Refugee counselors speak to FORGE
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) spoke to students on campus this week, disseminating information regarding refugee resettlement and encouraging students to become active in the local and national support systems that constitute the resettlement process.
The IRC is an international organization that responds to humanitarian emergencies as they emerge across the globe. At work in over 40 countries and in 22 U.S. cities, the IRC works to restore stability to those uprooted or struggling as a result of crises.
While the IRC has recently worked on many relief-based efforts — including providing food to East Africans, rebuilding infrastructure after the flooding in Pakistan, and aid for victims of the Japanese tsunami and earthquake — the organization also focuses on providing assistance and organizing resettlement for refugees worldwide. Intervening in all aspects of the process, from immediate relief efforts to the resettlement of displaced populations in the United States, IRC members “lead the way from harm to home,” as their slogan says.
Most people in the audience were members of Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment (FORGE), a student organization that works with government and non-government agencies to place students with local refugee families in need. Student volunteers offer services that may be otherwise overlooked due to insufficient funding and staff availability, including one-on-one tutoring in English, educating about the American culture, and training in basic tasks such as grocery shopping and cooking. FORGE was the host of the presentation.
IRC representatives Erica Marcus and Katherine Rehberg from the IRC’s office in Silver Spring, Md. delivered the talk. Marcus and Rehberg work with refugees attempting to resettle in the United States.
In their talk, they offered advice relevant to students currently volunteering with local refugee families. In particular, they offered a list of seven “best practices” for working with refugee families, which included things like “know when to make a referral” and “be aware of cultural differences.”
“The IRC’s refugee resettlement agency is heavily related to what FORGE does. We thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the situation and how we can help,” said Nikhil Bikhchandani, current president of FORGE and sophomore electrical and computer engineering major.
Emily Feenstra, a junior decision science major in the Science and Humanities Scholars program and current co-vice president of FORGE, found the event useful for providing simple strategies to integrate into her time with her refugee family. “For me, the tips given on how to stimulate conversations with our family were particularly helpful,” Feenstra said.
“It helped me get a better understanding of the the refugee resettlement process,” said sophomore art and global studies double major Jenny Soracco, who tutors a Bhutanese family through FORGE. “I was able to see a better picture of where my family is now, and what process they’ve gone through so far. They also presented pertinent information regarding what can be difficult for these refugee families now that they may not feel comfortable voicing to me.”
Whether sharing communication techniques or best practices, IRC representatives encouraged FORGE members, and other students in attendance, to work in whatever ways possible to provide local solutions to humanitarian issues that exist globally. “What you do is crucial,” Rehberg said. “It may seem like a small thing, but it can make the difference for these individuals who have already been through so much.”
Feenstra asserted that she also benefits from the time she volunteers to work with her refugee family. “I think working with a refugee family has been the best experience possible to get out of my own ethnic-socioeconomic-national bubble,” she said. “To recognize and connect with people who have struggled and endured through so much introduces a whole new perspective to our daily struggles and gives me great humility.”
Students interested in joining efforts to facilitate refugee resettlement efforts can contact FORGE to join its tutoring program or find volunteer opportunities directly with several local Pittsburgh agencies, including the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh, the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, and Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh.