"Laws Aren't Perfect" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 4

For two weeks, Honduran-born U.S. immigration attorney Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series. Click to read parts one, two, and three.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia

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When people tell me that unaccompanied children broke the law and, as such, should not be shown mercy, I tell them that laws aren’t perfect and they don’t always reflect current societal realities. There are very few forms of immigration relief available for these minors. One of them is asylum. To succeed in an asylum claim, a person must show a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected ground such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (an ever-changing concept that is applied differently depending on the justice circuit where the case is being heard). The person must demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin, or that they are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country. This seems like a straightforward concept, but that could not be further from the truth. I could write a dissertation on the complexity of American asylum law, but suffice it to say, our current asylum policy was not drafted to deal with the kind of generalized violence that now reigns in Honduras. To quote the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Delgado Ortiz v. Holder, “Asylum is not available to victims of indiscriminate violence, unless they are singled out on account of a protected ground.” So what can you do when your life is constantly in danger for any reason, or no reason at all?

The limited availability of asylum is reflected in the fact that in 2013, only 3.9 percent of the Honduran asylum claims that came before U.S. Immigration Courts were granted. Seems like an awfully small percentage given that it is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Even when you present a prima facie case in the U.S. legal system, it is not guaranteed that the law will be applied properly. For example, my brother, an attorney working closely with my mother, sought asylum in the U.S. after our mother was murdered. He presented evidence of the murder and of the fact that, since our mother’s death, he had been followed and harassed on multiple occasions. He also presented documentation from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights requesting that the Honduran government investigate the murder and provide protection to my brother. He presented the Honduran government’s response that it was unwilling and unable to provide that protection. He presented affidavits from prosecutors, judges, security experts, and fellow attorneys testifying that he would surely suffer harm if he remained in Honduras. He asked the U.S. Military Attaché assigned to Honduras to testify to the violent living conditions in Honduras. Finally, he presented evidence that, in 2013 alone, 53 attorneys had been murdered in Honduras. His case was denied because, among other reasons, “[he] had failed to show that any future harm [he] feared is on account of one of the protected characteristics.” If an educated adult, with an objective fear of death, hundreds of pages of evidence, and adequate legal counsel was unable to receive this form of relief, how do you think an unaccompanied child will fare in the U.S. legal system?

For these reasons, I beg you not to turn a blind eye to what is happening at the border with these children. I don’t know exactly how to solve the crisis in Honduras or how to reform immigration laws to ensure protection of these children while slowing the influx of arrivals. I have some ideas, but that is a conversation for another day. For now, I know that we, as Christians, are responsible for showing mercy to these young kids who have already seen more tragedy than most people ever will in their entire lives. There are many ways to help, from volunteering to foster an unaccompanied child to writing a letter to your Senator about the issue. Whatever you do, don’t remain silent.

If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

"Why You Should Care" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 3

For two weeks, U.S. immigration attorney and Honduran native Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series. Click to read part one and part two.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.

Photo Credit: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

I’m not a sociologist, nor have I studied the development of violent crime as an academic subject. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already aware that Honduras is known as the “Murder Capital of the World”. According to the most recent UN study, the murder rate in Honduras is 90 out of 100,000 people. In second place by a large margin is Venezuela with 43 per 100,000 people. By comparison, the rate in the U.S. is currently close to 5 per 100,000 people.

Nevertheless, I’m not writing this article to give you an in-depth analysis of all the factors contributing to the violence that might cause a child to migrate. All I am offering is my personal experience: what I’ve lived through, what I’ve seen, and the stories of my friends, family, and those I serve. I wrote this article to help you understand why children arriving at our doorsteps need mercy, and why you should care. Should people in the United States share responsibility for the fact that the Honduran government is corrupt and the country overrun by drug lords? Should Americans take some responsibility for the fact that people’s lives are at risk in Honduras? It is noteworthy that the United States is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine and a major consumer of many other drugs. Every ounce snorted by Americans is tainted with the blood of innocent people that die because that garbage is trafficked through our land. However, that is just one factor, albeit a significant one, that drives violence in Honduras. Yet I believe that, if you are a follower of Christ, your reaction should not hinge on whether or not you had “anything to do with” causing the violence. Instead, if you are a follower of Christ, you should desire to be merciful like our Father is merciful.

God is not impressed with our lofty acts of sacrifice, or how often we go to church, or how many hours we spend in prayer. In Hosea 6:6, God tells us that he desires mercy, not sacrifice. Near and dear to God’s heart especially are the widow, the orphan, and the alien. James 6:27 explains that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Moreover, Deuteronomy 10:18 says of God: “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”

It is appalling to me that people in the church would remain silent in the face of such injustice and distress. It’s shocking to see people who claim to be followers of Christ traveling to the border to yell unwelcoming and insulting words at children. Many people come to me and say, “But they broke the law! Doesn’t God command us to obey our local authorities?” To answer that question, I look at the Bible and the U.S. legal system. While Romans 13 does command Christians to abide by the law, this commandment cannot be taken out of context. In all of history there have been laws all over the world that fall short or are contrary to God’s law. Let’s remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—three law breakers who refused to bow down to an egotistical king because it went against God’s command to worship no one aside from him. You cannot ignore God’s law simply to honor human-made laws.

Check back on Thursday, September 25, for part four of "A Call to Mercy". Click to read part one and part two. If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

"Even a Child Knows it's Better to Leave" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 2

For two weeks,Honduran-born U.S. immigration attorney Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series. To read part one, click here.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.

maryknoll photo - pt 2

As a grieving daughter, I know the horror that children coming to the U.S. from Central America are escaping. Through my work within the immigration field, I have heard stories from children who have come to the U.S. after seeing their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends raped, beaten, and murdered.

I’ve listened to a young lady tell me how she heard her neighbors being hacked to death. The next morning, she found the pieces of their bodies stuffed into their old television set. Another young man recounted the story of his brother being beaten in the streets and ultimately killed in front of him because he refused to join a gang. One of my closest friends suffered the loss of her cousin, a bright young woman who was just starting med school. She was murdered after resisting a kidnapping attempt. Last year, while visiting my family members in Honduras, my sister received a death threat which forced us to go into hiding. We left the country the very next day. My brother, also an attorney, was constantly followed and harassed to the point where he feared for his life and came to the U.S. seeking asylum. One of my Honduran friends put his hopelessness into words: “I would rather have been born a dog in any other place than a man in this forsaken country.” In our country, no one knows, no one hears, no one investigates, and no one is held responsible.

Currently, people in Honduras endure levels of violence that people in the U.S. would not tolerate for even a single day. In 2008, three years prior to the attack that led to her death, my mother was shot, but she survived. After that attack, she hired a bodyguard, which served no purpose other than to add to the death toll that horrible November afternoon. Like her, many in Honduras who can afford to do so will hire bodyguards and buy bullet-proof vehicles, just like in a war zone, and hope for the best. It’s a sad sight to see a 12-year-old walking through the mall with her friends, followed by armed men in bullet-proof vests. What kind of life is that? And what about those who live in poverty, who can’t afford to keep their children safe? The violence doesn’t discriminate. It’s obvious; even a child know it’s better to leave.

Check back on Tuesday, September 23, for part three of "A Call to Mercy". To read part one, click here. If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

 

"I Am One of the Lucky Ones" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 1

For the next two weeks, Honduran-born U.S. immigration attorney Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.

ho-map

I came to the United States from Honduras on a student visa when I was 17 years old, just a month shy of my 18th birthday. I wanted to get the best college education so I could return home and work in the Honduran tourism industry or perhaps at the “Cancillería” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). I wanted a job that would allow me to share my country’s beauty and potential with the world.

My mother always reminded me that, after graduation, I was to return to Honduras and use my foreign-acquired skills to benefit my home country. However, a few weeks before she was murdered, while I was in my second year of law school, she told me something she had never said before: “Stay where you are. Don’t come back to this country. There is nothing left here for you.”

My mother, Judith Aleman Banegas, was a well-respected attorney. During her 30-year-long career as an attorney she successfully took on all kinds of cases, from child custody disputes to complex international business transactions. Anyone who knew my mother recognized that she possessed a brilliant legal mind. As a woman in a very chauvinist society, my mother was nevertheless able to excel and surpass most men in her field. Her intelligence was overshadowed only by her humility and kindness.

My mother loved nothing more than to help individuals with no access to the limited Honduran legal system. Consequently, she fought for the rights of low-income women and their children. She was the kind of person who would watch the evening news and be so moved by someone’s plight that she would call the news station and offer her services pro bono. She was a fierce advocate for transparency in the courts and was openly critical in the media about corrupt government officials who manipulated and abused the legal system.

To this day, I don’t know who killed my mother. I have no idea who ordered or paid to have her killed. All I know is that, on the afternoon of November 7, 2011, five heavily armed men intercepted her car. They killed my mother, her bodyguard and her secretary. My mother left me and my two siblings behind. Her bodyguard had two kids. Her secretary was a single mother of a 9-month-old baby girl.

If you feel bad for me, don’t. I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t see my mother die. I didn’t hear her scream. I was never harassed or beaten. I didn’t have to walk the streets of my neighborhood wondering when my turn to die would come. Many of the children fleeing to the U.S. from Honduras are not as lucky as I am.

Check back on Thursday, September 18, for part two of "A Call to Mercy". If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

Jessie Visits Refugee Communities in New Delhi - Part 3

Jessie Griggs Burnette, a former LSG resettlement intern and current volunteer, recently spent time with refugees in New Delhi, India. Jessie is currently studying for her Master’s in Anthropology at Georgia State University. On our blog, Jessie is writing a three-part mini-series based on excerpts from her journal. Read her third post below. rohinga

Important Note: This trip to India was not for publishable research. This was a personal voyage to meet a group of people that I knew were in need of help and attention. This blog post is, literally, a glimpse into my personal diary. It isn’t meant for publication or academic use. It is simply a raw reflection of my experiences. I am often asked about my own feelings as I travel and work abroad. I feel that by sharing my own feelings and thoughts with the public, I may be able to convince others to take risks – to face their fears.  It is easier than one may think to travel, learn, and help. Everywhere I go, I am met by kind and generous people, always protecting and guiding me. Others can do the same.  I want to be a voice for those who can’t use their own. Sharing my personal experiences within a community waiting for resettlement is one way I can do so.

“As I sat surrounded by refugees, for a single moment, I had a fleeting thought. I stared into the small crowd, and felt like a false advertiser. I felt as if my simple presence was making a false promise that I couldn’t uphold. I felt sure that they thought I was there to deliver some good news or hope, and the truth is, I had no idea why I was there. I had no plan. I had delivered enough food to last the community a week, but I had no sustainable plan to offer.” Diary Excerpt- May 14 2014

Today, I have a plan. Action begins with an idea. The idea has been born, and the first steps of action have been taken. Together, with a team of dedicated and compassionate individuals, I am working to begin a foundation to educate refugee children while they wait for resettlement. Those in the refugee community know that this wait can be a long and grueling one. Our immediate scheme will focus on providing a private education for refugee children living in the city of New Delhi. The long term goal will be planned carefully, and implemented as a team of anthropologists and educators volunteer their time, working diligently and strategically on a very specific task of evaluating current programs that are active, yet struggling to succeed. We will work to identify the problems at hand, and focus on overcoming the issues that have been presented by the refugee community. The immediate goal is to identify and educate as many children as possible so that if and when resettlement occurs, they will find themselves prepared to enter an accredited school system. We have a very long term goal of creating a foundation that can support and sustain a school. The school will offer a targeted education, boasting language, history, science, math, and cultural relativism courses. These are lofty goals, but with time, collaboration, and dedication, we will have the tools needed to succeed. Until then, at the request of refugee mothers and fathers, we will sponsor children as they wait for their turn to live in a permanent home.

If you are interested in being a part of the team or donating to the cause. You may contact the author, Jessie Griggs Burnette, at jgriggsburnette@gmail.com.

Click to read part one and part two of Jessie's visit to New Delhi refugee communities.

How You Can Support Unaccompanied Children

UAC This year, the United States anticipates that over 90,000 children will cross the border unaccompanied. The majority of these children are fleeing violence in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.  Lutheran Services of Georgia has already been in communication with the Office of Refugee Resettlement regarding this humanitarian and refugee crisis. We recognize that these children are making a courageous, dangerous journey to escape desperate situations back home. Our commitment to serve those in need compels us to provide safety, care, and welcome for this vulnerable population. Our experience bringing hope, healing, and strength to children and families through specialized foster care and other programs prepares us to assist in any way we are asked.

In order to empower you  to join us in taking action, we have compiled the following list of ways you can support unaccompanied children. Please share this list with all those who have a heart for welcome.

LEARN: Supporting unaccompanied children begins with awareness of their situation. In the midst of so much misinformation and discrimination towards these children, spreading accurate information and compassionate perspectives on the crisis is crucial. Check out and share the following resources with those looking to learn more.

  1. "It Was Either This or Be Murdered" - Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reflects on his visit to a facility housing unaccompanied children.
  2. "U.S. Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Immigrant Children" - This piece from the New York Times examines the ways that religious leaders around the country are supporting unaccompanied children.
  3. "LIRS, Partners Respond to Immigrant-Children Crisis" - This article from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod emphasizes over 45 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service  (LIRS) partners that are providing care and services for unaccompanied children.
  4. LIRS Responds to Crisis at the Border: Lutheran Immigration and Refuge Service's website includes FAQs and reports about the crisis, along with opportunities for action.
  5. "Our Journey to Children at the Border" - Rev. Stephen Bouman, Executive Director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission,  shares his experience visiting unaccompanied children along the border.
  6. "Everything You Need to Know About the Child and Family Migrant Crisis" - This frequently updated piece from Vox will answer several of your questions related to the crisis.
  7. "Children on the Run" - This United Nations report is based on 400 interviews with unaccompanied alien children and provides a comprehensive analysis on the reasons they are fleeing Central America.

GIVE: There are several organizations reaching out to unaccompanied children, but they need your support. Here are two possibilities for giving.

  1. Give to Lutheran Disaster Response by listing "Unaccompanied Children" as your designated gift. All donations will go directly towards supporting unaccompanied children.
  2. Give to Kids in Need of Defense, an organization that provides unaccompanied children with legal representation to argue their cases.
  3. Give to help LIRS support children, advocate for all immigrants, and support newly arrived refugees.

WELCOME: LSG is committed to welcoming unaccompanied children. Join us in welcome.

  1. Become a Household of Welcome. LIRS's Households of Welcome provide a community-based alternative to detention for unaccompanied children and migrant families.
  2. Write a Letter. They Are Children is collecting compassionate and encouraging letters to welcome unaccompanied children to the U.S.

ADVOCATE: Policies have a direct impact on the lives of these children. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services offers a number of advocacy opportunities on their website.

  1. Join the #ActofLove campaign and ask Congress to respond to unaccompanied children with humanitarian solutions.
  2. Contact your representatives through the LIRS Action Center.
  • Ask the government not to expedite deportations.
  • Treat this as a refugee crisis.
  • Request Congress to allocate $3.7 million in emergency supplemental funds.
  • Ask Congress not to revoke the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that protects children at the border.

PRAY: Support unaccompanied children through prayer.

  1. The Bible includes several passages about flight and welcoming the stranger. Consider reading the flight into Egypt, Moses in the basket, the Good Samaritan, or the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.
  2. World Vision wrote a prayer for the children, government, and aid organizations during this crisis.
  3. Sing this new hymn inspired by the unaccompanied children crisis.

If you would like to suggest another resource or share a personal story of supporting unaccompanied children, please contact Abi Koning at akoning@lsga.org. Thank you for joining us in welcome.

 

Jessie Visits Refugee Communities in New Delhi - Part 2

Jessie Griggs Burnette, a former LSG resettlement intern and current volunteer, recently spent time with refugees in New Delhi, India. Jessie is currently studying for her Master’s in Anthropology at Georgia State University. On our blog, Jessie is writing a three-part mini-series based on excerpts from her journal. Read her second post below. refugees

Important Note: This trip to India was not for publishable research. This was a personal voyage to meet a group of people that I knew were in need of help and attention. This blog post is, literally, a glimpse into my personal diary. It isn’t meant for publication or academic use. It is simply a raw reflection of my experiences. I am often asked about my own feeling as I travel and work abroad. I feel that by sharing my own feelings and thoughts with the public, I may be able to convince others to take risks – to face their fears.  It is easier than one may think to travel, learn, and help. Everywhere I go, I am met by kind and generous people, always protecting and guiding me. Others can do the same.  I want to be a voice for those who can’t use their own. Sharing my personal experiences within a community waiting for resettlement is one way I can do so.

As the refugee leader directs my driver through the streets of New Delhi, I try to refrain from imagining where I am headed. I want to go without expectation of what is to come. I know I am being taken to a place my new friend has described in a way that sounds nothing less than devastating. This will be a very different scene than the one I had encountered the previous day. According to my guide (a refugee himself), these refugees are relatively new arrivals. Working scarce and dangerous night jobs in the city, they have very limited resources. He had asked me to visit them so that someone "on the outside" would know they existed.

I tell myself to go without a vision of what is to come. I somehow feel my actions will be more genuine upon arrival if this is the approach I take. Why this matters, I am not sure. Even though I am not here for official work or research, the anthropologist within me wants to remain as neutral as possible as I enter this community of displaced people for the first time. As our car turns off the pavement onto a dirt road, I catch my first glimpse of the makeshift tent homes. I had previously seen images like this from afar and from photos given to me by refugee friends living in official UNHCR camps. However, the reality of being in the scene first-hand comes with new responsibility. As I strain my eyes to see what is ahead, my informant tells the driver to stop the car. The road is too rutted to drive down.

As I approached the camp on foot, I am not aware of what I expected. I had tried to eliminate all expectations. Even if I had allowed myself to imagine the circumstances,  I couldn't have dreamed up anything close to the reality of the situation. This camp is unofficial. It was constructed with donated funds and arranged by other refugees with (somewhat) more stability. Inside, the individuals struggle to survive. What I find is senseless suffering.

As I stand among the Rohingya refugees, I do a quick assessment of myself. I am unsure of what I am feeling. I feel astonished, uncomfortable, sad, angry, and most of all I feel confused. One moment I am in a home with beautiful marble walls and floors, sipping tea and enjoying biscuits, and the next I am surrounded by suffering, hunger, and hopelessness. As a graduate student studying anthropology, I am all too aware of the social inequalities and structures leading to these types of scenarios. I am also hyperaware of my own culturally constructed expectations and biases. And yet, in the moment, all of these structures make me very angry. I am bewildered. I find myself searching for the human factor in all of this. I wonder how human beings can cause others to suffer in such a devastating manner.

I see desperate mothers, fathers, and babies. There are about 15 children of staggered age and height gathered around me with their mothers. I once again recognize the familiar faces and traditional clothing from my work with refugees back in Clarkston, Georgia. My friend had stopped to buy chocolates for the children on the way over. He passes me the bag of candy. I distribute them to the children first who wait patiently with wide eyes and eager smiles for their turn. Some of the outstretched hands are so tiny that I can barely fit two chocolates inside. I stuff as many pieces as I can into their little palms. After the children have a few candies each, I share them with the women. They smile kindly and I wonder what they are thinking.

tentsAs I distribute chocolates, I look down a very short and dusty tent-lined lane. The tiny vinyl village is constructed of tarps and bamboo. I immediately wonder what will happen when the monsoon season arrives. It is quickly approaching. How will they possibly stay dry? Belongings hang from the canvas walls, elevated from the dirt floors inside the smoldering hot shelters. I am told that 34 people are living here. From what I can see, many of them are children, pregnant women, and people in obvious need of medical care. The tarps are strung together in a way that resembles a makeshift motel, the wall of one room supporting the next. One larger room stands separately and has a rug-lined floor. This, I learn, is the church that doubles as a school house. This building catches my eye as I am invited in by the pastor. I accept the invitation and follow the community leaders inside. The rest of the camp residents flow in after us. With the help of two translators, taking us across three languages, we discuss the inequalities faced by the Rohingya population on a daily basis. I listen most of the time as folks take turns talking around me. They eagerly share a laundry list of problems in hopes of someone outside listening: discrimination, poverty, hunger, beatings, robberies, sexual assault, rape, lack of shelter, etc. Of all these issues that need to be dealt with, the families say they first want education for their children. One seemingly strong lady speaks up and asks me to please help them find a way to educate their children. Through a translator, she tells me, "Everything else, we will figure out, but education, we cannot properly provide."

The unofficial meeting comes to a close. As we depart, I help an elderly lady off the ground. Her breathing is labored and her arms are as thin as an infant's. She is weak and weathered. I make an assumption that is later confirmed; she is suffering from the final stages of TB. I say goodbye with a smile. As I climb back into the air-conditioned auto, I pull my sunglasses close to my cheeks to catch the tears that I can no longer fight back. I have never felt a sense of helplessness quite like this. My thoughts turn to their home country of Burma and envision the larger scene of turmoil there. The political and structural violence is powerful and prominent. I wonder if they will ever know peace and comfort again.

For part three of Jessie's visit to New Delhi refugee communities, visit our blog on August 12. Click here to read part one.

The Case of the Al Khazraji Family

Al Khazraji Family

 

By Deidre Harrison, Program Manager of Refugee Services in Savannah

Can a case file truly tell you the story of a life? Last year, Lutheran Services of Georgia prepared to receive a family of three that was living in Lebanon after fleeing their home country of Iraq. Although the story found in their case file, rife with violence and war, resembled the stories of many LSG clients, the Al Khazraji family was unique. The family’s employment history included a detailed account of the artistic and professional skills that both Sarmad and his wife Nemat acquired overseas. While living in Iraq, Sarmad studied film and theatre and Nemat earned a degree in fashion design. Sarmad directed plays and brought international scripts to his beloved theatre in Baghdad. During the Iraq wars, he received awards for short documentaries highlighting the effects of war on civilians. Sarmad approached his career with an open mind and a desire to welcome strangers from different countries.

In August 2013, LSG resettled Sarmad, Nemat, and their 8-year-old son Nadim in Savannah. At the time, the Iraqi community was still budding and many families found social adjustment very challenging. Yet Sarmad’s enthusiasm to help others and build friendships with local residents made him a role model to other Iraqi clients. With special consideration by LSG staff, the Al Khazraji family agreed to become the first refugee family resettled on Wilmington Island, a small community that had amenities but no refugee community. Both the agency and the Al Khazraji family took a risk that produced exemplary results, showcasing the power of community integration. Nadim excelled at May Howard Elementary School in his first three months and quickly made friends within and outside of the ESOL program. Sarmad befriended local artists at Savannah’s famous City Market. Within three months of arrival, Sarmad and Nemat both accepted jobs at Kroger where they work rotating shifts to mitigate childcare.

After their resettlement, the Al Khazraji family overcame challenges that many refugee families encounter. They learned to read and write in English by attending Savannah Technical College’s ESL classes and practicing with their son. They overcame the Savannah heat and sand gnats by learning to use sunscreen and bug spray. Most importantly, Sarmad and Nemat invested their personal time to help other refugees learn how to adapt to their new lives. In 2014, Sarmad and his wife have already assisted LSG staff with public transportation orientations and provided social support to new families resettled on Wilmington Island.

Drawing on his passion for art and film, Sarmad hopes to film a documentary about how refugees’ lives are positively transformed. He hopes that his talents can be used to communicate the shared hope of many people. Clearly, the case of the Al Khazraji family has yet to be closed.

LSG Selected to Pilot Refugee Employment Mentoring Program

career-fair Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) recently selected Lutheran Services of Georgia to pilot the Refugee Employment Mentoring Program with Higher, LIRS’s national employment initiative. LSG was selected from among 23 resettlement offices across the nation because of its commitment to employment security for refugees and its tradition of welcome.

The Refugee Employment Mentoring Program aims to accomplish two goals: to support long-term career advancement for refugees and to deepen social connections between refugees and their communities. LSG will match 30 mentors with 30 refugees who will commit to weekly meetings for at least three months. 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 currently operates refugee resettlement programs in both Atlanta and Savannah. In the 2013 fiscal year, LSG resettled 461 refugees and provided services in employment, social adjustment, and information and referral to 1,371 refugees. The Refugee Employment Mentoring Program will allow LSG to provide additional support for clients to achieve economic self-sufficiency and become fully integrated in their communities. At the end of the project year, all findings will be compiled into a report that can offer guidance for other sites interested in pursuing a similar mentorship model.

For more information on the Refugee Employment Mentoring Program, contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or 678-686-9619. Visit www.lsga.org to learn more about Lutheran Services of Georgia.

Jessie Visits Refugee Communities in New Delhi: Part 1

Jessie Griggs Burnette, a former LSG resettlement intern and current volunteer, recently spent time with refugees in New Delhi, India. Jessie is currently studying for her Master’s in Anthropology at Georgia State University. On our blog, Jessie will be writing a three-part mini-series based on excerpts from her journal. Read her first post below. 20140518_122942-1024x768

Important Note: This trip to India was not for publishable research. This was a personal voyage to meet a group of people that I knew were in need of help and attention. This blog post is, literally, a glimpse into my personal diary. It isn’t meant for publication or academic use. It is simply a raw reflection of my experiences. I am often asked about my own feeling as I travel and work abroad. I feel that by sharing my own feelings and thoughts with the public, I may be able to convince others to take risks – to face their fears.  It is easier than one may think to travel, learn, and help. Everywhere I go, I am met by kind and generous people, always protecting and guiding me. Others can do the same.  I want to be a voice for those who can’t use their own. Sharing my personal experiences within a community waiting for resettlement is one way I can do so.

Today I finally visited a community that I have been trying to reach for more than two years. I made my way through Delhi once more via air conditioned vehicle with a private driver. Each time I do this I feel so over-privileged. Nonetheless, I do it because my hostess insists it is the only safe way.

The expedition takes about 45 minutes from where I stay to the area of the city that is home to many Burmese refugees. As I travel, I try to locate landmarks, but I am unsure of the direction I am traveling in. I go through what I believe to be a wealthy area. I see a KTM store, some fancy hotels, and a McDonald’s. It is hard to judge with my American standards what is wealth and what is common. As in most places, poverty is pretty easy to identify, but the lines blur in the more upscale areas. I am positive these lines do not blur for the local community, but I am not properly trained to identify social cues leading me to a clear conclusion on the subject.  Anyway, I arrive around 11 at the address that I received via email from my Burmese contact. He is a Christian Pastor and community leader. He has told me to meet him at a local school, and he will take me from there to his home where the rest of the community leaders have gathered. While traveling to meet him, I think about the insanity of what I am doing. I have flown 30 hours to a country that I do not know how to navigate properly, and I am now traveling another 45 minutes via car without a cell phone or any true personal protection to meet a stranger, a man, who claims to be a refugee community leader. When I write it down or say it aloud, I feel like I must be a mad woman. My mind tells me I should be wary, but I have zero visceral reaction. I do not feel afraid. If I do have fear, it quickly dissipates, and I force myself to move forward.

As my driver gets closer to the school, I wonder how in the world I will recognize this stranger in a city of 18 million people. We approach the address, and I immediately spot the Burmese face in the crowd. He, in return, quickly spots the American girl traveling alone via fancy auto. There is no time wasted for introductions. He greets me with a warm smile and a handshake. He explains that his home is a few blocks away, so we both climb into the auto and he directs the driver down a skinny side street. We have arrived. The driver parks next to some bricks stacked unsteadily as high as the car. Somehow he manages to keep from blocking the street. I am always amazed at how India seems to swell to the perfect size for fitting whatever is needed. I follow the pastor to his apartment complex. As I ascend the stairwell, I am gripped with a moment of fear. The stairway is dark and narrow. The stairs are steep, in regular Indian architectural style, and I am following a stranger right up them. I stifle out the hesitation, take a deep breath, say a quick prayer for protection, and continue up to his apartment. As soon as I enter I feel at home. Relief floods my senses, and the kind greetings from four Burmese women and one man leave me feeling like I am back in Clarkston.  I am immediately astonished at the fantastic English spoken by these refugees. All, with the exception of two, speak English almost perfectly. I am offered a chair while they sit on the floor on a mattress that doubles as a sofa. The pastor also takes a chair.

They have a water cooler, which is most definitely considered a luxury, a computer, and a tablet. They all work fulltime jobs and have been in the country many years. They share rent in three different apartments and help one another to afford this lifestyle.

As we begin to talk, I am incredibly impressed by one young man and a lady in the room. They are vivacious and strong. They are fighters and lovers. Their heart is broken for their people, but they have fought hard against inequality for the Burmese community. The young man in the room is attending college in Delhi. He does so illegally. He created a false identity and registered himself. He knows that education is the only way he will ever have a future. He is doing this knowing that he will not receive a diploma. His determination is infectious. The lady leads the conversation. She is brilliant, fierce, and gentle all at the same time. As they speak, I move from the chair to the floor to sit at eye level with them. They protest for a moment, but I insist and they concede.

They are Kachin. The overall population of Burmese refugees in Delhi numbers into the thousands. However, the Kachin are a very small group of 30 individuals. They believe because of their small numbers they are looked over by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In Burma, there are many different ethnic groups including Kachin, Chin, Burmese, Rohingya, Mon, and others. Among these ethnic groups there are several more tribes. Among the tribes there are 135 different languages spoken. Many of these ethnic groups are represented in Delhi’s refugee population.  They spend two hours explaining these basic things to me along with the inequalities and discriminations that they are faced with daily while living in Delhi as refugees. With their permission, I record the conversation because they tell so many stories that I can’t keep up. Discrimination is a harsh reality for most, and the struggle to survive is nearly unbelievable.  They are not allowed to travel outside of Delhi. Existing as refugees means they are confined to this one city, where they have very few rights, for the rest of their lives unless they receive resettlement. The pastor and his wife have been chosen for resettlement, but only because he wrote 300 letters in six months to the UNHCR.

They each say they feel fortunate to be in a city where they can earn a living. They are happy they can send their children to school if they teach them Hindi.  Yet still, they each share stories of discrimination and the hopelessness of diplomacy.  Most of their family members are dead or living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Kachin State. They have no way of knowing where they are; their loved ones are displaced peoples inside of a country ripped to shreds by years of political unrest. They cling together to survive. They are tired of simply surviving. They want a future for their families, for themselves.

They thank me for caring and for coming to their community. They tell me I am the first to want to see the “real” refugee life. The young man says “I hope to meet again someday in America”. I say I hope the same.

For part two of Jessie’s visit to New Delhi, visit our blog on July 29.

Heard: Aimee Advocates for Refugees on Capitol Hill

aimee-e1405010715314-768x1024 In June, LSG staff member and former refugee Aimee Zangandou joined 51 other participants at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service‘s World Refugee Day Academy. The World Refugee Day Academy is a three-day leadership training and advocacy event for current and former refugees. The participants came from 27 states and represented 18 different nationalities. All together, they did 117 visits to Capitol Hill legislators to advocate on behalf of refugees. They were also honored as special guests during the Walk of Courage Award Gala as LIRS celebrated its 75th anniversary of walking with over 500,000 migrants and refugees to brighter tomorrows. Below, Aimee reflects on her experience. 

Heard!

That’s the word I would use to describe my trip to Washington, D.C. to celebrate World Refugee Day. Throughout the trip, I felt that my voice was heard. On June 19, my day began with visits to legislators on Capitol Hill. I visited the offices of Senator Saxby Chambliss and Representative Tom Price. I was also granted a visit to the White House to meet with the Senior Policy Advisor–Domestic Policy Council and the Director of Human Rights–National Security Staff.

During those visits, I simply told my story. I told them how my family was resettled in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I told them how happy I was to sit in a classroom after being out of school for nearly three years. I told them how hard my parents worked to save enough money for a down payment on their first home, which they made only one year after our arrival in the United States. I told them how my parents were on food stamps for only a very short period of time until they started their first jobs and how they have never been on food stamps again. I shared with them that 80% of refugees resettled in Georgia are able to find work and become financially self-sufficient within 180 days after their arrival. I told them that refugees are an asset to this beautiful country.

As I spoke, I was not only telling my story but the stories of thousands of other refugees who now call the United States their home. Before leaving their offices, I asked them for three things. 1) Invest. Ensure that there are robust resources to support the U.S. refugee resettlement program. 2) Protect. Reject proposals that would harm refugees. 3) Champion. Support refugee reform legislation. Everyone that I met listened to me and I felt that my voice and the voice of others refugees was heard. I felt that the voices of refugees stuck in refugee camps waiting for resettlement were also heard.

Click here to read Aimee’s resettlement story or here for more photos from her trip.

Urgent: Raise Your Voice for Refugees and Unaccompanied Children!

Poverty_Girl_artLutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Lutheran Services of Georgia are calling for supporters of refugees and unaccompanied children to join us in raising our voices to advocate for these vulnerable populations.

The Situation:  Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are fleeing ongoing violence in the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras and seeking shelter in the United States. These children have been forced to endure conditions that lack compassion and dignity, including sleeping on floors in Border Patrol stations. The numbers are growing drastically–in Fiscal Year 2014, over 60,000 additional children are expected to cross into the U.S. On July 20, 2014, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) announced that they were planning to “reprogram” 94 million dollars from refugee resettlement to respond to this crisis.

The Problem: Refugee programs are already underfunded. Taking funding from refugee resettlement would hollow out existing services, including access to medical and employment assistance for already resettled refugees and those who have yet to arrive. Refugees will not receive the help they need and have been promised to adjust to life in their new communities. The United States cannot help one vulnerable population by hurting another.

The Response: LIRS is calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to allocate $200 million in emergency supplemental funds for the ORR during the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. This will allow ORR to both reinstate critical programs for refugees and care for unaccompanied children.

How You Can Help:  Join LIRS and LSG in raising your voice! Congress is in recess from June 30 to July 7, so your emails and phone calls are needed right now. Don’t know what to say? That’s alright – LIRS has provided a sample script for a phone call and an email template.

To call, dial (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with your two Senators and your Representative. Here is a sample script you can use to tailor your personal message, describing your own work or relationships with refugees, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable migrants.

Hi, my name is [NAME], from [City, State] May I please speak with the staff person who handles appropriations issues?

I am calling to urge the [SENATOR OR REPRESENTATIVE] to support increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement by $200 million in FY 2014 so they can meet the needs of both unaccompanied children and refugees. A lack of additional funding would compromise America’s ability to provide persecuted refugees and vulnerable unaccompanied children with safe haven and a chance at a new life. Funding for this program is an investment in the safety and self-sufficiency of people we welcome to American communities. Please ensure that Congress appropriates supplemental funding at least in $200 million in FY 14 and at least $3.3 billion in funding for HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement for FY 2015.

If you’d prefer to send an email, click here for an easy-to-use email template that will go straight to your Congressmen’s offices.

Spread the Word: You can also spread awareness about this issue by sharing this information via email and social media. One way to spread the word is to tweet at your Senators or Representative.  Find their Twitter Handles athttps://twitter.com/cspan/lists/members-of-congress and urge them to increase their funds for ORR. Try tweeting:

  • @[their twitter handle] Increase funding for ORR by $200mil to meet needs of unaccompanied children & #refugees #UACs
  • @[their twitter handle] Please support $200mil for ORR to maintain US #refugee resettlement program & support unaccomp children #UACs
  • @[their twitter handle] @HHSgov ORR needs funding to ensure unaccompanied children & #refugees receive services they need & deserve #UACs

Thanks for joining us in ensuring that both refugees and unaccompanied children receive the care and support that they need to thrive!

Small Actions for Refugees

Eastern Mennonite University students visit a Karen refugee family. Activist and devout Catholic Dorothy Day wrote, “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spreads in all directions.” At Lutheran Services of Georgia, we believe that the smallest pebble, the simplest of acts, has the potential to do great good in the world. To help you get started casting pebbles, here’s a list of small actions you can take to support refugees and immigrants throughout Georgia.

1) Tell your story! Share why you serve refugees by emailing Abi Koning at akoning@lsga.org.

2) Go to dinner! Eat at restaurants connected to refugee communities. Some of our favorites in Clarkston are Kathmandu, Shewit Eritrean, and Halal Pizza. In Savannah, local restaurants such as Fire Street Food, Ele, Chive Sea Bar, and Mirage were established by former refugees.

3) Raise your Voice! Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), our national affiliate, advocates for immigrants and refugees. Visit their action center at http://lirs.org/action-center for simple ways you can raise your voice.

4) Get informed! Watch a movie or read a book about refugees. We recommend: Outcasts United, the story of a refugee soccer team in Clarkston; a PBS America by the Numbers special featuring Clarkston; and Dave Eggers’ What is the What, a fictional book based on the life of a Sudanese Lost Boy who was resettled in Atlanta.

5) Donate to the Clothing Closet! LSG’s Atlanta and Savannah offices operate clothing closets for new refugee arrivals and are constantly in need of clothing and household items.

6) Volunteer with LSG! LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services department has a number of volunteer opportunities, including tutoring refugees, setting up apartments, visiting immigrants in detention, and more.

7) Learn a Few Words in a Second Language! In our Extended Cultural Orientation classes for newly arrived refugees, there are usually four to six languages spoken. Refugees are trying hard to learn English—why not learn a few words in their languages?

8) Get Your Church Involved! LSG is supported by congregations throughout Georgia. Host an LSG Sunday, celebrate Refugee Sunday, collect donations, or sponsor a refugee family.

9) Celebrate World Refugee Day! Each year on June 20, the United Nations and organizations around the world celebrate World Refugee Day. Mark your calendars and join the celebration! Click here to learn more about World Refugee Day in Georgia.

10) Practice Peace! Conflict is one of the main reasons refugees flee their homes. Seek out ways to promote peace and resolve conflict in your home and in your community.

11) Make a House a Home! Help LSG transform apartments into homes for newly arrived refugees. Donate gently used furniture, household supplies, towels, or bedding to provide refugees with a fully furnished home.

12) Open Your Doors! Sharing a meal brings people together. Invite a refugee family to join you for dinner in your home.

13) Attend LSG’s Breaking Bread and Building Bridges Potluck Dinner on Saturday, June 21! This potluck dinner will bring together church and community members, volunteers, and refugees to share a meal in celebration of World Refugee Day and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s 75th Anniversary! Click here to RSVP or here for a flyer. Please bring a dish to feed four to six people.

For more information on how you can help refugees and immigrants in your area, contact Melanie Johnson atmjohnson@lsga.org (Atlanta) or Deidre Harrison at dharrison@lsga.org (Savannah). To download and share this list, click here.

Our Small Actions were inspired by the Simple Acts & Counterpoints Arts CompanyVisit www.counterpointsarts.org.ukto learn more.

Concordia Students Reflect on Serving with LSG!

Concordia group with LSG staff member Melanie Johnson In early May, 11 students from Concordia University traveled from Portland, Oregon to serve with Lutheran Services of Georgia! Together, the students visited refugee families, assisted with cultural orientation classes, and helped set up an apartment for newly arrived refugees. After their week of service, some of the students shared their reflections on their time with LSG. Here’s what they had to say:

Mari: “Working with these families and children was an eye-opening experience. Despite the hardships these families have faced, and the difficulties they face in the future in adjusting to life in America, they were motivated and thankful for the opportunity to start a new life here. I saw first-hand the difficulties of not knowing a major language, especially when trying to get a job and support one’s family. These experiences have affirmed my interest in serving others and learning more about different groups of people.”

Karissa: “Practicing English with the refugees in their ESL class was great. There was one large realization, though. At Concordia, I live with ESL students, so I get to watch them learn English on a daily basis. We laugh through our struggles, and it’s fine because they are learning in a fun way by choice. These people in Atlanta, however, are learning English because they have to. They are learning because they were forced out of their homes to this foreign place with a new language. It’s not a format in which they can laugh through their struggles, and that is sad to me. This really made me think about how difficult it would be to learn a new language and a completely new life all at once.”

Sarah: “Initially, I saw this Alternative Break Trip as a chance to experience the South while doing volunteer work. What I did not realize is that this trip would allow me to gain valuable life knowledge. At the Clarkston Community Center, I was able to work with children of refugees. I have a huge place in my heart for children. Helping with homework and playing with these young children really helped me realize that as a teacher I cannot control what students will walk into my classroom. The culture, language, and traditions are much different than the American norm. As a teacher, I need to provide an accepting environment for these children. Not only that, but it will be my responsibility to exhibit a tolerance for equality in the classroom.”

Tito: “While in Atlanta, I had an opportunity to understand the lives of several refugee families. Getting to know everything they need to go through to transition into a new life was overwhelming. Much of the work could be overwhelming for the volunteers. It must be even more overwhelming for a refugee that is moving to the United States permanently and has not visited before. Many of these families have been driven from their homes forcefully and are unable to return. It is a tragic experience for these families. Oftentimes they arrive not knowing anyone. This transition is difficult.”

D’Anne: “I learned that I need to be more open to different possibilities and experiences no matter where I am. We are all human. Some people have more experiences and difficulties than others, but that is what allows us to have different stories. Through this experience, I have decided to minor in Spanish so that I can better educate myself and have meaningful conversations with more people than just English-speaking people. This trip allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and talk to unfamiliar people and figure out ways to interact with them. I believe this experience has opened me up and allowed me to be the person I am supposed to be.”

LSG thanks the Concordia students for their passion, enthusiasm, and hard work during their week of service. LSG is also excited that Tito Vasquez, quoted above, is continuing to serve refugees this summer as an intern with LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services. Click here for more photos from Concordia’s time with LSG.

ASB with LSG

Bowdoin-2014-at-El-Refugio-for-FIH-Visit-1024x768 During March, college students and faculty from Bowdoin College and New York University volunteered with Lutheran Services of Georgia for alternative spring break (ASB) trips. ASB trips give college students the opportunity to explore a specific theme through service and travel.

Twelve Bowdoin College students traveled from Maine to learn more about Georgia’s immigrant and refugee communities. During their week of service, the students tutored children in Clarkston, visited newly arrived refugee families, and assisted with cultural orientation classes. Bowdoin students also became the first ASB group to participate in LSG’s Friends in Hope program, serving families at El Refugio and visiting immigrant detainees at Stewart Detention Center.

Students found the trip eye-opening. One student, Alex Sukles, described his experience at Stewart as “surreal. We’re coming from Maine where there’s a foot of snow on the ground,” he said. “We arrived at Stewart and the sun is shining and there’s a manicured lawn. But there is also barbed wire and people held in cinderblock cells. Something doesn’t match up.” Alex recently returned to Georgia for a summer internship with LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services department.

NYU-ASB-2014-Group1-1024x607

Later in the month, fourteen NYU freshmen joined LSG and other community organizations for a week of service exploring the theme of Diversity. This incredibly diverse group of students were all part of NYU’s Comm*Unity, a group which builds community among freshmen commuter students. Students spoke several languages and a few even interpreted during visits with refugee families. Along with serving at LSG, the students helped out at the Clarkston Community Center, MedShare, and Jolly Community Garden. Although this was the fifth year that NYU students came to Atlanta for ASB, it was their first year with LSG.

Students from both groups shared their motivations for service. Bowdoin student Pieter’s mother was a European immigrant from Belgium, so he wanted to learn more about the immigration experience. Sewheat, a Bowdoin student whose parents emigrated from Eritrea, worked with Somali immigrants in her hometown of Seattle and wanted to continue serving immigrant populations in other parts of the country. Myra, an NYU elementary education major, joined the trip to discover ways to promote diversity in her work. She especially enjoyed tutoring refugee children in Clarkston and learning about the unique challenges they face. Kendi, an NYU Psychology major, wanted to expand his knowledge of people and cultures from all over the world.

During their ASB trips, Bowdoin and NYU students learned more about immigrants, refugees, and diversity in Georgia. They also brought incredible passion and enthusiasm to LSG. Clients enjoyed spending time with the students and LSG staff appreciated having extra hands willing to do good work. LSG looks forward to ASB students serving with us in the future.

For more photos from the ASB trips, visit our Facebook page.

Aimee to Attend World Refugee Day in D.C.!

This June, LSG staff member and former refugee Aimee Zangandou will join other former refugees in Washington D.C. to receive leadership training and advocate on behalf of refugees. Aimee was selected to attend Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service's (LIRS) World Refugee Day Advocacy and Training Event. Along with the Walk of Courage Award Gala and Refugee Sunday, this event will take place as a part of LIRS's 75th Anniversary Commemoration, celebrating 75 years of walking alongside migrants. Aimee will be joined by Yeshey Pelzom, International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff member and former Resettlement Program Manager at LSG, in representing Georgia’s refugee communities.

Aimee’s passion for refugee communities is deeply personal. Originally from Rwanda, Aimee and her family fled the violence of the 1994 genocide and crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Aimee, her parents, and her three siblings lived in a refugee camp for one year before relocating to Niger. In 1997, when Aimee was only 16 years old, her family was resettled in Stone Mountain, Georgia. There, a local church welcomed them and guided them through their early days of life in the U.S.

Since her arrival in Georgia, Aimee has actively helped other refugees adjust to life in the U.S. She began volunteering with refugee communities through the IRC. When Aimee heard that LSG’s Refugee Services department had an opening, she decided to apply. In 2009, she came on staff as a Data Specialist. A year later, she became a Social Adjustment Case Manager and was eventually promoted to Senior Case Manager in June, 2013.

Now, Aimee manages social adjustment services that provide refugees with the resources and knowledge they need to thrive in their new homes and new communities. These services include educating refugees on everything from home maintenance to public transportation to medical appointments. She finds her work “personally rewarding” and is constantly looking for ways that she can serve refugees more effectively.

Aimee is excited for the opportunity to attend LIRS’s World Refugee Day Training and Advocacy event. The trip won’t be her first time in Washington, D.C., but it will be her first time speaking with members of Congress about issues that affect refugee communities. She looks forward to learning more about advocacy and leadership and plans to bring the knowledge she gains back to refugee communities in Georgia. “I’m hoping I can learn more about advocating for refugees and develop skills in keeping communities together,” Aimee said. “I want to empower refugee communities to advocate for themselves and strengthen their communities.” Aimee holds a B.A. in International Affairs and a M.A. in Public Administration.

For more information about the World Refugee Day event and LIRS’s 75th Anniversary, click here.

LSG Advocates for New Americans at the Capitol!

On February 5th, 2014, LSG's Atlanta Refugee and Immigration Services team participated in the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA)'s New Americans Celebration at the Capitol! Ten RIS staff, volunteers, and interns educated lawmakers about the amazing contributions refugees make in Georgia. We joined other refugee- and immigrant-serving organizations to distribute informational packets to legislative offices and reach out to our elected officials to share the amazing stories of new and future Americans in our state.

Several members of our team acted as team leaders for the day and led groups of 3-4 participants to legislative offices. We shared personal stories and had great conversations with both legislative staff and legislators themselves.

One participating LSG staff member who came to the United States as a refugee several years ago had the opportunity to meet his representative. He reflected on the experience:

"Using myself as an example, I told my Rep that, when I came to the U.S. five years ago, I received $425 as "welcome" money, public benefits, and Medicaid for eight months. Six months after arrival, I stared working. Since then, we didn't receive any aid from the government. Today, six out of eight of my family members are working. As a new American myself, I told her that refugees are contributors to the American economy--not simply consumers. She seemed well-convinced and promised that she'll support future refugee bills and that she'll also advocate for New Americans."

Other teams from LSG introduced lawmakers to "New Americans" who told their resettlement stories. Many legislators and staff members were moved by hearing firsthand accounts of refugees who have taken long, often difficult journeys to arrive at their new homes in America.

Our goal for the day was to inform legislators about the many contributions refugees and other New Americans make to our state and communities. We found that many legislators agreed with us. One responded to a thank-you email by writing, "It is easy to celebrate new citizens!" We certainly agree.

To get the facts about refugees in Georgia that we shared with legislators, click here. For more information about the Coalition of Refugee Services Agencies, click here.

Volunteers Serve Refugees at the 2014 Lutheran Day of Service

Volunteers poured through the doors of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church, their arms full of children's books, rice, batteries, granola bars, flashlights, and first aid kits. Other volunteers, armed with hot coffee and check-in sheets, greeted them warmly. They've all come to serve refugees and to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 9th annual Lutheran MLK Day of Service.

"The Lutheran MLK Day of Service offers an opportunity for Lutheran congregations and other volunteers to join LSG in welcoming refugees from around the world by providing essential items needed for the 400-500 refugees resettled each year by LSG,” said Melanie Johnson, LSG’s Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation, and Community Engagement. LSG partners with the Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Southeastern Synod to coordinate the event. The first Day of Service took place in 2006 and drew 50 volunteers from local congregations. This year, school groups, families, community members, Girl Scouts, LSG staff, and refugees joined Lutheran congregations in service, totaling 234 volunteers.

This year’s Day of Service began with a gathering in Rock of Age’s gym. Gene Lewis, one of the day’s leading organizers, welcomed volunteers and thanked Pastor Randy Palm for Rock of Age’s hospitality. Natalie Yasson, LSG’s Director of Refugee and Immigration Services, recognized Hope Worldwide and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s support. Thanks to Hope Worldwide’s Disaster Preparedness grant, LSG will provide disaster preparedness education through the Extended Cultural Orientation program along with basic emergency kits for every refugee household in 2014.

To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s life, the Rev. Kevin Dudley, Senior Pastor of The Church at North Pointe, reflected on Dr. King’s beliefs regarding service and justice. “In order to serve,” paraphrased The Rev. Dudley, “we gotta be a little bit crazy.” Floyd R. Blair, LSG’s President and CEO, led the gathering in prayers of intercessions that challenged the church to be “disturbers of the status quo.” Volunteers formed a circle around the rice and bowed their heads as Blair offered a blessing for the day.

A bustle of voices and movement filled the church as volunteers dispersed to help prepare various items to be given to refugees. “These essential items are rice, the staple food item for refugees from around the world; basic emergency kits, so that newly arrived refugees don’t have to face any future emergency unprepared; and books for refugee children, a lifeline to learning about their new country and new language,” said Melanie. Together, the volunteers….

--Packed over 1500 lbs of rice into over 1000 family-sized bags for newly arrived refugees

--Prepared over 150 Basic Disaster Preparedness kits for refugee households

--Donated and sorted over 600 books for distribution to

  • Students in LSG’s Afterschool Academic/Arts Program (ASAP) sites in the Clarkston area who will each receive a book
  • Newly arrived refugee children who will choose a book to take home when they visit LSG’s Refugee Clothes Closet during their first week in the U.S.

--Read books to 25 children who each got to choose a book to take home from the Day of Service

--Distributed 400 door hangers with Fire Prevention Info in 2 apartment complexes in Clarkston where many refugees resettled by LSG live.

LSG thanks all the volunteers for their help welcoming refugees and looks forward to serving again next year!

During the Lutheran MLK Day of Service, over 65 volunteers and LSG staff shared their stories of why they serve refugees. Their photos are available on our Facebook page. If you couldn’t attend the Day of Service but would like to share your story of serving refugees in other ways, contact Abby Koning at akoning@lsga.org.

Get The Facts About Refugees in Georgia!

DID YOU KNOW: 

1) 80 percent of refugee households in Georgia are working and paying their own expenses within six months of arrival--the highest early self-sufficiency rate in the country!

2) Refugees in Georgia are a net asset to the state within six months of arrival and contribute more to local, state, and federal budgest than costs associated with their initial resettlement.

3) Annually, Georgia's communities welcome 2500-3000 newly arriving refugees!

Today, Lutheran Services of Georgia and the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) gathered at the Georgia Capitol to share these and other facts about refugees with state legislators. The New Americans Celebration aims to raise awareness and understanding of refugee contributions to our state.

Click here to get the facts about refugees in Georgia. You can help raise awareness by sharing this information with members of your communities.

For more information on the New Americans Celebration, click here.

Thanks for joining LSG in welcoming refugees to Georgia!

LSG Refugee Client Receives Much-Needed Dental Care

 By Emily Laney, Program Manager for Atlanta Refugee Services

It’s no secret that our refugee clients face unique challenges as they adjust to life in the United States. We love watching clients grow and thrive in their new community, but some face very difficult challenges in that process, especially in the area of health.

We have a client who has a major medical concern that will require lengthy treatment. The client was told by his doctor that the needed treatment would be delayed until he could get some dental work done- including a deep cleaning. Many of our clients face major dental barriers because Medicaid does not typically cover dental cleanings and newly arrived refugees usually do not have the extra funds to pay for cleanings out of pocket.

But in the case of this client, we knew that we had to find a resource for him. We are so thankful for our friends at the Good Samaritan Health Center of Cobb who took on our client’s case and provided him with excellent dental care. Many of the dentists and doctors at Good Samaritan are volunteers and truly care about the wellbeing of the people they treat. We have been blown away by the care shown to our client. At a recent event several staff from the clinic asked us for an update and expressed their desire to keep up with his treatment. They truly have servant’s hearts and genuinely care about people. There are so many amazing organizations who work hard to serve the vulnerable, including Good Samaritan. We want to make sure our supporters know about this awesome organization. They are always looking for skilled medical and dental volunteers to increase the amount of free and reduced cost medical and dental care to Georgia residents. Check out their website at www.goodsamcobb.org.