The non-profit Ruth and I are creating has two focuses. You’ve met the Nshombo family through these posts, and helping them is our immediate focus. There is another goal though, to work with African refugees in Boise, and the members of the community, to help make the transition to life in the U.S. successful.
The Idaho Office for Refugees hosted the first annual Idaho Conference for Refugees this past week. The conference was, from my perspective, a huge success. There was an impressive list of guest speakers, every breakout session was completely full and, because there was limited space and pre-printed materials for all guests, organizers were forced to cap attendance with 40 people on a wait list.
The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the challenges facing our community as we try to absorb more and more people from vastly different cultures, and to highlight ways in which our community, and others across the U.S. are coming together to help solve them. One of the highlights was the honor of having Theresa Rusch, Director of the Refugee Admissions Office, U.S. Department of State, as one of the speakers.
Among other things, Ms. Rusch provided statistics about the numbers of refugees processed into the U.S. over the last few years, and what the targets were for 2009. The good news is, the number of refugees being allowed into the U.S. is growing. From just over 48,000 in 2007, to a ceiling of 80,000 for 2009. While that is good news, what immediately struck me, and what Ms. Rusch acknowledged, was that these refugees are coming in at a time when our economy is at it’s worst in decades, and jobs are increasingly hard to find. Her only comment about that was to say she, and the State Department, acknowledged the burden that was going to place on the communities. No solutions.
Initially I was a little put off by the fact that neither she, nor our federal government, had a plan. But then I realized, the Federal Government can’t do everything. It is truly up to each community across the US, and organizations like the Idaho office for Refugees, and hopefully Boise to Bukavu, to identify the specific issues facing that community and it’s refugees, to partner with the refugees and community leaders to create models that work, and to share them.
So, that’s what we intend to do. Again, because our exposure thus far tells us that issues facing Africans are different from those from other cultures, we are going to focus there. Look for future posts as we begin to build that model. We, of course, welcome your comments. And if you know of models that are working or have worked in other communities, by all means, let us know.