers, but that only scratches the surface of what refugees imagined their new home might be like. In our recent Intensive Cultural Orientation classes, we took a few moments to ask refugees what they thought America would be like, and how those perceptions have changed now that they are here. We share a few of those insightful reflections here, noting where each individual came from and how long ago they arrived in the US. Culture and daily life: “We thought life might be easy in the U.S., but it’s been challenging. I’ve learned that life can be difficult wherever you go. I’ve learned that Americans also have difficulties, that they also have troubles. Yet, I’ve also learned that with support and … Continue reading

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Refugees at Work

MCC Refugee Services provides a rich variety of services to refugees, both those who are new arrivals and those who have lived in Minnesota for some time. One of our core services is employment counseling to help new refugees find their first job in the United States and learn the skills they need to thrive in the workplace. Our employment counselors shared this story of how a job placement led to a new friendship as well: Chantal and Renuka might seem an unlikely pair. Chantal is a young, single woman from Congo and Renuka is a Nepali single mom with a young daughter. They live in the same St. Paul apartment building, and both received employment assistance from MCC Refugee Services. Working with their employment counselors at Refugee Services, they both found jobs at the same company in the Southwest metro. Their job counselors realized that they lived in the same building, so … Continue reading

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Abdi’s Incredible Day

Nathan, one of our employment counselors, had a very typical day last month. After a morning spent working in the office, he took Abdi, a recently-arrived Somali refugee, to a job interview. On the drive home, Abdi began to tell Nathan about his day, which had been nothing short of extraordinary. At about 3 am, his wife Zainab knew that she was in active labor and needed to head to the hospital to deliver her first baby. Abdi called 911 for an ambulance to bring her to the hospital. He told the dispatcher: “My wife is having baby.” They asked him: “Is she having contractions?” With his limited English and the early morning excitement, he heard “construction” instead of “contractions”. Confused, he responded: “What? My wife is not a building! She does not work construction.” The dispatcher and Abdi continued their conversation for several minutes, trying to sort through the … Continue reading

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The Refugee, My Brother

We wanted to share with you this reflection recently written by our Volunteer and Outreach Specialist, Melody Ward. One day in the reception area of the Minnesota Church Center, where we have our office, I saw a man out of the corner of my eye who looked just like my brother. Now, I LOVE my brother; I had to do a double-take! He wasn’t my brother. He was one of our Former Soviet Union refugee arrivals talking with his case manager. At that moment a living truth came alive in me—this wasn’t my biological brother but this still was my brother! A refugee, whether from the Former Soviet Union, Burma, Somalia, Congo, Iraq, or Afghanistan, is our brother and sister. They are you and me speaking a different language, maybe wrapped in a different skin color, and they have come home to us through violence, terrifying displacement, and incredible bravery. … Continue reading

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Weaving a Tapestry of Welcome in Mankato

As we celebrate five years of working with refugees in Mankato, we wanted to give you a closer look at our cornerstone program: The Tapestry Project. To give you a firsthand look at Tapestry, we sat down with MCC Refugee Services staff member Nancy Altmann to talk about the program. The Tapestry Project began organically as staff from Lloyd Management (a large rental company), MCC Refugee Services, and the Mankato Police Department noticed that they were spotting some of the same issues in the community. They wanted to bring people together to discuss those topics in a productive way where each side could identify needs and they could work together to build solutions. The project has come a long way since those initial conversations, but public safety and tenant education remain core parts of each Tapestry session. What does a Tapestry session consist of? A Tapestry Project session consists of … Continue reading

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The Inside Scoop: Intensive Cultural Orientation Workshops

Our Intensive Community Orientation AmeriCorps member, Francesca Sifferlin, took a few moments to share about her experience working with refugees in our orientation classes this year. As I drive up to the classroom for the second day of our cultural orientation workshop, I can’t help but worry about attendance. Will students make it to class having only learned how to ride the bus the day before? Will those with longer commutes make their various transfers and connections? Will they be willing to brave the January weather in order to attend class? As I turn the corner, my worries immediately vanish and are replaced with a combination of amazement and excitement as I see all of the students lined up outside the classroom  thirty minutes early, and patiently waiting for me to arrive and class to begin. As we gather around the table and open our notebooks, I can’t help but … Continue reading

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Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Closer Look

Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have comprised an increasing portion of refugees resettling in the United States in recent years. The population in Minnesota is still small, but we could see more Congolese refugees in the coming years and we wanted to share a bit more information about the situation in DRC. Most refugees from the DRC were displaced during First and Second Congo Wars (1996–1997 and 1998–2003,) and the Kivu Conflicts in eastern DRC (2004–present). The DRC was deeply affected by the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 when millions of refugees from Rwanda fled into eastern DRC. Now, refugees from the DRC are dispersed in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and other neighboring countries. Because of decades of conflict and limited opportunities to integrate into host countries, resettlement is  one of few options for many Congolese refugees. Statistics show that sexual and gender-based violence have been very prevalent in … Continue reading

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Speak up for welcome!

Raise Your Hand and Your Voice Raise your hand if you’ve ever contacted one of your elected representatives.  What was it that inspired you to do it? If you haven’t, what’s held you back? As President Donald Trump to takes office, it is more important than ever for all of our elected officials to hear that their communities welcome refugees. “Refugee resettlement saves lives, encourages other countries to keep their doors open to people needing protection, and promotes regional stability and global security. We cannot turn our backs on the refugees we have pledged to welcome. Nor can we discriminate against individuals based on where they’re from or what religion they practice. Refugee resettlement must continue to be a cornerstone of U.S. global leadership. More than 65 million people have been persecuted and forced from their homes and are seeking safety. As a nation, we must uphold our values of … Continue reading

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