Friends General Conference

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Refugee Resettlement Update September 2016

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“It takes a village,” and there is a new one in Chester County!

We refer to the West Chester Area Refugee Resettlement Project. This was but an idea in October 2015, and by the end of the year over a dozen faith communities and individuals had come together to commit to sponsoring the placement of a refugee family in this area and to doing what was necessary to ensure its transition to a successful American life. Members of Birmingham, West Chester, Willistown, and Wilmington Monthly Meetings form an essential part of this “village”.

Initially there were monthly meetings to educate ourselves about refugees, and to assess the pools of talent and contacts that we had available to address the needs of refugees. We learned that the term ‘refugee’ in the American context refers only to people that have been in official U.N. refugee camps for a lengthy period, who have been vetted extensively, and who would be brought to the U.S. by one of several U.S. approved international agencies.

By early 2016 we were working with one of these, Church World Services, based in Lancaster. We had collected over $15,000 toward staking the economic needs of the project, and had active subcommittees working on locating appropriate affordable housing, employment possibilities for adults that probably would lack both English and schooling, collecting household items anticipated to be needed, and learning what we could of educational and medical bureaucracies that we would be helping the family to navigate. Then in mid-summer we learned of “our family”—about 3 weeks before they arrived!

They are 7: two parents and 5 children ranging in age from 9 to 20. They fled violence in one of the central African countries about 1998, and most recently have been in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Two family members have some secondary education, the others, elementary schooling. They speak Kbembe, Swahili and (in one case) French.

As of September 12, 2016, all children were attending school and the father had a full time job! Thanks to the “village” some 40 people have been tutoring, driving to and from needed appointments, teaching the ways of American shopping and dress, and otherwise enabling the beginning of a successful transition.

Family members’ English language skills are rapidly improving and they have forged cordial relationships with a number of neighbors and friendships with support team and other community members. The children are beginning to make connections with some of their classmates.

Challenges continue. The government refugee subsidy lasts but 6 months. The father’s job is minimum wage and he must walk to work. The mother continues to seek work, but even when there are two wages coming in the family budget will be very fragile. And, the children are coping with learning biology and algebra without yet speaking the language of the teacher and the text book.

Everyone that has participated in this project feels blessed to have the opportunity to be a small part of it. Won’t you consider joining them? More people are needed to be “homework helpers,” and to participate in transportation provision. Employment leads for the mother are still being sought. If you can help please contact Birmingham Friends Meeting at Most needs are in the greater West Chester area.

It takes a village—come, join it!!

Arlene Rengert, WCARRP public relations co-chair

Susan Brodesser, WCARRP coordinator