Wednesday, 20 July 2016

How Africans Are Helping Refugees Settle In America

Habiba showing some of her teaching aides
By Paul Shalala in Syracuse, New York

Every year, the city of Syracuse in northern New York state receives dozens of African immigrants who run away from their countries for various reasons.

Some of these immigrants are refugees who run away from wars while some leave their countries for economic reasons.

Settling in the United States is a huge challenge especially for immigrants who do not speak English and those who have no relatives.

This challenge is even made worse by having no education qualification to help sustain your life.
But one immigrant had an idea which is now helping thousands of African immigrants to integrate in Syracuse.

Haji Adan, a Somali immigrant who came to the United States in 2006, came up with an idea to help fellow African immigrants settle well in wider society.

With the help of a few friends, they formed the Somali Bantu Community Association which has over the past decade helped African refugees find jobs and settle in society.

“When I came to the US, it was difficult to live here. Life was not easy because there was no one to help us,” said Mr Adan who is the association’s Executive Director.

Mr Adan says through volunteer work and the help of various donors, his association is now among the largest in terms of helping refugees settle in the city.

“We are doing all this without pay. We are actually paying back to the community,” said Mr Adan as he pointed at the newly refurbished classroom where English lessons are conducted for African immigrants.

He adds that though the association was formed to cater for African immigrants, the mandate has now changed and the association is rebranding itself to work with immigrants from around the world.

Haji Adan holding a certificate he earned for hard work
Free English lessons are offered to immigrants and children have the opportunity to also learn from Grades three to seven.

Through its after school program, the association also conducts graduations for those who are successful.

30 year Habiba Boru is one of the volunteer teachers at the Somali Bantu Community Association.

A resident of Syracuse for the past 16 years, Habiba says she grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya.

As this blogger interacted with her, she fluently spoke Somali and Swahili.

“Am a mother of four and I came here 16 years ago. Am now an American citizen but one day I wish to go back to Kenya because that’s where I grew up from,” she said.

Apart from teaching English lessons, she also connects some of the immigrants to companies were they can find jobs.

“We have a job readiness program here and we help immigrants find jobs. Sometimes it is easy to find them jobs but sometimes it is difficult if they do not speak English. But most employers tell us that African immigrants are hard working.”

One of the companies which the association partners with in finding employment for immigrants is Wal-Mart, the American large scale retailer.

The company has so far employed a number of immigrants who have been able to support their families financially.

However, not every immigrant finds it easy to get employed.

Habiba says there has been resentment with immigrants who wear Islamic attire at work.
Some of the association's graduands

She says some employers do not feel comfortable but Wal-Mart allows workers to wear its uniforms above Islamic attire.

As part of its rebranding exercise, the association is also helping immigrants acquire visas and drivers’ licences.

According to photos and postings on its Facebook page, the association conducts social events such as football tournaments and field trips to allow African immigrants interact and socialise.

Through various applications, the Somali Bantu Community Association has been able to sustain itself through grants from various institutions.

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