Tamrat arrived in the US after fleeing persecution in Ethiopia in December of 2012. With a background in teaching and an innate desire to contribute, Tamrat was ready and willing to learn, volunteer and work anywhere that would take him. He attended cultural orientation classes, English classes, and started driving lessons soon after arrival. In his free time he often came to the office asking if there was anything he could do to help, just to keep his mind busy.
His Employment Specialist, Nikeshia Womack, is also new to our program. She joined during the high season this fall and Tamrat is one of the first cases she took on as her own. Together they applied for job after job and spent hours practicing for interview questions and taking online job application questionnaires. They finally got a bite when a notoriously difficult to break into large American company called back for an interview. Yesterday they studied together in our conference room, practicing everything from how do you know when it’s okay to sit down at an interview to what to say when they ask you about your weaknesses or your experiences with conflict. Today Tamrat arrived at our office early, dressed sharply in a dark suit, feeling anxious and unsure. Our staff all wished him good luck but reminded him that it often takes many interviews in the US before finally getting a job. As he left, we worried about how deflated he would feel when he saw that despite all his hard work, he was just one of many vying for the same entry level position.
A couple of hours later, Nikeshia and Tamrat returned with wide smiles on their faces. He was hired on the spot! Our staff all gathered to shake his hand and offer high fives. He thanked us and his newly minted employment specialist and looked embarrassed and proud all at once. Though his first job will not utilize his advanced degrees and background in teaching, Tamrat is thrilled to be given the opportunity to work, the chance to contribute and to support himself. The right to work is one that has been stripped from most refugees in their paths to freedom. Now employed, Tamrat will have a focus to his days and will be able to take over his household expenses. With careful spending, he’ll try to save a bit so that when his wife joins him later she will have a stable home to arrive in.
Though the CWS Employment team places over 100 refugees in jobs each year – the sense of celebration never fades. Every placement is a triumphant first step down a long road to a new life. We are so proud of Tamrat and of all of our other clients putting themselves out their every day to get a job – any job – and who work hard to keep it.
Since opening our doors in 2009, CWS Greensboro has welcomed 678 refugees on 301 cases! During that time we’ve been blessed to observe incredible progress as hundreds of new comers learn English, start jobs, grow families and learn new skills. The families that have joined our community in the past three years have enriched the lives of our staff and our city with their talents, determination, perspective and grace. Welcoming all these families of course takes plenty of time, compassion, humor, support — and a whole lot of supplies.
Yesterday, in partnership with Whole Foods of Friendly Center, we came a long way toward making that process just a little easier. With your support through shopping during Whole Foods’ 5% Day, we raised enough money to buy 100 pillows, 100 sheet sets, 100 towels and enough cleaning supplies, trash bins, shower curtains, and toiletries to stock 50 homes for new arrivals with essentials. Not too shabby for a rainy week day in the middle of January!
In 2013, CWS expects to receive around 250 newly arrived refugees who will mostly come with little more than a small bag on their backs. We will set up approximately 60 new homes this year, stocking each with everything from beds and tables and couches to shower curtains, cooking oil and sponges.
We want to say THANK YOU to everyone who came out yesterday to support us and to everyone who has donated their time and supplies over the years as well as to Whole Foods for their continued support of our programs. If you’d like to stay involved, please consider helping us reach our housing goals. Though we have some of our supplies covered, we are still raising money for bigger ticket items like warm blankets, vacuum cleaners, rice cookers, car seats and the like with $4,500 left to raise. We can also use your time (volunteers for household set up are in high demand and short supply!) as well as your gently used home items such as dishes, silver wear, working vacuum cleaners, pots and pans in good condition, professionally dry cleaned or new blankets, and furniture items. Teams can help put together cleaning kits or organize supplies as well. Give us a call at 336-617-0381 or email email@example.com.
Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to become better acquainted with one of our clients – Birendra Chhetri. Birendra arrived in the US a year ago this month, and this fall he had just begun interpreting for us in the Cultural Orientation classroom when he agreed at the last minute to accompany me to a speaking engagement at UNC-G. Birendra spoke so eloquently and powerfully in that class that I returned to my office that day beaming with pride at his accomplishment. Speaking in his second language to a classroom of his peers about a deeply personal experience was so brave and inspiring on its own, but it was his words that really moved me.
When I was a young boy I remember my father calling me near his piles of old books and papers and handing me a note book. I was curious and a bit more anxious of the “big” responsibility that was going to be passed onto me. Handing over a thick tome on facts about Bhutan he said “this is for your reference to write down the facts and exciting things about Bhutan.” As if on a big mission, I started exploring the colorful pictures with captions trying to jot down something that was worth writing on the first page of the immaculate paper. From that day onward I came to know Bhutan as a tiny little Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between India and China. A beautiful country that passed on the legacy of divinity and witnessed four different kings who then ruled Bhutan (we now have the fifth king). Portraits of people from various walks of life were seen smiling and enjoying the beauty of the nature and their existence in the very land of the thunder dragon. I used to be lost for hours looking at the majestic palace, from the priceless throne of gold and the celebration of different festivals to the artifacts and the glorious panoramic view of the Himalayas. If such a beauty is my country, why was I not there? Why was I in Nepal, a country not even bordering on my home? Why was I not part of the smile that was replicated among all those faces? Why was I a refugee and not among the hundreds and thousands of people still living there?
What is it to be a refugee? Refugee for ordinary people often means down-trodden, poor and hungry with tattered clothes living in world’s most pathetic life style, often terribly persecuted and humiliated, carrying no human value. If this is what they think it means, then they have given justice to the definition.
First and foremost you have nothing of your own. You don’t own a house, neither do you own a single inch of land to call it yours. You don’t have access to different facilities and benefits and you can’t travel or work legally. Your moves are being watched and you have no freedom at all. We, like many of our refugee brothers and sisters, had to leave our closest relatives and house in Bhutan and escape at midnight because of the raising insecurity and fear of being the victim of random persecution by the Bhutan army. The houses were burnt, women were raped, people were imprisoned for no reason, they were tortured and killed. The tragedy of leaving all of your closest relatives, the feeling of brokenness when you leave your house where you were born is simply heart breaking. Those who died bypassed the pain but those who survived had no option but to live in constant fear. ”The leaving behind” – the violent and in-secured life and coming to Nepal was just a temporary escape. Thousands of people lived in constant psychological fear because of the trauma. Those who escaped the brutal torture of the army carried passive fear that never left their minds. Yes, we escaped the physical persecution but the emotional and the psychological persecution has been passed down the lineage by friends, family members, relatives and near ones that you can not escape but humbly accept the fact that you are a refugee and have nothing of your own.
The so called GNH (Gross National Happiness) that Bhutan proudly talked about in the UN and acts as a leading example of providing happiness to each and every people of its land is but a failure when they knowingly try to leave out thousands of Bhutanese refugees whose voice have never been heard or are not provided justice for what they went through. One of the Dutch writer and journalists writes “According to the international morale of refugees, people should repatriate but that has obviously proven to be an impossible dream.” The sixteen bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan could never come to fruition. There was no option for the helpless refugees but to opt for the resettlement to the third countries like USA, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark and UK. It is rather safer to move to the countries where their law of the land can at least allow you to live with dignity, work with a permit and protect you without any differentiation and open door for being a citizen of the hosting country. It is a fact that adjustment to a totally different culture is always a problem for refugees, especially the old ones with regard to the food habits, language and culture. People have committed suicides in camps and there are cases where they have ended their lives in the resettled areas too. Yes it is true that the pain and separation from your homeland is incomprehensible. Its also true that we continue to carry the marks of violence and injustices done to us in our own Sangri-La. Above all being tagged as a refugee is the worst part of it when your friends and colleagues unknowingly try to make a difference between you and them, and you know that they are doing it.
But I reflect at my own life in a little different way. People comment that refugees have no identity but for me “refugee” itself is an identity. I don’t hide the fact that I was once part of the unethical ethnic cleansing of the Nepali speaking Bhutanese from Southern Bhutan. Bhutan may not accept me but the world has known me as a “Bhutanese Refugee.” Somewhere underneath the lines of what people term my status, I continue to be a refugee from Bhutan. That is where my heart is and where I belong. I have started to accept that the pains and persecutions as a refugee have made me more humane to people who are victimized in the corners of the world. A journalist might meticulously describe the pathetic life of a refugee with the power of his words, but unless he feels what thousands of refugees have gone through, it still remains shallow and ineffective. I found Christ after being a refugee, which I don’t think I would have if I was in Bhutan. As a refugee, I explored the beauty of different cultures and I don’t think I would have had a broader sense of the intricacies of politics living in one corner of Bhutan. I came to know what a refugee is to be like or what emotional torture would mean. Being a refugee I have met hundreds of friends, teachers and well wishers who have changed my entire being. As a refugee I know what life means to me. I have come to know that the world not only has ruthless dictators but thousands of good souls who wants to make this world a better and a just place to live in.
We might have lost many things but the government of Bhutan could not succeed in taking our hope. It’s that hope that has continued to grow in us and have given us new life — If not a good present, surely a big hope for a better tomorrow. I have, along with thousands of refugees, risen above the challenges. Unless you know the meaning of darkness you may not be able to know the need of light. Similarly we have risen from the shards of nothingness and got a new life. A life with challenging experiences that added to its beauty with various ups and downs. We were able to live as refugees for years in the camps and today those experiences make us stand tall in front of the petty problems that we may face in life. We have shown the world that the houses that once turned into ashes and the life that was once shattered have been rebuilt with a solid foundation of hope. We might not even be allowed to be in the country where we were born, but we have brought our culture, our language, our ethnicity along with us and we are proud to pass it down to our generations. We have abilities and experiences, we have talents and skills, we have budding singers, writers and great thinkers. All we need is support. Some one who can be by our side to say “I am there for you.” That is why I am out of my childhood oblivion of ”why me?” to a new understanding of “thank God it was me!”
Birendra arrived in the US in January 2012 through the US Department of State Refugee Resettlement Program. He was welcomed by CWS and by the Greensboro community. He served as an interpreter giving back to his community in CWS’ Cultural Orientation Classes until this month when he started as a full time student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. We want to offer our most sincere thanks to him for sharing his story and allowing us to share it with you.
My name is Jill Burnette. I am a student studying social work at N.C. State University, and I am finishing up a semester long internship at Church World Service. It is hard to believe that I have been here in this office, with these people, serving these clients for almost four months; the time has passed quickly. I have learned more than I ever could have hoped to learn. From the exceptional leadership and the thorough training I received from my supervisor, to the experience I gained from face time with clients, to the organizational skills I acquired from the filing and data entry I conducted, each and every minute of my time here at Church World Service has helped teach me and mold me into a more well equipped professional. I can say with confidence that I will be a better social worker because of my time here; I have learned so much.
One of my favorite and most rewarding tasks as an intern under Kelly Dent in the Citizenship Program has been the tutoring group I have had the privilege to facilitate. I meet with a group of citizenship students three times a week. These individuals are preparing to take their citizenship exam in the near future. We spend three hours together each week reviewing material that could potentially appear on the naturalization exam. The majority of our effort goes into reading and writing practice, as this is the most difficult part of the test for a large portion of the clients we serve.
I have been given the opportunity to work with the same group of students over the course of my time as an intern. I have watched them grow in competence and confidence as they work hard practicing their English skills in the classroom and individually at home. Experiencing their desire to learn, to grow and to maintain self sufficiency has taught me about true strength and resilience. Experiencing the incredible work ethic that they each demonstrate and the collective positive attitude of the group has taught me about true dedication and has renewed my perspective. A few of the students in my tutoring group have already passed their exam, and are enjoying life as newly naturalized United States citizens! Several of my remaining students have test dates approaching in the coming weeks. I am certain that each of these students have improved their English. They have each grown in their knowledge of United States civics. I am confident that they all have the tools necessary to become citizens of the United States and I cannot wait to see how far they go!
Sekou passes his Citizenship Exam!
Sekou and his four children resettled to the United States in 2004 from Liberia. Sekou accounts that he and his family enjoy living in Greensboro. All of his children attend school, and are doing well with hopes of higher education one day.
After failing to pass the written portion of the Citizenship Exam on his first try, Sekou succeeded in passing his exam on Monday, December 3rd. After a full year of diligent studying and regular tutoring at Church World Service, his dedication and incredible patience has paid off. Sekou participated in an Oath Ceremony on December 6th, where he officially met his goal and dream of becoming a citizen of the United States.
Sekou is very grateful for all of the help he has received from Church World Service. He is happy to have had the opportunity to attend citizenship classes as well as individual tutoring. Sekou could not be more excited! He worked incessantly for months to gain his citizenship, and he is eager to begin reaping the benefits of his new status.
Biba Passes her citizenship exam!
Biba and her family moved all the way from Niger, to the United States in 1999, and have lived in Greensboro ever since. Biba heard about Church World Service from a friend in her English class at GTCC. Biba attended citizenship classes and participated in a tutoring group up until the time of her test date.
She passed her citizenship exam on November 7th and officially became a citizen of the United States on November 15th, when she participated in an Oath Ceremony at the USCIS office in Charlotte, NC. Biba’s husband became a citizen a few years ago. They now both share the same status as citizens of the United States. They could not be more excited, and even proudly display an American flag outside of their home in Greenboro.
Biba is so thankful to all of the people at Church World Service who have helped her along the way. In regards to citizenship classes and tutoring she says, “I like how they respect me and I like how it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand. They helped me with a lot. Thank you so much!” Biba plans to continue her education in hopes of earning her GED and one day entering the workforce as a highly educated citizen of the United States.
Elmofaddal passes his Citizenship Exam!
Elmofaddal came to Church World Service just a few months before his Naturalization interview. He attended tutoring at CWS three times per week up until the day of his citizenship exam in early December. Elmofaddal has demonstrated great dedication in his studies, as he spent many hours practicing at home as well as all of the time spent in his tutoring group. He has showed an unbelievable drive to meet his goal of gaining citizenship in the United States.
On December 3rd, Elmofaddal finally saw the fruits of all of his hard work come to pass. He passed his citizenship exam, and on Thursday, December 6th participated in an Oath Ceremony, where he officially became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Elmofaddal and his family are very excited about this new development and are enthusiastic about what this means for their family in the coming years. They are grateful for all of the help Elmofaddal has received from Church World Service, and plan to continue receiving services until everyone in the family becomes naturalized.