|7/27/2012 9:32:00 AM|
Catholic Charities seeks to be 'extended family' for refugees
In an upstairs apartment down the road from Jesuit High School, a family of nine new Congolese refugees feels thrilled, exhausted, hopeful and lonely all at once.
| Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois|
Ganga Tiwari holds year-old granddaughter Salina at the Beaverton apartment they share.
|Anne Richard, an assistant U.S. Secretary of State, plays with year-old Salina Tiwari at the girl's Beaverton apartment.|
|Refugee funding tight in election year|
|On July 20, the federal official in charge of serving refugees came to the apartments of two families newly arrived in Oregon to learn about their lives and hopes. She met a Congolese household of nine in Southwest Portland and a Bhutanese family of five in Beaverton. |
"This is a completely life-saving change," said Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration. "Growing up in a refugee camp is not much of a life."
Richard nevertheless said getting started in the U.S. can become difficult for refugees, who often must take entry-level jobs, which make it hard to live in safer neighborhoods with high-performing schools. She lauded Catholic Charities for finding such good apartments for refugees here. Portland's friendly, down-to-earth quality can lead to openness to refugees, she explained.
Richard, who grew up a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish on Long Island, holds a bachelor's degree in foreign service from Georgetown and master's in public policy studies from the University of Chicago.
Pietro Ferrari, executive director of Catholic Charities, urged Richard to push for higher reimbursement rates for agencies serving refugees. "It becomes very difficult to sustain," Ferrari said.
"It's not an overfunded program," Richard responded, adding that some members of Congress are interested in it. Later, she did explain that much of the department's money goes to aid the 42 million displaced people in danger overseas, 12 million of whom can't return home to places like Syria, Sudan and Colombia. By contrast, the U.S. resettled about 56,000 refugees in the past year.
"These are the kind of trade-offs you need to make," Richard said.
Making matters worse, it's an election year.
"Foreign aid is not something anyone in Congress wants to be known for," she said. "They want to be known for bringing services home. And in an election year, no one wants to be known for increasing spending."
— Ed Langlois
A few miles away in Beaverton, just across from Maryville Nursing Home, a clan just arrived from Nepal is surviving on a son's $9-per-hour job. Nevertheless, they serve cups of hot sweet tea and are radiant about opportunities.
The Msafiri and Tiwari families, drawn from danger to the American dream, were welcomed and are being served by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Portland.
"God has blessed us," says Ibongya Msafiri, the 37-year-old father from Congo. "We are very happy and have left our troubles behind."
Msafiri and wife Mwajuma Sikitu and their two oldest children escaped from war and genocide in Congo and spent 16 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania. There, the family grew and survived, but lacked options.
Msafiri, a trained nurse, will clean houses and labor in landscaping while he works to become certified in nursing here. "If you don't have a job, everything is difficult," he said, speaking French to a Catholic Charities worker who has volunteered her time as a translator. "If you can pay, all is good." Sikitu hopes to work, too.
Aoci, a 15-year-old son, misses his friends in Tanzania, but gladly came to the United States so he can attend better schools.
"We want you to know you have an extended family through Catholic Charities," said Pietro Ferrari, executive director of the agency. "We want to connect you to the community."
Brendon Robar, the family's Catholic Charities caseworker, says a refugee's life is at first a web of logistics. The agency locates apartments, collects furniture and finds food. After the families arrive, workers like Robar sign them up for English classes, doctor's appointments, school and citizenship workshops. Families need to learn about the bus system, money and local customs. If then refugees are religious, there is an effort to link them to a church, synagogue or mosque.
"A faith community is usually the start of integration into the community," said Ferrari.
Refugees get help from a team of agencies, including Catholic Charities, Lutheran Family Services, the State of Oregon Refugee Program and the Multnomah County Health Department. The organizations provide housing, health care, food, education support, job training, plus social and emotional support. It's all needed to help families heal from traumatic experiences.
Catholic Charities in Oregon began welcoming refugees after World War II. The ministry picked up in the early 1960s when Cubans began fleeing the Castro regime and again after the Vietnam War.
Since 1975, more than 57,500 refugees have come to Oregon from around the world. They seek safety and a better life for their families, having fled because of persecution over race, religion, nationality and political opinions. They've left behind relatives, friends and material possessions because they fear being persecuted.
The Tiwaris arrived in Oregon in March from a refugee camp in Nepal. They are natives of Bhutan, a tiny and poor nation sandwiched between Bangladesh and China. Like other descendants of Nepalese workers invited to Bhutan in the past century to clear forests, they have faced persecution in the past 20 years. Bhutan recently declared the ethnic Nepalese illegal immigrants, which sparked protest and then a violent crackdown. Refugees streamed to Nepal, where they were not welcomed, but were held in camps.
Tara Tiwari, 49, arrived in March with wife Ganga and 22-year-old son Raj, who is married to Asha. Raj and Asha's year-old daughter Salina is the delight of the household.
Tara and Asha receive job training and English skills at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. Raj, who speaks English well, is working at Precision Wire Co. as an assembler. He's proud to be helping his parents and living in their apartment, but would like some day to have his own home.
Raj likes the rules and regulations that govern U.S. life. He also appreciates the freedom and mobility in Oregon. He's captain of a soccer team composed of Bhutanese players and goes with his family by bus to a Buddhist-Hindu temple 25 miles from their apartment.
Raj is excited that his daughter will be an American, but wants her to hold tight to her culture. A few minutes after the conversation, the girl's uncle donned a traditional Nepali-Bhutanese robe and everyone beamed.