Celebrating World Refugee Day in Chicago, Part 1

Red Cross volunteers pass out cake to celebrate World Refugee Day and the 100th anniversary of the Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter.

Red Cross volunteers pass out cake to celebrate World Refugee Day and the 100th anniversary of the Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter.

Story by Michelle McSweeney, SAF and International Services Manager, Chicago, IL

Daley Plaza, June 15th 2015

Cultural performances, exhibits, birthday cake, and rainstorms!  On June 15th, we kicked-off our celebration for this year’s World Refugee Day at Chicago’s downtown Daley Plaza. This event marked the first time in several years that the World Refugee Day Planning Committee, which includes members from over 15 refugee service provider organizations, hosted a public awareness and cultural event. The goal was to draw in members of the community who may not be aware of or understand our refugee communities here, and provide a platform to showcase the people and talents that make our city so uniquely diverse.

Red Cross volunteers educate the public about refugee issues and Red Cross services.

Red Cross volunteers educate the public about refugee issues and Red Cross services.

This year is also special because it is the 100th Anniversary of the Greater Chicago Chapter, since it opened its doors on June 18, 1915. Despite the heavy rain and storms, our Red Cross team remained outside in Daley Plaza, serving Portillo’s birthday cake in honor of our 100th birthday. And as individuals came into the tents we were able to share information about the Restoring Family Links program, our partner organizations, and how the Red Cross supports our international mission locally.

We simultaneously invited our guests to enjoy the event inside, and while there were quite a few moments of heavy rain, luckily the tents protected us (for the most part). And the rain did not deter the 300+ pieces of chocolate cake from disappearing in front of us!

Chicago's CBS2 news anchor, Mai Martinez, takes a selfie with the crowd in Chicago's Daley Plaza.

Chicago's CBS2 news anchor, Mai Martinez, takes a selfie with the crowd in Chicago's Daley Plaza.

The World Refugee Day kick-off event continued on inside, emceed by Chicago’s CBS2 news anchor Mai Martinez.  And crowds gathered, including our team, to watch and listen to international sounds and dance of the Chicago Chin Baptist Choir (Burma), Oud player Amro Helmy (Iraq), and guitarist Abraham Mellish (Liberia).

Surrounding the room were several exhibits, including one from Changing Worlds that described examples of the extensive journeys refugees take to get to safety; another from Photovoice Exhibit that showcased a project between Heartland Alliance and Sulzer Regional Library, where 12 refugee clients where provided photography equipment and training, and selected their favorite photo in Chicago describing what their experience was like arriving in the new city; and displays that highlighted leaders in Chicago that came to our city as refugees.

Chicago Chin Baptist Choir performs for World Refugee Day

Chicago Chin Baptist Choir performs for World Refugee Day

Overall, the event was an exciting success! We were able to connect with at least 200 individuals to share our Restoring Family Links program, a Red Cross service that helps reconnect loved ones separated by war. Those who may be less aware of our refugee communities or have misconceptions about their experiences hopefully walked away with a new understanding and respect for those forced to leave their homes and everything they know behind, in hopes of finding safety for themselves and their family.