Soon I will be interviewing a lady who volunteers as a mentor to a refugee family. Today I wish to give you some background of the area and organization she volunteers with. Lutheran Social Services Refugee and Immigration Services serves the refugee community in the Sioux Falls area. Last year LSS Refugee and Immigration Services of Sioux Falls resettled 485 individuals. These individuals came from all over the world, the largest group being Bhutanese from Nepal. If you would like to find out more about Bhutanese refugees and their plights please look at these sites UNHCR and The Story of the Forgotten People. Sioux Falls also welcomed Congolese, Iraqi, Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Eritrea refugees last year. LSS Refugee and Immigration Services helps find housing, set up transportation, provide bus passes, and teach English as a second language to the refugees. Once the adults have completed classes in English and acclimate to their lives in the new region they are assisted in finding jobs. The children go to school at the Family Immersion Center in Sioux Falls and learn English as well as how to act in a school setting. They are slowly integrated into public school classrooms throughout Sioux Falls. They may begin with only an hour a day at a "regular school". Once they have learned sufficient English they begin attending the schools in their area. There are many ways that individuals can help. While the children are in school they need school supplies, and proper clothing. A couple times a year the Center looks for volunteers to shuttle families to their children's school conferences. LSS Refugee and Immigration Services tries to pair individuals with a mentor family, so that the transition to a new life is made easier. They collect donated clothing, and household items for refugee families and provide fundraisers. May 4, 2013 the Sioux Falls location will be hosting it's annual Taste of Cultures Dinner and Silent Auction, all proceeds from this event go to providing basic necessities for refugee families new to the Sioux Falls area. Lutheran Social Services offers refugee services in many states. You can contact the one in your area to see if you can mentor, donate household goods or clothing or to be apart of their upcoming events.
On Saturday I drove to the Alif Institute in Atlanta to volunteer for their annual Arab Festival, which will be held April 13-14. The building is spacious, with rooms for lectures, concerts and multimedia events. They have classrooms for the children and adults to learn Arabic, calligraphy, music, cooking and other enriching courses. Take a look at Alif Institute and see for yourself all it has to offer. I was warmly welcomed and quickly found the perfect niche for me – working in the room with the art exhibition. I can’t wait to see what the artists bring. I’ll also be reserving any number of Arabic sweets to share with friends and family. If by chance there happens to be other tasty tidbits I’ll have no will power at all. So here’s to art, music, good food, fun and continuing to learn and grow. If you have a story to share of where you volunteer or how you help refugees in your area, please share it with us.
This picture is a reminder that while many of us in the West live in brick and mortar homes, thousands of refugees currently live in tents, or out in the elements unprotected from harm. When you see this I hope you will realize that this is not a problem of the past. In 2011 1,934,520 refugees world wide sought asylum according to Wikipedia. Though the problem is large you can make a difference. One way to help is to become informed. Contact your governor's office to learn about the resettlement of refugees in your area. You might find an entire community of refugees in your own neighborhood. You can help by becoming a mentor or donating items for the refugees that come here. Many are forced to leave behind all they own and start afresh. Mentors help newcomers navigate grocery stores and teach them to cook with new ingredients, use a washer and dryer or catch a city bus. You can lend your time to teach a person new to your area about life in your city. If you have ever mentored a refugee family, please share your experience with us.
I had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed by Cyrus Webb on Conversations LIVE. I hope you will take this opportunity to listen to my interview. Leave your comments below on how you make a difference in your community.