Communications Intern 2 posted an articleFinding Refuge by Victorya Rouse brings together real-life immigration stories by young people. see more
REAL-LIFE IMMIGRATION STORIES FROM YOUNG PEOPLE
By Victorya Rouse
Reviewed by Nathalie Vadnais
In the Newcomers Center at Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington, Victorya Rouse teaches immigrants from all over the world how to speak English. It’s work she has done for three decades, after she served as an education Volunteer with the Peace Corps in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) 1981–84. For Finding Refuge, she has put together firsthand accounts of kids’ and teenagers’ experiences — some recounted many years later — to help young readers understand war, conflict, and what it means to be a refugee.
Many young refugees contributed memories of their lives before, during, and after evacuation of their home often due to political tension or aggressive conflict. Among the contributors: Fedja Zahirovic, who fled war in Bosnia in the 1990s; and Abdulrazik Mohamed, who fled the civil war in Sudan and, after years in refugee camps, arrived in Spokane in 2012. Other contributors were refugees from Libya and Syria, Iraq and Mexico, Moldova and Ukraine.
“The experiences that brought them here,” Rouse writes, “to my classroom—reflect the ongoing realities faced by refugees around the world.”
Fedja from Bosnia and Herzegovina, entered the U.S. in 1995
We were only able to bring clothes, some family photos, and documents — and I brought a few cassettes with my favorite music. My mom kept telling me to leave things. “We are only taking our clothes and toiletries.” It was like going on vacation, only this time I was bringing a lot more clothes. I couldn’t bring my guitar, piano, or record collection. My bike had already been stolen. I was leaving my few remaining friends and all of my family. My grandmother was staying behind to keep the apartment from being taken away by the refugees and to keep our cabin from being seized by the military. I felt like I would never get to see any of it again. I was right.
My grandmother was staying behind to keep the apartment from being taken away by the refugees and to keep our cabin from being seized by the military. I felt like I would never get to see any of it again. I was right.
Epilogue: Life was difficult for a long time, but my life is good now, and I try to give back and to help people whenever I can. My mother and grandmother live in Portland, near enough that I can see them often. I am married now. My wife has her degree in early childhood education. I do in-home care for people with developmental disabilities as I near completion of my B.A. in musicology and ethnomusicology. My dream is to get an M.A. in music education and to start my own music program for children who are immigrants, who are high risk, or who have learning disabilities—in other words, those who often don’t have the access or privilege to enroll in regular music programs.
Trang from Viet Nam, entered the U.S. in 1975
On the ship, women and children were being sent to the upper deck, and the men to the lower deck. Somehow, on that huge ship, we all found each other. It was a miracle: The whole family — all ten of us children and both parents — made it onto that ship. So few families made it out together.
People were crowded together like sardines. We couldn’t even lie down. We didn’t have room to move. The ship took us to the Philippines, but on the way, we ran out of food and water. I was so hungry and thirsty. Someone told us to tap sea water on our lips. We couldn’t drink the sea water, but we could make our lips damp.
“On the ship, women and children were being sent to the upper deck, and the men to the lower deck. Somehow, on that huge ship, we all found each other. It was a miracle: The whole family — all ten of us children and both parents — made it onto that ship.”
In the Philippines, we were given military C-rations. I had peanut butter for the first time. Peanut butter and crackers were so good. There was cheese too. It was so good to eat again. There we were transferred to an even bigger ship and taken to Guam. There were not enough toilets on the ship, so they built an outhouse over the rail. It was so scary to look down and see the ocean!
Epilogue: What I would like people to know about refugees is how grateful we are to have the chance to have a life. The English language is hard. It is not easy to come to a new country and learn a whole new language and way of life, but we are grateful for what we have been given, for the help we have received.
My husband and I have a comfortable life. We have the basics, everything we really need. We are grateful for our lives here in the United States, for having a roof over our heads, food to eat, and children we are proud of. That is what a successful life is to me. Our children have grown up healthy and happy, with good careers. Now my dream is to retire healthy so I can spend time with our grandchildren.
This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.
Nathalie Vadnais is an intern with WorldView. She is completing a degree in international studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Orrin Luc posted an articleOne of those moments I thought, We’re doing something right. see more
Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia (1996–98) | Crisis Corps Volunteer in Guinea (2000) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Eastern Caribbean–St. Lucia (2006)
As told to Ellery Pollard
Photo: Reviewing HIV records in St. Lucia: Lily Asrat working at the National AIDS Program Secretariat. Courtesy Lily Asrat
I’m Ethiopian American, and my parents exposed me to a lot of travel early on; they essentially raised me to be a global citizen. I understood that there’s so much out there in the world, and that there isn’t just one way of being. I saw Peace Corps as a continuation of this trajectory that started from childhood.
For my first Peace Corps service, I went to Namibia, which had just achieved freedom from South African colonial rule and the apartheid system. It was like coming to the United States immediately following desegregation: a lot of post-conflict tensions, a society coming to terms with racial healing, and people trying to coexist in a new landscape. It was a difficult time because there were still vestiges of armed struggle. But it was also a hopeful time because the majority of the population — who had been brutalized and subjugated — were feeling and seeing hope, freedom, and access to information and education.
I was a teacher trainer on a collaboration with USAID. The country was moving away from an education system based on apartheid — separate and unequal. The new Ministry of Education charted a path to develop new curricula that would be accessible to the whole population of Namibia.
While I was training teachers, my community was faced with a growing HIV epidemic. There was no treatment or testing accessible. There was a lot of stigma; it was considered a disease of gay men in the Western world, so people didn’t speak about it. But there were people sick and dying — a lot of teachers whose funerals I attended. My host sister died from HIV. It was devastating. That was the impetus for me to go down the track of public health. I realized that the real threat to the education system — and to the majority of the young, viable, productive populations of the country — was HIV. I got involved in doing HIV prevention work and education, collecting teaching aids and materials that I could share within the community.
Over a decade later, I found myself once again in Namibia working for another organization and witnessed significant improvements in access to treatment. At one clinic there was an HIV-positive woman seeing her doctor; she gave me her baby to hold. The baby was HIV negative. They had the knowledge and treatment available to provide the mother with antiretroviral therapy so she could avoid transmitting HIV to the baby during birth and breastfeeding. It was one of those moments in my life when I thought, We’re doing something right.
They had the knowledge and treatment available to provide the mother with antiretroviral therapy so she could avoid transmitting HIV to the baby during birth and breastfeeding. It was one of those moments in my life when I thought, We’re doing something right.
In 2000, I went to Guinea as a Crisis Corps Volunteer seconded to the International Rescue Committee, which was responsible for providing housing, nutrition, education, and psychosocial support for Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees. Speaking French was one key criteria; the other was being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer — able to hit the ground running. Being professional and flexible, able to develop relationships and trust in communities where you’re working — and do anything required with minimal support within hardship areas.
Child refugees in Guinea, where Lily Asrat worked as a Crisis Corps Volunteer seconded to the International Rescue Committee, responsible for providing housing, nutrition, education, and psychosocial support. Photo by Lily Asrat
We had an entire stock of food intended for refugee kids that was stolen overnight. It was clearly an inside job; the people responsible for guarding it had disappeared. Those moments are heartbreaking — but not so uncommon. I sought out immediate solutions, using our resources to help navigate that crisis. While the theft of food intended for refugee children was difficult, we also had many examples of wonderful community engagement such as the groups of women who volunteered on a daily basis to cook, distribute, and clean up. They put time, effort, and love into preparing meals for those kids. They made the hardships worth the effort.
By the time I served as a Response Volunteer in Eastern Caribbean (St. Lucia), I had worked at the CDC for three years, had two more master’s degrees, and I’d been in my doctoral program at U.C. Berkeley, studying public health; it was an opportunity to apply my training and experiences, and give back in a different way. I was placed at the National AIDS Program Secretariat to support strategy and guidance, monitoring and evaluation, and planning and grant writing. I have been very lucky in my career to have worked for three government agencies, several multilaterals, and prestigious academic institutions, but nothing has been as rewarding for me as my three stints as a Volunteer in Namibia, Guinea, and St. Lucia.
This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.
Amanda Silva posted an articleNPCA and Water Charity have prioritized projects affecting the rehabilitation of refugee communities see more
In 2011, the citizens of South Sudan declared their independence after their second civil war had lasted 20 years. As the newest nation in the world, it is sadly also among the poorest. Having suffered internal conflict since its independence, water shortages and access to clean drinking water become a paramount issue in the wake of this nation's survival for its people and transition to peace.
Through our ongoing partnership, National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and Water Charity have prioritized projects supporting the rehabilitation of refugee communities such as those in South Sudan. Collaborating with the county commissioner of Yei River County, and working through our South Sudanese field partner, Water is Basic, we implemented the drilling and rehabilitating of boreholes in local communities.
Phase One rehabilitated 10 wells and replaced broken hand pumps. Together with Water is Basic, we held five-day workshop trainings for 48 committee members on borehole operation and maintenance that resulted in over 760 households and more than 6,500 people gaining access to clean water.
With Phase One complete, NPCA and Water Charity are excited to move onto Phase Two of the South Sudan Well Rehabilitation Program. There is an opportunity to do as many as 100 well restorations per year if the resources are available.
Water changes everything. As the South Sudanese people are able to access clean water, there has been a transformation of life and health. Death rates fall and education rates rise. Access to food is increased and local economies grow. Ancient conflicts over water rights and access become obsolete as peace sweeps through areas where water shortages once caused civil war and conflict.
Join the Peace Corps community as we engage in making the greatest impact working with refugees both domestically and abroad!
Peace Corps Beyond 2016 provides a forum for the greatest voices, expertise and insights to come together. Join the discussion with former Peace Corps staffer Barbara Busch, RPCV Valerie Kurka (Tanzania 2006-08), and RPCV Averill Strasser (Bolivia 1966-68) as they delve into direct assistance overseas, support for refugee resettlement efforts in the Sudan, Eritrea, the United States and elsewhere, and advocacy efforts to support refugee issues.
Amanda Silva posted an articleEvery dollar matched to reach greater impact in Eritrean refugee camps. see more
In the Horn of Africa, a worsening refugee crisis is finding relief from Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).
By providing refugees with water, health and power, and resettlement services, and raising awareness of their plight through the power of film, the Peace Corps community is helping Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia and elsewhere.
In partnership with National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), Water Charity is providing refugees with access to water, basic health services, and solar panels. Water Charity’s Averill Strasser (Bolivia 1966-68) and Beverly Rouse are confident that more desperately needed help is on the way following the recent announcement of a pledged $25,000 match challenge from an anonymous donor. Join NPCA's fundraising campaign for these water and sanitation projects.
Linked forever to Eritreans following his service in the country from 1966 to 1968, John Stauffer is the co-founder and President of the America Team for Displaced Eritreans, providing resettlement services to many of the 400,000 Eritrean refugees who have fled their homeland.
Stauffer will speak about his experiences and how the Peace Corps community can help at Peace Corps Connect following the screening of Refugee: The Eritrean Exodus, director Chris Cotter’s raw, harrowing story of following the Eritrean exodus. The screening will kick off Peace Corps Connect on Wednesday, September 21—the International Day for Peace. Tickets are on sale through September 12.
Long considered the North Korea of Africa, Eritrea has caused one of the largest, yet lesser-known refugee crisis in the world through gross human rights violations. Refugees are largely confined to camps in Ethiopia, and many attempt a treacherous and often deadly trek to resettlement in Western Europe.
Following several successful projects in Ethiopia with currently-serving Peace Corps Volunteers and after viewing Refugee, Water Charity’s Strasser decided it was time to help in the camps. The NPCA-Water Charity partnership is well underway, and the $25,000 match challenge will add to progress already being made.
Ethiopian and Eritrean RPCVs have been actively involved in their host countries for many years, especially since war broke out between the two nations in the late 1990s. For their efforts to broker a peaceful resolution to a border dispute in 1999, the Ethiopian and Eritrean RPCV group was awarded NPCA’s Loret Miller Ruppe Award.
You can donate to NPCA-Water Charity projects in Ethiopia here, and join us at the screening of Refugee to become part of the conversation led by John Stauffer at Peace Corps Connect.