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Immigration Reform: Changing Women’s Lives in North Carolina Part I Communi-TEA

May 8, 2013

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On April 26th, more than 100 women leaders gathered from across the Region to hear the stories of “Ruth’s Journey: Building Communi-TEA.” This was a coming together of interfaith leaders with a discussion about the impact of immigration on women and their families.

Renee Chou, reporter/anchor for WRAL-TV, moderated the event, with key note speaker, Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, Bishop Suffragan-Elect, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

Flicka Bateman and Christine Wai’s story is one that shows how friendship can transcend age, culture, and other differences. Flicka had lived in the Chapel Hill area for over 30 years when a refugee family moved in across the street. Christine had grown up in a Thai refugee camp where persecutors had burned down her school three times, preventing her from learning and receiving an education.  Christine, a young teen raised in a Thai refugee camp, accepted all the mentoring Flicka offered.  Flicka not only tutored her in English, but gave her driving lessons (the description of which generated laughs from the speakers and audience), provided a part-time job as a dog-walker, and encouraged her to pursue a college education. Today, in her late-20’s, Christine has a degree in Chemistry and works for a research laboratory at UNC-CH.  These two are still growing together, as Flicka is studying the Karen language, that Christine Wai teaches at CHICLE, and they have visited Thai refugee camps together.

Vimala Rajendran, came to the United States with her new husband, 30 years ago. Three children later, she found herself in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. Although she was prevented from working under her spousal visa, which posed barriers to her leaving her abusive relationship, she utilized this time to study, get involved in media, and become an activist for international peace. Once separated from her husband, Vimala and her children had a glimpse of true poverty. To overcome this struggle, she spent all of her time cooking favorite family recipes for donations. These community dinners proved to be the foundation for Vimala’s Curryblossom Café, a restaurant which pays its employees a living wage and is committed to feeding its community regardless of their ability to pay.

I was touched by these stories of strength and friendship and how we are more resilient when we work together. When women from the United States welcome refugees and immigrants, not only do they get the chance to learn about a new culture, but they gain friends who will partner to change our community for the better.

We will be hosting our own Communi-TEA here in Triad Region in the coming months.  Stay tuned to find out more.

Photos courtesy of N.C. Council of Churches.

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Congregational Nurses Make an Impact

April 26, 2013

maureen (1280x873)The city of Greensboro has a long history of partnership between the city’s diverse communities of faith and the many organizations, service providers and individuals throughout the city seeking to create a positive impact in our community. CWS has been blessed by many such partnerships and this month we are celebrating the tremendous impact of the Congregational Nurses Program made possible through a partnership with Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and the Moses Cone Health Foundation.

In 2010, through the resilient advocacy of our friends at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, in particular the indomitable Rev. Virginia Herring, CWS was able to become the first host within the Congregational Nurses network to focus specifically on the refugee population. With Holy Trinity serving as the official partner, CWS has been tremendously blessed by the part time service of an amazing Congregational Nurse who works with our program 10hrs each week.

Though at the time, we were just thankful to have any one who could help guide us through the challenges of accessing the increasingly complex health care system, we didn’t know what we were getting when Maureen Flak was assigned to our program.

The daughter of Irish immigrants herself with several decades of experience as a Registered Nurse, Maureen and had lived and served in Cambodia, Japan and Thailand as well as here in the US. Her experience, however impressive, has taken a back seat however to the power of her personality. Maureen has shown tremendous compassion and dedication to her work with refugees here in Greensboro and she has backed that compassion with incredible gumption and tenacity. Maureen is not a woman who takes “no” as an answer. Not on the first try, or the second, or the third. Maureen has advocated on behalf of our client’s in their efforts to access appropriate health care in ways that have made doors open that would never have otherwise. She has truly made a lasting difference in the lives of so many.

And so, on behalf of all of our staff and all of our clients, we were thrilled to say “THANK YOU” to Maureen this month as we celebrated 3 years of service in with CWS. We have been so blessed by her spirit and expertise and can only hope for many more years with her by our side to come.

Boston to Greensboro: Being An America That Lives Up To Its Promise

April 24, 2013

When news broke about the tragic bombing in Boston last week, everyone in our office naturally thought of, and feared for, the people of Boston. Our next thoughts jumped however to the people of Greensboro – namely our clients, those new arrivals who have fled such violence in their home countries to seek refuge and safety here in the US. We worried about them all, but especially those from Iraq. Like the woman in this powerful article – This Is What It’s Like to Be a Muslim in Boston Right Now -  we too prayed there would be no way to link this tragedy with an entire race or religion or ethnicity. Truthfully, we prayed that the bombers would not be from the Middle East.

Since we began resettling refugees from Iraq, we have seen our clients face both subtle and maddeningly blatant discrimination. We have been asked politely by potential employers desperately in need of workers if we might just be willing to send applicants from another ethnicity. We have been told by others that folks are just not comfortable with “those types of people” on the work site. We have had clients face harassment in their apartment complexes, at their workplaces, and on the streets. We have felt angered, defeated and hugely disappointed in our fellow Americans at these times. And so on April 15th while we sent our thoughts and prayers to Boston, we saved some for us here in Greensboro.

We prayed for the true American spirit to prevail – the America that values people based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin…or the spelling of their name, or the way they choose to pray. We prayed for the America that prizes diversity and individuality and that vehemently protects our freedom of religion. We prayed that those few among us who truly believe that more than 1.6 billion people can be judged upon the actions of a few, do not draw judgement on the rest of us, who know better. We prayed for an America that will come back from this tragedy stronger and truer to our own ideals – for an America that is as good as its promise.

More than a decade ago, in the wake of 9/11 when the nation was in upheaval and people across the country were turning against one another, the popular TV Show “The West Wing” aired a special episode addressing this issue. While on lock down in the White House with a group of touring high school students studying for the SATs, a White House Staffer is asked by a student “Why do Muslims want to kill us?” He responds by scrawling across the a chalk board an analogy like those on the SATs:

Islamic Radicals : Islam         as           The KKK : _____________

The answer here is Christianity, and the KKK could just as easily be swapped out with any number of groups and individuals who have committed atrocities in the name of a religion that forbids such acts. From the terrorist and self-proclaimed Christian Fundamentalist who killed 77 people, mostly youth, is Oslow in 2011 to the funeral protesters screaming messages of hate at Westboro Baptist, the actions of these people no more define the world’s more than 2 billion Christians, than the actions of these two brothers in Boston define the followers of Islam.

We know that the communities of Greensboro are made up of thousands of wonderful people who value and respect one another across all lines of race and faith. We have seen their kindness and generosity unfold in so many incredible ways over the years and we know that it is their American spirit that will ultimately carry our city forward. We hope that in the days and weeks and months ahead, those of us who would not judge one person on the actions of another, take a moment to make our voices louder than the few among us who would lash out at a new neighbor because when they call their mothers to tell them they’re safe after a bombing, they do it in Arabic.

FREE CITIZENSHIP CLINIC April 20th & June 1st

April 18, 2013

CWS Greensboro will be hosting two Free Group Processing Clinics for individuals ready to apply for US Citizenship. For these special clinics, all legal fees for the staff attorney will be waived and for those that are eligible and bring all required documentation, your application will be filed immediately. Put your tax return to good use and take a step forward on your path to citizenship!  CWS also offers free Citizenship Prep Classes throughout the year to help applicants prepare to pass their exam. The next semester starts April 29th so sign up today.

What you need to know

Who:

To file for citizenship you must currently be a Legal Permanent Resident (green card holder) with five years residency (4 years, 9 months for refugees) or three years if applying through a US Citizen spouse.

When & Where:

Saturday, April 20th from 10am – 2pm at CWS Greensboro 620 S. Elm St. Suite 315, Greensboro NC 27406

Saturday, June 1st at St. Mary’s Church, 812 Duke St. Greensboro, NC 27401 (time tbd)

What to bring:

1. Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)

2. Two Passport Size Photos of Yourself

3. Federal Filing Fee of $680 in a Cashiers Check of Money Order made out to “US Department of Homeland Security” OR if you believe that you may be eligible for a fee waiver based on low income, please bring your Medicaid Card, Food Stamps, or SSI for eligibility screening.

4. List of the following for the past 5 years: all addresses where you have lived; all places you have been employed or attended school with dates; and all out of country trips you have taken with dates of travel.

5. Copy of Criminal Record (if applicable).

Please note: Your application cannot be filed without the above documentation. 

Contact Information:

For questions please contact CWS Greensboro Citizenship Program at 336-676-4223. All applications will be filed on a first come first serve basis. 

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2012 Voter Turnout – a success!

March 26, 2013

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Last fall, CWS partnered with Reading Connections and Nonprofit Votes to conduct voter registration, pledge forms, and voter education  in Guilford County. Together we were able to get 164 people to fill out voter registration or pledge forms, learn how to vote and how to research who to vote for, and encouraged them to vote. Nonprofit Votes tracked all of the people on our list and discovered that 145 out of 164 people on our list either voted early or on Election Day. According to this data, people that signed a pledge or registered to vote through CWS voted at an astonishing 88% rate in 2012! That’s far above the 68% turnout rate for NC as a whole. CWS is excited to hear about these results and wants to thank Reading Connections and Nonprofit Votes for their partnership with this project!

 

 

Naana receives her passport!

March 26, 2013

After immigrants pass the citizenship test and take the Oath Ceremony they are able to trade in their Green Card for a United States passport. This is a very proud moment for most immigrants, as they have worked hard to escape struggles in their home country to obtain freedom in the US, built a life in a new and foreign country, learned a new language, saved $680 to pay for citizenship, studied for an passed the test, and now they are finally citizens of this country. Some immigrants have been stateless for years or even decades, and now they have an identity as a US citizen. It is an emotional and proud moment for many. CWS is celebrating with Naana today!

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Happy International Women’s Day

March 8, 2013

March 8th is a day when we take pause around the globe to recognize the struggles and celebrate the contributions of the world’s more than 3.4 billion women and girls. The tradition, with its roots in the struggles for worker’s rights and immigrant rights in the US, began on March 8th 1857 when garment workers in NYC staged a protest against inhumane working conditions. That first protest eventually led to the establishment of the first women’s labor union and over the years the day was often marked by similar protests led by young female immigrant workers who found, rather than the American dream, a life of exploitation in the factories of the US. 

Today, the international holiday remains a major focal point for organizing and recognition in the field of women’s rights in many parts of the world. In China, many women enjoy a half day work day today in honor of the holiday while in Brazil, more than 75,000 women will join one another on bridges around the country in solidarity. In our classroom today students from Eritrea told us that everything would be closed down in their country on such an important day.

In the United States however, the holiday has largely fallen from mainstream celebration, fighting Hallmark and Cadbury for public attention between Valentine’s Day and Easter. While women in the US may no longer be struggling with inhumane working conditions in factories on our own soil, it is important for us all to remember that though we’ve come a long way, we have a long way yet to go. The United States with all of its great forward strides in establishing basic rights and protections against discrimination, is still neither safe nor equitable for many women and girls.

The US today is a place where a sexual assault occurs every 2 minutes, and one in which 97% of rapists never spend a single day in jail. In 2013,150 years after Lincoln’s proclamation, we remain a nation of slavery, a place where a human being is trafficked every ten minutes into enslavement in our own country and where the FBI estimates that 293,000 children are at risk of being forced into the domestic sex trade, the majority of them girls. We are a nation where “equity” means that there are more female CEO’s than ever before, but that they are still paid on average 69% of what their male counterparts make. And if we return to the roots of today’s importance, we find that though safety standards and labor rights have been well established in our own country, workers in  US owned manufacturing companies overseas are barely further along than those first protesters in NY in 1857. Without a doubt, we are a nation that still very much needs an International Women’s Day.

Of course, today is not only a day to renew our efforts to fight discrimination and violence against women – it is also a day to recognize and rejoice in the incredible contributions of women past and present to our global community. Today in our Cultural Orientation class, newly arrived refugees and staff members, both men and women, shared the stories of the women that have been important to them in their lives. Not surprisingly, many remembered their mothers, their sisters and their wives as people who cared for them, pushed them forward, sacrificed for them and who remain with them in their hearts across great distances and time. 

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Women from Cultural Orientation Class and CWS Staff, Int’l Women’s Day March 8th 2013

 That classroom today was full of women who themselves are incredibly inspiring. They are women who have taken great risks for a better future for themselves and their families. They are women who have left behind their networks of support and who struggle with tremendous loss but push onward toward a brighter – and safer – future. Today, we at CWS give thanks to each of these women and to those that have inspired them to be who they are today. Your strength provides us strength and for that, we are in gratitude.

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