We Welcome Refugees to Georgia

I welcome refugee sign
I welcome refugee sign

On January 18, more than 200 volunteers from the Atlanta area gathered in the recreation hall of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain to pack more than 4,000 pounds of rice for refugees recently resettled by LSG.  As they mingled and waited for the rice packing to begin, many volunteers made signs, sharing their reasons for supporting refugees in Georgia and explaining why they choose to spend their day off from work or school as a day of service.

we welcome refugees because we can
we welcome refugees because we can
refugees welcome sign
refugees welcome sign

In a little over an hour, the hard-working volunteers – who ranged from groups of middle schoolers to individuals and families to groups of adults from local congregations - re-packaged the 25 and 50 pound bags of rice into smaller family-sized bags to be distributed to refugee families.

close up of rice for refugees
close up of rice for refugees

So, Why Rice? 

A bag of rice may seem like a strange welcome gift, but to those entering a brand new country with few resources and no immediate means to secure their family’s next meal, rice can be more than just food.  Rice, often a central part of the diets of many refugees, can bring a feeling of comfort and security in a tumultuous period of their life.  When refugees step off a plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to begin their new life in the United States, they’re often exhausted and overwhelmed from their journey and the long waiting period spent in a refugee camp.  They are unsure of what the next hours and days will bring.  Lutheran Services of Georgia provides them with food, shelter, clothing, cultural information, and other support in the first weeks in America, setting them up for to be self-sufficient and contributing members of their communities.

volunteers pack rice for refugees
volunteers pack rice for refugees

How We Help.

Lutheran Services of Georgia currently resettles over 600 refugee clients each year in the Atlanta and Savannah areas. In 2015, LSG resettled refugees from 14 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Central African Republic, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Indonesia, Iran, and the Ukraine.

packing rice for refugees
packing rice for refugees

LSG is there to secure housing for refugees, help refugees find their first job, and assist refugees in getting acclimated to life in Georgia. LSG supports refugees as they apply for important documents, including social security and Georgia ID cards, enrolls refugee children in school, and helps refugees select a primary care physician. LSG provides cultural orientation covering essential aspects of U.S. culture, including U.S. law, medical and educational systems, transportation, banking, and more. With help from organizations like LSG, more than 80 percent of newly arrived refugees in Georgia became completely self-sufficient within 180 days (source: CRSA).

group packs rice for refugees
group packs rice for refugees

In addition, LSG’s Savannah office provides additional support for refugee children through the Refugee School Impact Program, launched in spring of 2015. This program aims to improve the academic performance and social adjustment of refugee children. LSG’s School Liaison and a team of volunteers support families through tutoring, individualized case management, regular assessments, and meetings with parents, teachers, and school administration.

We need your help.

refugees sign live with love, not fear
refugees sign live with love, not fear

LSG relies on volunteers and donors to help the many families in need in Georgia.

Pastor Stephen Friedrich of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marietta, Ga. shared his reason for volunteering:

"Participating in the MLK Day of Service with LSG was a tangible way for me to put my Christian faith into action. We believe that God's kingdom is a place where all are fed and welcomed. Yesterday I was part of a group working with God for his kingdom right in our midst. For me, there is no greater joy!"

Refugee resettlement is only a portion of what we do and who we serve.We help find homes for children through Foster Care and Adoption.  We keep families together who at risk of separation through our Family Intervention Services.  LSG provides disaster relief when needed.  If you are interested in volunteering with Lutheran Service of Georgia, please contact us at 404-875-0201 or click here to get involved.


LSG Recruits Mentors and Mentees for Careers and Connections

IMG_1925 Lutheran Services of Georgia  is piloting Careers and Connections, a refugee career mentoring program with Higher, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s national employment initiative.

Careers and Connections aims to accomplish two goals: to support long-term career advancement for refugees and to deepen social connections between refugees and their communities. LSG is recruiting 30 mentors to match with 30 refugees. The mentor will act as a job coach, equipping the refugee to develop skills, identify long-term career goals, and create a plan to reach those goals.

Through mentoring relationships, refugees receive the opportunity to expand their social networks. Upon arrival in Georgia, refugees often face significant barriers to community integration. Language skills and difficulties navigating the institutions and customs of a new culture can leave refugees vulnerable to marginalization. This program connects refugees and long-term local residents who can work together to build a more cohesive and vibrant community.

LSG is currently recruiting professional mentors from various fields and refugee mentees for a new cohort to begin mid-May, 2015. For more information on Careers and Connections or to volunteer to become a mentor for a newly arrived refugee, contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or at 678-686-9619.

LSG's Award-Winning Students!

Congratulations to the students at LSG’s After-School Academic/Arts Program (ASAP) in Clarkston! Recently several students who attend LSG’s after-school program received awards from Clarkston High School: some made the Principle’s List with straight A grades; others made the Honor Roll. One student even won the Angora All-Star award, named for the high school’s mascot, that recognizes her as the top student in her class. Here are the award-winning students:

What is the after-school program? LSG’s After-School Academic/Arts Program (ASAP) increases the academic achievement of 50 Indian Creek Elementary students and 25 Clarkston High School students through a variety of fun, hands-on activities. After the normal school day ends, these youth, 70% of whom are refugee children and 30% of whom are at-risk students, stick around to write in journals, discuss literature in a book club, attend music and art classes, go on field trips, and participate in other activities. Professional teachers and volunteers staff the program and help students with their homework and activities.

In Memoriam Pritam Adhikari

Pritam Adhikari’s fascination with airplanes dated to his early childhood. As a six-year old living in a refugee camp in Nepal, where he and his family resided after being forced to leave Bhutan, Pritam played with paper airplanes and wondered how they flew through the air. When Lutheran Services of Georgia resettled him and his family in Atlanta in 2008, his love and knowledge of airplanes only increased. At Druid Hills High School, he learned about computers and discovered the field of aerospace engineering. After graduating from high school this brilliant student and determined young man began to attend Oglethorpe University, where he was studying to become an aerospace engineer and realize his childhood dream of spending a lifetime around airplanes.

Pritam never had the opportunity to fulfill this childhood dream. On January 5, 2013, he passed away at the age of 21, after battling cancer for two months in the Intensive Care Unit at Grady Hospital. Dozens of Bhutanese family and friends attended his funeral on January 6 to mourn the loss of someone whose future was so bright and so promising. LSG extends its condolences to the Adhikari family, as well as to the LSG staff who came to know Pritam and his family over the years.

Visit this website to read a reflective essay Pritam wrote about his life, including his love of airplanes: http://bhutan-atlanta.blogspot.co.il/2011/05/at-druid-hills-high-school-2011.html

A Week with the Volunteers from Denison

It takes nine hours to drive the 600 miles from Granville, Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia, but this week eleven students from Denison University made the journey anyway. As part of a week-long service trip focusing on the experiences of refugees, these students are volunteering in LSG’s Refugee Services department, as well as tutoring at McClendon Elementary School in Decatur. After a busy day of working at LSG and at the school, the volunteers spend the night at SafeHouse Outreach, an urban outreach center in Atlanta, where they cook their own meals and reflect on their work.

They treat this opportunity to volunteer as a privilege, though, not a burden. “I’m fortunate to be able to speak the language of welcome,” Rachel Jean-Louis, the trip co-leader, remarked. Since some of the students did not know much about the experiences of refugees before arriving in Atlanta, they spent time learning about the process of refugee resettlement during a brief orientation with LSG and also with Refugee Family Services. According to Sara Forbes, the other leader of the trip, learning about the experience of becoming a refugee has sparked several engaging conversations among the group about the similarities and differences between immigration and refugee resettlement.

The group has also had the opportunity to interact with the individuals, families, and children who have come to the United States as refugees. On Tuesday, the volunteers drove around Clarkston with Guru Chhetri, one of LSG’s case managers, and visited families from Bhutan and other countries. On Wednesday they tutored refugee men and women during LSG’s ESL training, helping them to practice their English skills and to fill out employment history cards. And again on Friday the volunteers will sort books in Clarkston to assist LSG in preparing for the MLK Day of Service. LSG thanks them for their contributions throughout the week and wishes them a safe return home!

See more photographs of the Denison crew on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/LSofGA

Refugee Stories: A Thanksgiving Reunion

In November of 2011, Aung Ko Ko, Lily Paw and their four children were resettled in Atlanta by LSG in partnership with the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta. With four young children, a fifth child on the way and father Aung's visual impairment from a land mine explosion, this family had its share of challenges. One member of Redeemer's Resettlement Team who happened to be an R.N., Carol Swisher, became especially close to this Karen Burmese family. Carol accompanied Lily to all her prenatal doctor visits and attended Lily during the labor and delivery of baby Rosemarie! Soon after the baby's birth, the family had the opportunity to move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to live with extended family. Though it was a sad farewell for the family and their Redeemer friends, all promised to keep in touch.

This Thanksgiving, Carol (pictured far left in photo below) visited Lily, Aung, and the children Juspina, Veronica, Samuel, Sunday and baby Rosemarie. It was a reunion full of joy and gratitude for friendships that last! Here’s Carol’s account of the visit: I visited Lily on Wednesday and she was standing outside the house awaiting me. We embraced and took her to Social Security office, but we had no medical records so couldn't accomplish the name change on baby Rosemarie’s Social Security Card (it was listed incorrectly on the card). My son was ill with the flu, so that day I only got to see the 2 youngest children, as the others were in school. On Saturday, my son, daughter-in-law and I returned and took a set of melmac dishes, cups, hats and gloves for all and of course the family favorite - apples and oranges! All the kids were home and we had a wonderful visit.

Yosef's New Ride

Last year Ann Greinke, a teacher at Faith Lutheran School, coordinated an effort to resettle a refugee family and then decided to donate something else to LSG besides her time and energy: her Saturn coupe. After receiving this generous donation, LSG presented a challenge to its refugee clients: the first person to secure a driver’s license would receive the car. Yosef, a refugee from Eritrea who spent much of his life in Kenya, responded to this challenge and began the process of obtaining his license. He studied the driver’s manual, got his permit, and eventually succeeded in passing the driving test. A former taxi driver in Kenya, Yosef already knew how to drive, but completing this process still required diligence and commitment. Although Yosef does not yet have a job, having this car makes him a more marketable candidate because he can access remote or rural work locations. In the meantime, Yosef is preoccupied with something else: the imminent arrival of his brother, sister-in-law, and their child to Atlanta. He is excited not only because he will be able to see them after many months of separation, but also because he will be able to pick them up in his new car and drive them around town!

Borderless Welcome, Boundless Love

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourself were suffering.”- Hebrews 13:1-3 City folks call this the middle of nowhere. No hotels, no grocery chains, no department stores, no Starbucks, nowhere to go. This is Lumpkin, a rural town in Stewart County, the poorest county in Georgia. Yet to immigrants in the southeastern United States, Lumpkin is infamous. It is the home of the Stewart County Detention Center, the largest non-citizen detention center in the nation.

I am a volunteer with Friends in Hope, an initiative of Lutheran Services of Georgia (LSG) that coordinates visits between volunteers and Stewart detainees. This is my first time in Lumpkin. Getting to Lumpkin requires a three-hour drive from Atlanta through increasingly sparse land and into a town with almost no cell phone service. On this Saturday morning, the other LSG volunteers and I begin our day at El Refugio, a hospitality house for the friends and families of detainees. As Lumpkin has nowhere else for visitors to stay, El Refugio is truly a place of refuge. Weekends are especially busy at El Refugio, and the quaint, yellow house is full of life and chatter. While we eat lunch with the El Refugio volunteers, a Spanish-speaking mother and her children enter and ask to use the restroom. The water has been cut off at Stewart, leaving visitors without a place to relieve themselves. The El Refugio volunteers greet them warmly in Spanish, offering food, water, a place to refresh themselves, and an invitation to stay the night if they need. I watch in awe as El Refugio embodies borderless welcome and hospitality. At 12:45, we gather our things--passports or driver’s licenses, water bottles, and books--and drive the mile to the center.

Outside the Stewart Detention Center, the barbed-wire fence stretches in both directions. It is a wall not unlike that along our nation’s border or along the West Bank. The fence separates the citizen from the non-citizen, the free person from the detainee. It is constructed from the arbitrary differences and categories we use to separate us from those we see as other. Languishing inside Stewart are male detainees awaiting immigration proceedings with nothing but dwindling hope and the occasional visitor to keep them from despair. Of these men, 98.8% will be deported, cut off from the families, jobs, freedoms, and futures that drew them to the United States.

Although federal and state bodies distinguish between detention centers and prisons, detainees rarely experience this difference. Stewart County Detention Center is under the management of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison company. In 2010, CCA boasted an annual revenue of $1.7 billion (ACLU Georgia). As a for-profit, private corporation, CCA has cut corners without any real reprimands from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Georgia Detention Watch has documented instances of human rights violations in both of the CCA-operated detention centers in Georgia: North Georgia Detention Center and Stewart County. Even more disturbing is that CCA profits from detaining masses of people for long periods of time without honoring ICE detention standards. to the detainees and their communities, Stewart Detention Center is a prison.

We crowd into the tiny waiting room and timidly approach the security guard. I am surprised to learn that the visitor paperwork requires all visitors to list their immigration status. As I think of those unable to visit their families because they cannot answer this question without fear, I write “U.S. Citizen”, a label I have done nothing to earn. I was simply born in the right place at the right time. We hand our paperwork and photo identification to the guard, and the waiting begins.

The Stewart waiting room is far too small for the families and friends who spend hours waiting to visit loved ones. Visitors chat with each other, newcomers asking questions about what to expect. Even though CCA is contractually obligated to tailor its policies to visitors, visitors are often turned away for the slightest of offenses. If your child misbehaves in the waiting room, the guard may turn you away. If you wear a shirt without sleeves or forget to put on closed-toed shoes, the guard may turn you away. The guard refuses one of my companions because her underwire bra set off the metal detector. We cannot find anywhere to sit together, so we go outside to wait on the benches.

Hours pass. At 4:00 pm, we still have not been admitted to visit our detainees. The guard informs us that visitation hours end at four, but they will allow us in. They can only guarantee us 15 minutes. They make us feel as if they are doing us a huge favor. Along with the other visitors, I walk through the metal detector, silently praying the guards will not turn me away. An argument breaks out as one gentleman who was not with our group, frustrated with the process, makes a sardonic remark about CCA and the injustice of for-profit prisons. The guards respond without passion; they’ve heard it before.

My friend and I store our belongings in a locker and are ushered through the door, down a whitewashed hallway, and into a small visitation room. All visits at Stewart, including legal visits, are non-contact. Visitors must speak with detainees through glass plates by talking on a phone. There are five phone booths in the room, lined up in a row. Panic sets in when we realize we do not know the face of the detainee, so we choose an unoccupied booth, pick up the phone and ask, “Are you Alberto?*” We have chosen correctly.

As we converse, I am aware that anyone in the room could be listening. There is no privacy. I press the phone to my ear and listen as the man on the other side of the glass speaks. Alberto is expressive. He tells his story through words, but also through the raising of an eyebrow, the flash of a dimpled smile, the twinkle or tear in his eye. Even when I pass the phone to my friend, I cannot look away from his mesmerizing face. His story is one of sorrow, of isolation, of loneliness, and ultimately of strength. He tells of his love of poetry, of his family, and of a God who will always be with him. He gives love through the glass, affirming us and encouraging us in our own lives outside the center.

On Sunday morning, the following day, I listen to Anton Flores speak about love. As co-founder of the Alterna Community, a Christian community that offers “accompaniment, advocacy, and hospitality to Latin American immigrants,” Flores knows that real love always scales walls and cross borders. I sit with the congregation of Oakhurst Presbyterian and remember the families, friends, volunteers, and detainees that live out boundless love every day.

In Hebrews 13:1-3, Paul urges the Hebrews to practice borderless welcome and boundless love in the midst of persecution. I believe Paul’s words have special relevance for us today as we examine how we treat the strangers among us. At the heart of the world’s major religious traditions is a call to welcome the stranger, no matter her race, color, creed, or immigration status. We live in a nation where private corporations earn a profit from detaining the stranger and cutting him off from freedom. We live in a nation where the “foreigner” is more likely to encounter hateful speech than welcoming arms. We live in a nation where immigrants who have not committed violent crime are kept for months under prisonlike conditions, allowed only one visit per week and often denied access to adequate legal representation. Where is our holy rage?

Behind the barbed-wire fence, Alberto remains a fully-formed, flesh-and-blood human being capable of doing what human beings are meant to do--giving and receiving love. The combined forces of xenophobia, intolerance, and U.S. immigration law cannot erase his humanity no matter how they try. The walls of Stewart cannot stand in the way of shared humanity and of love that refuses to stay within our man-made borders.

As a person of faith, I encourage communities of faith throughout the United States to educate themselves about immigration and stand alongside the foreigner. I encourage you to travel to detention centers, to meet the people too often demonized as “other,” as “less than,” as “nonhuman”, as “illegal”. I encourage you to stand against those who would turn the stranger into someone to be feared rather than an opportunity to show God’s borderless hospitality. But most of all, I encourage you to “keeping on loving one another” with an unceasing love that knows no boundaries.

*Name has been changed for his protection.

Abby Koning is the community outreach coordinator for the ELCA Southeastern Synod.

A Day in the Life with Guru (Part IV)

At 11 a.m., after we have visited two families and Guru has patiently answered all of my nosy questions, it is time for some food. There is only one Nepalese restaurant in Clarkston—and it happens to have Bhutanese owners—so we walk into “Kathmandu Kitchen & Grill,” named after the capital of Nepal, to eat our early lunch. As I can tell from the buffet line, Nepalese cuisine features dishes with a lot of rice and vegetables, as well as various meats. Curry is common, as is a dish called “dal-bhat-tarkari,” which Guru insists that I try. “Dal” is a stew that contains split lentils, tomatoes, onion, and a host of spices; it is a staple that those in Nepal sometimes eat twice daily. A somewhat cautious eater, I try to be as adventurous as possible, picking out some fiery-looking chicken to go with my rice, vegetable stir-fry, chick-pea stew, and naan.

I am rewarded for every risk that I take: the “dal” is thick and delicious; the chicken is tender and spicy, though not as spicy as it looks; the naan complements the stews perfectly. It is a memorable way to end my morning with Guru. When he drops me off at the Avondale train station a half-hour later, the skies have cleared, and I can stroll around outside for a few minutes before taking the train back to work. Not so for Guru: once I close the door, he’s off again, heading out to Clarkston to drive the rest of his clients to their health screenings.

Jeff Banks is the communications coordinator for LSG. If you have questions or comments, please contact him at jbanks@lsga.org.

A Day in the Life with Guru (Part III)

After Guru and I leave Rajesh’s townhouse, we drive over to Southern Place, the apartment complex where LSG houses many of its refugee clients. The townhouse of the family we are visiting next is similar to the one in which Rajesh lives, except that this one is made of brick.

We walk into the complex and knock at the door of the family’s apartment. After some audible fumbling with the lock, a Bhutanese man opens the door and welcomes us. Half-expecting to see another solitary person in his apartment, I am surprised to see a large family waiting inside the living room. The father invites me to sit on a couch, and Guru settles into a spot beside me. No one in this family speaks English, and while Guru can translate easily for me, I find myself unsure of what to say or whom to address.

But soon our conversation gets going, and before long, with Guru’s help, we are talking about Bhutan, farming, and modern technology. Damber Gurung was a farmer in Bhutan before he and his family had to flee to a refugee camp in Nepal in 1992. The eldest daughter, now 20, was two-months old when the family left Bhutan for Nepal. Damber’s other two daughters were born in the refugee camp, so none of the children remembers Bhutan. The family arrived in America in early September, not quite two weeks ago. Because they have come to Atlanta so recently, they are just beginning to adjust to the new conditions and way of life in the U.S. During an awkward pause in our conversation, unable to think of anything interesting to say, I resort to the easiest escape from silence: I ask what they think of Atlanta’s tall buildings. Damber says that they are unlike anything he has ever seen, and tells me that while his wife was afraid on the elevator ride to the 18th floor of the Woodruff Volunteer Center, where LSG’s office is located, he assures me that he rode without any fear. Soon we are wrapping up our discussion, with Guru telling Damber about food stamps and orientation at LSG. After a round of goodbyes, during which I try to pronounce “dhanyawad,” a way of saying “thank you” in Hindi that I learned from Guru, we walk out to the minivan.

Check out the blog next Thursday for the fourth and final installment of A Day in the Life.

Jeff Banks is the communications coordinator for LSG. Please contact him at jbanks@lsga.org with any questions or comments.

A Day in the Life with Guru (Part II)

Although Bhutanese refugees may experience some relief at being resettled to a new country such as the United States, where they can begin to build new lives, they often encounter considerable challenges in the first few months. Not able to speak the language, these newcomers do not easily find work. Once they find a job, a process that the case manager and others in LSG help them through, they have difficulty getting to it, especially if the job is in a poultry processing plant that is not easily accessible by public transportation. Since few of the refugees are able to drive, let alone afford a car, they ride in a van driven by a more experienced refugee. This carpooling can be efficient, but if the driver quits his job or moves to a different city, the new employees are temporarily stranded at home. When we arrive in Clarkston, Guru points to the different places that serve the refugee community: the health clinic; Georgia Piedmont Technical College, where the refugees receive English lessons; and the apartment complexes where many live. Soon afterward we drive up to the townhouse of our first host, a man who recently arrived from a refugee camp in Nepal.

Rajesh Rai opens the door and invites us in. He greets me by placing his hands together in front of his chest and saying “Namaste” with a slight bow—the traditional Nepalese greeting. Then we shake hands—an American addendum to the introduction. Walking through the doorway, I first notice the number of shoes and sandals lying at the foot of the stairs. These, Guru tells me, are donations from the clothing drives sponsored by LSG. To the left of the doorway is the kitchen, where a large rice-cooker is at work on the counter. Out in front of me I see a table pushed against a wall with several chairs next to it, as well as a couple of comfortable-looking couches. Rajesh invites us into this living room, and we plop down on the couches.

Having served as an English teacher in the Nepalese refugee camp, Rajesh understands and speaks some English. We begin to discuss his life in Atlanta, but our conversation eventually flows to his family and his background. For all the difficulties faced by refugees as they are uprooted from their homes, placed into temporary camps, and then transplanted into a new country, their stories are also filled with moments of joy. Rajesh recounts one of these moments. Two years ago, his wife, pregnant with their daughter, came to America, leaving Rajesh behind in the refugee camp. This summer Rajesh was finally granted permission to come to the United States, and on August 7 he moved in with his wife and two-year-old daughter, whom he had never seen. At first, he told me, his daughter was hesitant toward him, for, after all, he was a new presence in her life. But now, after having been with him for a month and a half, she crawls onto his lap without reservation.

Check back here next week for the third installment of A Day in the Life

Jeff Banks is the communications coordinator for Lutheran Services of Georgia. If you have questions or comments, please contact him at jbanks@lsga.org

"A Day in the Life" with Guru

It is 9 a.m. and rain falls steadily outside the Avondale train station in Decatur, where a group of commuters lingers under the roof of the station, hesitant to get wet so early in the morning. Some people, however, do not have the luxury of waiting around until the rain abates. For a refugee services case manager, the morning is already in full swing: rain or shine, refugee clients need to be driven to health screenings, English lessons, work interviews, and orientations. Guru, one of LSG’s Refugee Services case managers, has already been quite busy this morning. When he pulls into the train station in his minivan to pick me up a few minutes after nine, he has already shuttled several clients to a clinic near Clarkston.

Guru has graciously agreed to take an inexperienced and inquisitive intern along with him while he visits families in Clarkston. As we drive on Ponce de Leon Avenue toward our destination, Guru tells me a little bit about his own story and how it relates to other refugees’ experiences. Originally from Bhutan, Guru came to the United States in 2008, after having spent 17 years as a refugee, mostly in a refugee camp in Nepal. It is not uncommon for refugees from Bhutan to have spent as many as twenty years in a Nepalese refugee camp. In the early 1990s, the Lhotshampas, the Nepali-speaking ethnic group from the south of Bhutan, were expelled from the country. To grasp the reason for this expulsion, one must understand the relationships between Bhutan’s various ethnic groups.

The ethnic groups in Bhutan have different customs and languages. The Ngalops, from the west of Bhutan, are the dominant ethnic group in Bhutan, controlling the government and dictating the cultural norms. The Sharchops, from the east, are the other powerful ethnic group. Together these two groups account for 65% of the population. The Lhotshampas constitute the other 35% of the population. Originally from Nepal, the Lhotshampas were invited by the Bhutanese government in the late 19th century to farm the land in the country’s southern, uninhabited foothills. The Lhotshampas were different from the powerful Ngalops—they spoke a different language, wore different clothes, and practiced a different religion—and these differences caused tension between the groups. In the 1980s, the Ngalop-controlled government began to view the Lhotshampas as a threat to the uniformity of its culture and implemented a series of political measures designed to impose the Ngalop’s culture on the Bhutanese people. In 1989, for example, the government mandated that people wear traditional, northern dress in public or risk incurring a fine—a policy that forces the Lhotshampas in the south to change their customs of dress. Once the Lhotshampas protested this policy and others like it, the government went a step further and began to expel Lhotshampas from the country in the early 1990s. Because the Lhotshampas shared a language and other aspects of culture with Nepalese citizens, they settled in camps there.

Seven Bhutanese refugee camps were set up in eastern Nepal, and the refugee population in those camps grew from 80,000 in 1992 to 105,000 in 2007. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of January 31, 2012, only three of those seven original camps remain, in which 53,886 refugees live. The number of refugees and camps has declined because the inhabitants have been resettled permanently to other countries such as the United States, Australia, and Denmark. Finally moving from a refugee camp to a new country can be good news for someone who desires the security and comfort that were lacking in the camps. As Guru reminds me, though, many of these refugees have had to spend almost 20 years living in these camps, unable to find much work, reliant on the UNHCR for food, clothing, and shelter. For some, the relief at moving to a new country may be tempered by a sense of loss—of one’s home and of one’s time.

Websites consulted: http://www.unhcr.org; http://www.bhutaneserefugees.com

Check out the blog this following Thursday for the next section of A Day in the Life with Guru

Jeff Banks is the communications coordinator for LSG. If you have questions or comments, please contact him at jbanks@lsga.org.

URGENT: Advocacy Alert for Refugee Services

LSG provides a wide variety of direct services to both newly arrived and established refugee clients, supported by federal funding administered through Georgia's Department of Human Services (DHS). With this funding LSG specifically provides employment training and job placement as well as assistance in addressing medical concerns and home management support designed to help refugees achieve self-sufficiency as soon as possible.

The contract year for these services began on October 1. To our dismay, we have been informed by officials of Georgia's DHS that they are under no obligation to pay for any services related to these federally funded programs until the contracts are signed. This left us with no option but to suspend these services to our clients since we have no idea if or when the contracts will be signed.

Today, LSG laid off eight Refugee Services staff members and stopped employment training, job placement and social adjustment services to our refugee clients. The suspension, or possible loss, of this federal funding, already distributed and being held by the state, will be strongly felt not only by the refugee population but also by every Georgia resident.

The entire refugee services community hopes for prompt resolution of the barriers that stand between us and delivery of these critical services.  You can help relieve this situation by contacting DHS Commissioner Clyde Reese at 404-463-3390 or creese@dhr.state.ga.us and Governor Nathan Deal at 404-656-1776 or click here. Ask them to sign the refugee services contracts and release the funding held by the state to provide these vital services to the refugee population. For suggestions on how to communicate your concerns, please click here.  And please forward this information to your network so that we can demonstrate that this issue has broad support from our community: friends, family, coworkers, congregation members, etc. Thank you for your support during this critical time.


Once you have contacted Governor Deal or Commissioner Reese, please let us know what response you receive, or if you have additional questions, by contacting J.D. McCrary, director of Refugee Services, at jmccrary@lsga.org or 678-686-9643.

From "Doughnut Dollie" to Refugee Advocate - LSG Says Goodbye to 30-Year Staff Member, Kay Trendell

Today marks the beginning of a new journey for Refugee Services Director Kay Trendell, who will be retiring from Lutheran Services of Georgia after 30 years of service. To honor her immeasurable contributions to the agency, we look back on the road that led Kay to LSG – a road that will continue to lead her to new experiences and adventures in the years to come. In her senior year at the University of Arkansas, Kay Trendell made a decision that would send her on path of service that continues to today. She heard about a Red Cross called Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas, and in 1967, she began her first tour of duty inVietnam.  While working as a “Doughnut Dollie,” Kay saw first hand in the streets of Saigon the plight of refugees as the Vietnamese who had fled to the city for safety tried to scratch out a living on the sidewalks of the city.

After two tours of duty in Vietnam, Kay decided to take a break and travel to Europe. She’d had enough of aircraft, so she booked a ticket on a freighter, which is where she met a young merchant seaman named Harry Trendell.  Seven months later they were married and came to Atlanta, where Kay accepted a position with the YWCA.

But Kay’s experience in Vietnam continued to call her, and in 1980 she volunteered to help a local agency resettle refugees.  Then she heard about a new agency that was looking for staff for its refugee resettlement program, and in 1982, Kay joined Lutheran Ministries of Georgia.  For the next 16 years, Kay worked in refugee employment, and in 1998 was named Director of Refugee Services, the position she holds today with Lutheran Services of Georgia.

Working with refugees brought Kay’s life full circle, from first encountering those displaced by the Vietnam War in their home country, to then helping them to rebuild their lives here in Atlanta.  She has heard many stories of incredible suffering, and marveled at the strength of the human spirit that helps them conquer it and move ahead.  She has seen the sacrifices parents made to come here for the sake of their children, and then rejoiced as the children flourished. She has experienced moments of grace with refugees who barely had any food in the house, but would never let a guest go without a bite to eat.

Kay is bidding LSG farewell today, but her legacy will continue on through the more than 16,000 refugees whose lives were changed because of her decision to go to Vietnam to serve her country.  Kay and Harry, we wish you the best in retirement!