Story by Drea Pryor, Nashville Area Chapter, RFL Lead Volunteer and Case Manager
World Refugee Day is observed June 20th each year. It is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world. World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their country because of persecution, war, and conflict. There are over 15 million refugees in the world today and over 80,000 will enter the United States this year and many of them will make Tennessee their home. Nashville joined American Red Cross chapters across the nation, other domestic organizations, along with over 100 countries around the world in hosting a series of events to increase awareness and support for refugees throughout the world and in Middle Tennessee.
On June 15, World Relief, Legacy Mission Village with the support of local agencies whose programs are dedicated to serving refugees, hosted Run with the Nations, a 5k race held each year in June to raise support and awareness for the resettlement of local refugees. Hundreds of runners participated in this year’s event.
On June 20, the Nashville Area Chapter of the American Red Cross hosted an informational display and speaker for its 600 or more staff and volunteers, blood donors, and clients to raise awareness of the plight of refugees in Nashville and throughout the world. Throughout the day Kagiraneza “Issa” Nkuyinka, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo addressed the crowds and shared his personal story of survival after his family was slaughtered in the Congo. He was a teenager at the time of the massacre and though wounded he was able to walk hundreds of miles to safety. Issa spent 13 years in a Rwanda refugee camp, and finally made his way to Nashville, Tennessee seeking asylum just nine months ago.
Kagiraneza “Issa” Nkuyinka recently joined the American Red Cross as a new Restoring Family Links (RFL) services volunteer. He was a Red Cross volunteer as a teenager in the Congo and now he wants to "pay back some of the help that has been given to him". Speaking over 11 languages, Issa said that he has an increased knowledge of the importance of interpreting and plans on becoming an Interpreter for RFL services.
On June 21, The Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee hosted their Mental Health Conference: Finding Practical Solutions for Our Refugee & Immigrant Community Conference. MHAMT discussed the evolving trends of various ethnic and national groups migrating to Nashville by examining the history of migration thus far and predicting trends for the future. The conference emphasized the importance of maintaining an appropriate level of cultural sensitivity when working with refugees, common barriers in accessing resources, and mental and behavioral health disparities. There was very limited information discussing the clinical approach to working with refugees who experienced trauma as a result of the conflict and war in their home countries. Hopefully next year we can take the conference a step further by incorporating ways to identify and address the long term psychological impact on individual refugees.
On June 22, Tennessee's Foreign Language Institute joined with “ESL to Go” in hosting their "Meet the Truck Party.” Hundreds of participants joined an official ribbon-cutting ceremony for Tennessee's first mobile English as a Second Language classroom for refugees.
As the lead volunteer of the Nashville Area Chapter RFL, the activities of World Refugee Day has increased my level of awareness and dedication to work with refugee families around issues of cultural diversity, sensitivity, and mental wellness.