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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Introducing New Faces:

Several new staff members have joined our team at MCC Refugee Services in the last several months, so we wanted to take a moment to introduce you to a couple of them here! Nancy Altmann: Community Engagement Specialist, Mankato office What languages do you speak? English and Spanish What is your job with MCC? Primarily, I work on the Tapestry Project in Mankato. The goal of this program is to build bridges in the community by bringing together refugees, community connectors, and stake holders for conversation. I’ll also be working with local churches to help them find ways to support refugees in our community. What does that mean for you on a daily basis? I prepare for each coming week of the Tapestry Project. That means a lot of coordinating, reaching out to presenters, connecting with interpreters, making sure logistics are in place, and having interpreters reach out to refugee … Continue reading

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The Power of a Story: Refugee Speakers Bureau

There’s nothing quite as personal or powerful as hearing someone tell their own story. Through telling our stories – our successes and failures, our joys and fears, our adventures and heartbreak – we draw one another in and open up opportunities to learn about each other. MCC Refugee Services understood that the sharing of personal refugee stories could be a wonderful way for the broader community to learn who refugees are and what they have experienced in their journeys to Minnesota. Ten years ago, we founded the Refugee Speakers Bureau to train former refugees to tell their own stories. Since then, hundreds of people have had the opportunity to meet and listen to refugees tell their stories, through which they have learned about the experiences that refugees face from the refugees themselves. Jan McFall, a longtime MCC volunteer, has been instrumental in preparing former refugees to tell their own stories. … Continue reading

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Co-Sponsor Highlight: Macalester Plymouth Church

MCC Refugee Services enjoys the opportunity to partner with local congregations who serve as co-sponsors to help welcome some of the refugee families we work with. Co-sponsors provide invaluable support and connections for new refugee families, and group members have the privilege of befriending new arrivals and learning first hand from their life experiences. One recent co-sponsor, Macalester Plymouth Church kept a detailed log of their adventures with the family and we are excited to share a few excerpts with you to give you a first hand taste of what co-sponsorship is like in volunteers’ own words! “The news about the vast numbers of people on the move, displaced or in camps, is overwhelming to the point of paralyzing. Just the sheer level of human suffering is unimaginable.  It feels like there is nothing I can do. Helping with this project is a huge benefit.  It is a drop in … Continue reading

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Crossing the Language Barrier

Every single staff person and volunteer with Refugee Services confronts the language barrier every day. We know that dealing with language barriers is one of the biggest apprehensions that new volunteers and churches have, and it can be hard to imagine how you will communicate without a shared language. Here, we share with you some of the strategies that we employ on a daily basis. Use the non-verbals: Non-verbal communication is such a huge part of how everyone communicates on a daily basis, whether or not we’re using a shared spoken language. A kind expression and welcoming smile go a long way in showing someone that we care about them and are willing to be patient. Similarly, expressions and body language can provide  clues that someone might be feeling overwhelmed, confused, or discouraged about a challenge or decision they are facing. These cues are  important to recognize as we help … Continue reading

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First Things First: What do refugees really need?

If you were tasked with the responsibility of welcoming a new refugee family to Minnesota, would you know where to start? Setting up a household and introducing a family to their new home is a large and complex process, so we thought it might be interesting to give you a peek into some of the truly first needs of a new family. Housing: As soon as we find out about a new family that will be arriving, we start searching for an affordable apartment, preferably close to other members of the family’s community. We often have about 2 weeks to locate, secure, and furnish an apartment. That means things like preparing leases, getting keys, and completing initial inspections. The affordable housing market in the Twin Cities is tight, so building relationships with landlord partners is key. Furnishings: We don’t rent furnished apartments and most new families arrive with just a … Continue reading

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