As an intern for the American Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links program in the Chicago and Northern Illinois Region, and graduate student working towards my master’s degree in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at DePaul University, I was thrilled to be working on Chicago’s World Refugee Day Planning Committee this year.
World Refugee Day Chicago 2016 was a successful collaboration between the American Red Cross and countless other local partner organizations who work on behalf of the refugee communities in our area. The Chicago World Refugee Day Organizing Committee, for the second year in a row, will sponsor two events that celebrate refugee resiliency and honor the contributions made by refugees and many others to ensure successful refugee resettlement efforts in Chicago.
The first event on Saturday, June 4th was the lakefront’s 7th Annual Soccer Tournament and Community Event at Foster Beach. The day was for refugees past and present, their advocates, their neighbors and friends, to join as a single community. Our next event on Thursday, June 16th is the 2nd Annual lunchtime cultural program at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago which will showcase the spirit of collaboration among refugee communities, expand public awareness of organizations representing and serving refugees and asylees, and give voice to the lived refugee experience.
World Refugee Day at Foster Beach hosted many activities throughout the day, in which the Red Cross played a key role. The main attraction was of course the competitive soccer tournament that brought together teams with talented refugee athletes from all over the world. Most players had either previously or currently received resettlement assistance from a local refugee resettlement agency. Our own RFL volunteer, Moshood Olanrewaju, was responsible for planning and facilitating this aspect of the day and ensured the tournament ran smoothly. The teams that participated this year were; United Star, Al Rafidain, Pan African, Afghan United, Tomepa, Living Water and Rohingya. The winner for this year’s tournament was United Star, who also took home the trophy last year!
Some of the other activities included live performances from the Nepali Dancers, African Unity Choir, and Al Sham Ensemble; and guest speakers including U.S. Congressman Mike Quiqley, Alderman Joe Moore, and Uma Devi Mishra, staff at Heartland Alliance and a former refugee from Bhutan. Food was catered in from favorite local restaurant, Ghareeb Nawaz. We also held a Unity March, which took place around the park and Uptown neighborhood to exhibit solidarity with our refugee neighbors and to let the community know we welcome refugees here in our City. An elementary school designed signs to be held during the march, and people sang songs and chants! There were also youth activities that appealed to the many ages in attendance. Also, CircEsteem came and taught the kids how to juggle and play with hula-hoops and other fun circus related activities.
This year, we were able to introduce new activities and expand the scope of the event. In addition to the Unity March which was brand new this year, we were also able to introduce the Culture Coach through the Old Town School of Folk Music, which is a traveling stage that hosts performances all around the city. Their goal is to improve access for the entire city to music and cultural performances. We were also able to give away World Refugee Day wristbands (over 350 distributed!) that were designed to promote solidarity and community.
There were many special moments from the event. My favorite aspect of the day was simply talking to people and seeing the community come together to support refugees. I was able to talk to so many people and learn about their stories; in essence, that is what the day represents. I also enjoyed the performances, such as the African Unity Choir who sang and danced and kicked off the day on a great note.
Overall, World Refugee Day was a huge success because of the collaborative spirit of organizations and individuals desiring to support refugee communities in Chicago and around the world. Having these strong partnerships is what enables us to share the important work of Restoring Family Links and show the refugee community we are here in their neighborhoods, for them, and with them.
If you are in the Chicago area on June 16th, please join us in celebrating our refugee community at Daley Plaza!
About the 2016 Chicago World Refugee Day Organizing Committee
World Refugee Day Chicago is driven by the passion, support, and talents of a range of organizations, including: The Illinois Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services, City of Chicago, Voluntary Organizations (VOLAGs), Mutual Aid Associations, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Heartland Health Outreach, Chicago Public Schools, Exodus World Service, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Pan African Association, local universities, and the American Red Cross.
These organizations provide refugees with a variety of services, including orientation, language training, employment, mental health, and youth services. At the heart of many of these organizations are staff who were themselves refugees, where new arrivals see empowering success stories in the very lives of individuals providing services.