Voices of Refugees Deepen Red Cross Workers’ Understanding of Refugee Communities

Story by Mike Dirks, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Restoring Family Links and Communications Volunteer

St. Cajetan's podium for the April 22nd seminar "Voices of Refugees hosted by the African Community Center.

St. Cajetan's podium for the April 22nd seminar "Voices of Refugees hosted by the African Community Center.

Soft and gentle, sonorous and strong voices resounded at St. Cajetan’s on the Auraria Campus April 22 for the African Community Center’s Voices of Refugees seminar. It was the seventh year the African Community Center (ACC) coordinated a safe podium for Denver’s international community members to open-up. It was a secure environment for Denver’s students and volunteers to hear the stories of resettlement and immigration opportunities.

Two speakers from Burundi and Sudan testified to the initial fear, loss, and despair of fleeing one’s home. They recounted the uncertainty and destitution of resources in refugee camps. And they highlighted the hope and promise of the long road to rebuilding and reconnecting to separated family members through opportunities like resettling in foreign countries.

The ACC shared voices and imagery from partnerships with Picture.Me.Here.

The ACC shared voices and imagery from partnerships with Picture.Me.Here.

George Serwenda was formerly from Burundi and a refugee in Tanzania from 1993 to 2008. He now works at the ACC as a Case Manager.  George spoke softly about the emotional terror of political violence wresting him away from safety and contact with family members. He emphasized the miraculous grace of reconnecting with some family when making plans to find safety in refugee camps beyond the border.

Hawa Salah is from Sudan.  She was a refugee in Egypt from 2000 to 2005.  She is now working towards her educational goals and raising her family in Denver. Hawa sang to the audience to invoke her past experience as a refugee.

The speakers also emphasized the importance of personal goals to adapt. George humbly spoke of the persistence, patience and tenacity required to rebuild one’s life after resettlement in Colorado. George advised others that resettlement is not the end of the refugee story. Resettlement is the beginning. One’s efforts to truly work hard and earn their goals prepare them for opportunities.

American Red Cross workers from the Restoring Family Links program attended the event as part of an ongoing partnership with ACC and as a way to deepen their understanding of and relationship with the refugee communities they serve. The Restoring Family Links program helps reconnect families who have been separated by conflict, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergencies.

“I believe it is through collaboration that we can create a welcoming community with opportunities for everyone to contribute to community building!” said ACC Outreach Coordinator April Sugimoto.

The ACC sponsors a refugee artisans' social enterprise, We Made This, and displayed the wares.

The ACC sponsors a refugee artisans' social enterprise, We Made This, and displayed the wares.

The Red Cross Restoring Family Links program has worked towards a strong collaboration with ACC through outreach as well as by providing health, hygiene and material needs donations. Representatives of ACC have given lectures to educate Red Cross workers about refugee populations; the Red Cross has also supplied basic household essentials and mattress furnishings for refugees resettling into apartments with help from ACC.

Tim Bothe, International Services Manager for the Red Cross Colorado & Wyoming Region, said these partnerships in Denver speak to a larger global picture. “Colorado resettles 2,000 refugees annually. However, each case begins an average of 15 years prior to resettling due to civil war and genocide,” Bothe said, explaining that these examples of violations of international humanitarian law underscore the importance of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ ongoing efforts to foster an understanding of and respect for the tenets of international humanitarian law.

Find out more about International Humanitarian Law, Restoring Family Links the ACC and other topics related to Colorado’s refugee population by emailing Tim Bothe, International Services Manager:  Tim.Bothe@redcross.org.

For more stories from the Colorado Wyoming Region, please click here.