Saama’s path to happiness
Saama, her eight children and her husband came to the U.S. from Afghanistan in the Summer of 2017. Her family was awarded a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) due to the work her husband did with the U.S. Military in Kabul. They resettled in Cincinnati near Catholic Charities shortly after moving to the U.S.
Saama came to the U.S. with the inability to speak any English words. She seemed very hesitant to look anyone in the eye or speak aloud. She first attended English classes at Catholic Charities with her husband and children, who had much more advanced English skills than she did. She then stopped coming to class when they started their jobs and high school classes.
Catholic Charities became concerned that Saama wouldn’t attend class again and reached out to her husband about the importance of English classes for his wife to have her own life here in the U.S. Shortly after the discussion with her husband, Saama began walking to and attending classes again.
After several months of working in our language services department at Catholic Charities, Saama has come out of her shell. She now smiles and greets everyone in English. She feels inspired to come to class because she wants to learn. It is her goal to improve her English skills so she can better her communication with her neighbors and her family.
Saama , her family and many others are alive and beginning productive lives as a result of the care and treatment received at Catholic Charities.
*Details of this story have been changed/altered to protect those mentioned.
Pray for Families Torn Apart
Amenah sits quietly amidst families laughing, dancing and playing at Catholic Charities World Refugee Day Celebration. Her smile does not quite reach her eyes as she wishes her sons had joined her for this fun-filled family event.
But her youngest son shuns being around other boys with their fathers. It makes him miss his own father even more.
The family escaped wars in Iraq and Syria and was invited to live in the United States as a refugees. But Amenah’s husband, Jamal, suffered a heart attack just before they flew to the United States. He encouraged her to fly without him. He would follow as soon as doctors told him he was healthy enough for the trip.
But then the travel ban barring travel from five Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as Venezuela and North Korea, from entering the United States took effect.
It’s been hardest on the 13-year-old son. “He asks me, ‘when will I see my father?’ I don’t know what to tell him. All we can do is pray,” Amenah says.
Nearly every family from Syria resettled by Catholic Charities has a similar story, said. Ted Bergh, CEO of the agency.“We are consoling families here who cling to the hope they will see loved ones once again,” he said.
More than 25 million refugees lives are on hold around the world – the highest number in recorded history. Yet U.S. resettlement has plummeted to an all-time low. The administration set a very low goal of 45,000 refugee admissions for 2018 and resettled just 20,000 refugees. Now the new admissions target is 30,000.
“This should be disturbing to every American who values our nation’s history of reaching out to protect the oppressed. The hard work, determination, and skills of generations of immigrants from all countries, religions, and backgrounds built our great nation. We should continue our tradition of welcoming immigrants in this difficult time,” Bergh said.
Refugees Thrive in First Jobs
“The company recognizes the challenges our refugees face within the first few months of arriving in America and consistently provides flexible scheduling to accommodate their needs,” Bill Huffman, of Catholic Charities, said.
In the early weeks of resettlement, refugees must complete numerous, mandatory appointments such as medical visits. As both spouses secure employment, What Chefs Want enables employees to rotate to new shifts to accommodate family schedules. The company assists with transportation to work, too.
“The management staff provides a positive, encouraging environment where our refugees thrive,” Bill said. He added he appreciates partnering with What Chefs Want because the company is enabling refugees to establish themselves quickly. One refugee began working there four weeks after arriving in Cincinnati.
Ian Navarro of What Chefs Want said, “Catholic Charities provides a network of skilled people who have helped us provide chefs and restaurants with high quality products for their kitchen. When we acquired ReFresh Produce, one of the features that drew us to their business was the skill set the employees had. They are very good at their craft and we wanted to maintain that level of skill and quality.”
Companies that give refugees an opportunity to work rarely regret the decision. Bill said, “Refugees have a strong work ethic and are appreciative of being given the opportunity of employment. Refugee retention rates are much higher than the industry average. The background checks move quickly due to the vetting process already being completed.”
Navarro agrees. He said, “I recommend other businesses explore refugee hires if they’re seeking a quality and consistent labor pool. Everything has been positive and we look forward to continued growth as we move into our new facility.”
Faith and Love Prevail
Papy left civil war and violence behind in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he never lost touch with his childhood friend Bibishe. Their families were close, and she lived nearby.
Papy smiles warmly recalling himself and Bibishe as children. Life was simpler.
He left his childhood home to study at a university in Kinshasa, the capital city. Upon graduation he accepted a job in the eastern part of the country. Immediately, he realized he was in the wrong place as he witnessed fighting and bloodshed. He fled to Zimbabwe where he worked as a translator for foreign embassies and was active in church. Papy said, “I’m a man of God.”
The entire time, Papy stayed in contact with Bibishe. He worried about her safety.
Once the United Nations Refugee Resettlement program vetted Papy, he was assigned to Cincinnati. He recalls Catholic Charities meeting him at the airport and taking him to his first home. Catholic Charities assisted Papy in securing his first job packing medical supplies. Now he works at an assisted living facility taking care of disabled residents.
Papy reached out to Catholic Charities in preparation for his U.S. Citizenship test last year. He prepared for 100 questions because he was unsure which questions would be asked. He passed easily.
As a U.S. citizen, he was ready to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to marry Bibishe. Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services ensured all of the travel documents were in order.
“I praised God. I was so happy to see her safe and alive,” Papy said. At long last, they married. “I’m a man of faith.”
With the support of Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, Bibishe’s Immigrant Visa was approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; and was forwarded to U.S Consulate and U.S Embassy in Kinshasa for her immigrant visa insurance. Papy prays Bibishe will be with him soon so they can live their lives together.
Abdullah and Samira opened the door to their Mason apartment, eager to welcome visitors and serve steaming hot sweet tea on a June afternoon.
“We are very grateful and blessed to be here,” Abdullah begins. “We’ve met only kindness since arriving in America. I wish I had come as a young man so I could serve this great nation.”
Abdulla, 64, and his wife, Samira, 63, are from Aleppo, Syria. They share their story through an interpreter provided by Catholic Charities Language Professionals.
Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city, with more than 2 million calling the industrial and financial center home. Aleppo was essentially obliterated from the map as the major battleground for four years in the civil war between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to overthrow the President.
Abdullah and his family are among the 11 million Syrians displaced by the civil war.
“I was walking home and hit by gunfire. I woke up. All around me were people –dead. They were placing bodies – 10 at atime – in large bags,” Abdullah said. “I thought I would never see my family again.”
But he did make his way home. Then bombs destroyed his home.
“My family shattered,” Abdullah said. He, Samira and his adult children fled to Turkey. Some of his siblings fled to Germany. His mother and another sibling fled to Saudi Arabia.
When Abdullah arrived in Turkey, he was admitted into a United Nations Refugee program at once due to his poor health. He had a bad heart in addition to the slow-healing gunshot wounds. Three years later, the United Nations notified him that he and Samira would be granted asylum in the United States. Their youngest son, Mohammed, also received the same news. They would go together so Muhammed could support his parents.
Abdullah and Samira arrived in Cincinnati just before Christmas in 2016. Their son was to follow. But when it was time for Muhammed to travel, the Turkish customs officials stopped him. It’s unclear whether the new travel ban created the delay.
Samira sobbed, “We just want our son to join us. We need him, and he needs us.”
Like any proud parent, Abdullah and Samira shared pictures of their family from happier times. They call Muhammed via “FaceTime” from their apartment. It was nearly 8 pm in Turkey, and he was trying to find gas so he could cook a meal. He’s living on the streets of Turkey with his wife and son.
“I love you,” Mohammed says. Abdullah smiles and says, “I know he will join us one day, and my grandson will grow up in this fine country. He will want to serve America.”
Text HopeBeyond to 71777 to support Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Legal Services work.
World Refugee Day Celebrates Perseverance
More than 200 refugees and community volunteers celebrated World Refugee Day in June with food, music and dance from around the world. So many of the refugees resettled by Catholic Charities enjoyed the opportunity to be welcomed warmly by others. One elderly husband said he’s met only kindness since arriving in America last December. Thank you to all of the volunteers and sponsors who made this annual event special.
Faith Guides Resettlement Efforts
On the drive back to Catholic Charities, Chris Kramer contemplated how he would find a three bedroom home for a family of six refugees arriving in two days. He breathed deeply and prayed to the Lord for help.
His prayer was answered when he reached his desk and saw a voicemail message waiting. It was the landlord of a three bedroom home who wanted to know if Chris had a family in need. “Thank you, Lord,” Chris thought as he made arrangements with the landlord for the arriving refugee family.
“I’ve been in similar situations, said the same prayer four different times and without fail, the Lord has constantly provided what’s needed in the time frame of when it’s needed,” Chris said.
Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program has been blessed many times with volunteers and donors who made it possible for the small team to resettle 333 people – about 121 families – over 12 months. And the need for support increases each day as Catholic Charities is expecting to resettle more than 400 refugees this year.
Chris just celebrated his first anniversary at Catholic Charities and the Fairfield native enjoys his work as a housing specialist. A Lee University graduate of Intercultural Studies, Chris built a database of property management companies of all sizes who rent apartments and homes to refugees. Many of these landlords have worked with Catholic Charities for years.
“They are willing to take that leap of faith with us as we find first homes for families,” Chris said. Refugee tenants are reliable and appreciative of having a place to call home.
Typically, Chris learns of a family arriving four to five weeks in advance which gives him time to find housing, organize volunteers, and move household items from the warehouse to the new home. The required furnishings and necessities are basic: one couch, a kitchen table with chairs, a bed, a blanket and. In the past, new arrivals would have to spend up to $250 from their $1,000 living allowance to complete their homes. That’s a significant expense when the living allowance needs to stretch for 90 days –the expected time when Catholic Charities assists a refugee in landing his or her first job.
But through the generosity of the community at large, Chris has a small warehouse of household items to also provide a coffee table or night stand, a mop or broom and even toiletries, cleaning supplies and artwork. A picture here or there makes a rental apartment or house feel like home. Donations of welcome baskets and gently used furniture enable refugees to use their allowance for groceries and utilities.
“Some donors hear a story about a refugee family on the news and ask themselves what do I have in excess? They’re moved by compassion as they recognize these families are a lot like their own families. They see it as their Christian duty to see others’ circumstances improve,” Chris said.
Another way the community is making a difference is by volunteering during the bi-monthly warehouse days. Volunteers sort, organize and prepare items for moves. Twelve to 50 volunteers on Saturdays make Chris’ job easier. He usually shares a story about one of the recently resettled refugee families so volunteers understand the impact of their work. Volunteers often share their experience with others which has resulted in more companies donating household items and more volunteers getting involved.
“I believe they’re divine connections,” Chris said. “We couldn’t do this without the support of friends.”
Household items can be scheduled for drop off at Catholic Charities offices at 7162 Reading Road, Suite 600 Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. or at the Catholic Charities warehouse most first and third Saturdays of every month. Contact Mussie Andemariam in advance at (513) 672-3723 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule and confirm item drop offs.
Large items such as couches and tables can be picked up as capacity allows. Catholic Charities is unable to accept large household items such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers or stoves. To learn more about the warehouse days or how to donate items, visit www.ccswoh.org/refugees/how-you-can-help.
To Live Again
Constantin was the head teacher in his region of the Congo until ethnic divisions and an election changed his life and put his family in danger.
Accused of assisting the opposition during the 2011 election, Constantin was hunted by government soldiers who killed his wife and burned his home to the ground. His children scattered in fear, but he was able to grab his youngest son, Gaspar.
They fled to Uganda where Constantin looked for work and longed for his other children. A Red Cross worker told him of children from the Congo looking for their father and brother. Constantin reunited with his children but the next four years living as refugees were difficult.
“We had nothing to eat,” Gasper explained
Then Constantin received news that he and two of his children would receive asylum and an opportunity to resettle in the United States.
“This was a huge dilemma,” Constantin said. Several of my children were already in the United States, but how could I leave children behind without a father, without a mother? I’m crying inside. I’m thankful for the U.S. government in welcoming my family and everything Catholic Charities is doing to help us live again. I know Catholic Charities will be able to help my family reunite again.”
Gasper is also sad when he asked about family left behind but he’s optimistic that everything is possible in the United States. Within three weeks of landing in the United States, Gaspar enrolled in a computer training program to sharpen his skills for employment.
“This is a very peaceful country. In Africa, they’d tell us America is a country full of opportunities. I have many dreams. I will work hard so I can go back to school and improve my computer science skills. I believe I can make my dreams come true here,” Gaspar said.
A Walk to Freedom
As Josette learned to sew a quilt at Catholic Charities, she smiled widely because her life is coming together seamlessly since arriving to the United States a year ago.
Life hadn’t always been easy for the refugee from Congo Brazzaville in Central Africa.
A civil war forced Josette, her family and thousands of others to flee their homes in 1998. Her husband had boarded the last train to Gabon. But Josette and their three children walked for months to the neighboring country of The Democratic Republic of Congo. They hid in bushes, ate off the streets and slept on the ground. By the time they arrived at a refugee camp, the children were fatigued and malnourished. They lived at the refugee camp for year, feeling safe and regaining their health. Yet, Josette had lost contact with her husband because of the war.
Once the war ended, Josette and her children returned to Congo Brazzaville, and they reunited with her husband in Gabon in 2002. But life was very difficult. After a few years in Gabon, they applied for refugee status to escape the turmoil in the country. The process was difficult and involved many interviews. Over the years, they welcomed two new children into their family.
In 2014, the family’s application was approved, and they learned they would be sent to the United States. While Josette was sad to leave her family and friends behind, she was excited to begin a new life.
Josette and her family landed in Cincinnati on November 25, 2014. Her eldest son, who arrived earlier, greeted the family with Catholic Charities staff.
In many ways American culture was different than Josette expected, but she remained hopeful that her family would be happy here. Her younger children enrolled in school and husband and older children worked.
Now her husband is employed at Club Chef. Her eldest son, who began as a dishwasher at Cheesecake Factory, is opening various restaurant chains around the country. Her younger children are quickly learning English and doing well in school. Josette is pleased to see her family succeeding in so many ways.
As she looks towards the future, she dreams of purchasing a house, learning to speak English at Catholic Charities and sending her children to college. With big aspirations ahead, the days of struggle and turmoil remain in the past.
Internship Expands World View
Kelsey Vice, a student from Xavier University, interned with Catholic Charities over the summer and shares her experience serving refugees.
Prior to my internship at Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement, I had limited knowledge and experience with refugees. However, through this experience I had the privilege to listen to the refugee stories first hand. I have learned of wars tearing families apart, religious leaders ostracizing people, governments persecuting people and much more.
One aspect of the internship that astounds me the most is the resilience of refugees. Their ability to go through an array of unthinkable circumstances in their home countries and then have the courage to move to an entirely new country to rebuild their lives is unbelievably inspiring. Despite the enormous obstacles in their way, their hearts are still full of love and compassion.
By being exposed to cultures and languages from places I had never heard of, I gained a greater awareness about the world we live in. Furthermore I gained a better understanding about myself and the desires I have for my future. Since this internship, I have changed my major to Social Work in hope of continuing to work with populations such as the refugees.
As an intern at Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement I had the opportunity to be an ally to our refugees. I was a welcoming face at the airport, an initial connection through intakes, a supporter during job search and much more. I was given the privilege and responsibility to address the needs of our clients directly which empowered me to ask questions, think critically, and engage deeply. My title as an intern turned into a role far more meaningful and rewarding than I ever could have imagined. Thus, I encourage anyone who is interested in knowing more or getting involved to come volunteer at Catholic Charities. It is an opportunity that will change you for the better and leave you with relationships that will last a lifetime.
Refugees Secure Jobs
Refugees arrive to America with little more than dreams but are ready to work hard to care for families and turn dreams into reality.
This is why Refugee Resettlement Job Placement focuses on finding first jobs for people like Sadiki Bambi who arrived just before Christmas from the Republic of Burundi. She attended job readiness classes three times per week and English for Speakers of Other Languages classes twice a week. By May, she landed her first job at Arslan Uniforms sewing and packaging.
Pema Tamang arrived in America in February and started his first job in America in April at Jancoa Janitorial Services. Khina Oli secured employment at Jancoa as well. They’re among the 31 refugees who began working since the start of the year.
Jancoa began employing refugees from Catholic Charities about five years ago and has more than 50 Bhutanese refugees on staff. Jancoa Chief Operating Officer Clint Bard says, “We found a great community of people who live close to our office and have a great work ethic. They’re not looking for a handout. They want what we all do: to be able to take care of our families.”
Jancoa provides a competitive wage and opportunities for advancement. Bard wants employees to build careers at Jancoa but realizes for some their first job is a stepping stone. Some refugees move on to jobs as interpreters at area hospitals. Others stay and build successful careers at Jancoa. The company just promoted a refugee who now speaks Nepali, some Spanish and English to assistant area manager and believes the employee has the potential to reach an even higher leadership position within the company.
“People come to the United States to pursue the American Dream – a chance to better themselves. My Irish and German ancestors did the same thing,” Bard said. “Refugees have a strong value system. They take pride in their work.”
Humble Farmers Plant Roots
“I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper.”
Humble farmers, Hari and Khina Oli fled conflict in Bhutan and found safety in a Nepali refugee camp in 1992. They gave birth to a daughter, Jashoda, and then a son, Sagar.
In November 2013, the family arrived in Cincinnati through your support of Catholic Charities. Neither Hari or Khina could read or write. Both attended English classes every day regardless of snow or rain.
Jashoda and Sagar enrolled in Colerain High School and also found jobs. Jashoda, who made jewelry in the refugee camp, continues to make jewelry. She works a full-time job. Eventually, the 20-year-old began taking classes at Cincinnati State and obtained an Ohio Driver’s License. Sagar, 17, works part-time at Kroger.
Hari, who is 65, found a part-time job, and Khina, who is 49, works full-time. Their rented house is a joyful home, particularly because of the large garden they’ve created in the backyard. Once farmers, always farmers in the community that is now home.
Love Thy New Neighbor
Riding in a car was difficult for Jeremie Byiringiro at first. Then he saw his first airplane up close.
“I thought it was so huge. But I knew it would take me from one world to a new world,” Jeremie said. “Riding the plane was like a miracle.”
Just like the miracle of turning knobs for a warm shower or the instant flame on the stove. It’s the simple things that Jeremie, his wife, Germane, and their seven children are enjoying now as some of your newest neighbors.
This Congolese family spent nineteen long years living in a tent in a Rwandan refugee camp with 15,000 others. Two years ago, after three interviews, they learned they would be granted asylum in the United States. But Germane was pregnant with their seventh child, Goodluck. So the family had to start the application process all over. They arrived with more than 60 other refugees who were resettled in March by Catholic Charities.
“I have no words to describe my happiness,” Jeremie said. “America is a blessing to me and my family.”
In Rwanda, Jeremie worked at the camp as a tailor and gathered firewood for his wife to cook and heat water. Sometimes they went without firewood and food. Most days they stood in long lines for water. They learned from missionaries that America was a far better place.
“The way Catholic Charities takes care of us, asks us what we need is more than we expected,” Jeremie said. “I look forward to guidance on getting a job. I want to be able take care of this house and pay rent for it. I will need a job to maintain my family. That is my biggest worry.”
Germane was overwhelmed when she first glimpsed at Cincinnati from the airplane window. She said, “Now I am comfortable because we have someone to guide us, to take us shopping and to show us what to eat. This is so positive for our children. I never went to school. Now,they will have a chance at an education. We have abundant happiness.”
More than 100 refugees have been resettled so far this year in Greater Cincinnati and another 100 are expected by the end of 2015. Donations and volunteers are urgently needed to provide basic household items and furnishings, greet new arrivals at the airport and take them to appointments during their initial weeks here. Learn more at https://ccswoh.org/services/refugees/how-can-you-help/.
A Walk of Faith
“Serve God. Serve Others.”
This expression greets Best Upon Request President and CEO Tillie Hidalgo Lima when she looks up from the desk of her corner office in Cincinnati. It’s a gentle reminder that propels her whether she’s leading her successful on-site concierge company or leading in the community as co-chair of the United Way’s Hispanic Leadership Society.
The expression is also rooted in her humble beginnings, when she left Cuba for United States, with little more than the clothes on her back in 1961. One of her family’s first stops was to Catholic Charities in Miami, Florida.
“We were poorer than poor,” Tillie says. Catholic Charities provided the young family with clothes, $100 and Eastern Airline Tickets to Atlanta where they had more family. “They provided a little lift to help us move forward.”
Tillie learned perseverance, hard work and a passion for excellence from her parents, Alberto and Matilde. Their life story shaped her into the successful business woman and community leader she is today.
Tillie’s father was 26, working in the Cuban underground when the Bay of Pigs invasion failed. The family was awakened in the middle of the night by milicianos brandishing automatic weapons looking for evidence to put Alberto in jail. They interrogated the family until 3 a.m. without finding evidence – U.S. currency and radio equipment – that her mother had sewn into curtain valances and hidden in the bases of lamps.
Hundreds of thousands of people were being imprisoned at the time. Alberto needed to flee Cuba with his pregnant, 21-year-old wife and their 10-month-old baby. Tillie says, “Every step they took was a walk of faith.”
He reached out to his uncle Evelio in Miami. The longer he remained in Cuba the higher his risk of being arrested, imprisoned and shot by a firing squad. He needed an excuse to leave that he could share with his boss. So his uncle sent an urgent telegram advising that his father was gravely ill, and he needed to come to Miami.
The family packed for one week to avoid raising suspicion. The family wasn’t allowed to bring anything valuable other than their wedding bands, a ten Cuban peso bill and a couple of American dimes to call their uncle once they landed. Alberto told the U.S. immigration agent that he couldn’t return to Cuba for fear of his life and requested political asylum. He was granted Indefinite Parole.
Yet life didn’t come easy for the refugee family. Her mother raised six children in all, sewing their clothes, while her husband earned his PhD. Tillie and her siblings graduated from college.
“Education helped us get out of poverty,” Tillie says. “I believe in paying it forward and built this into my business culture.”
Best Upon Request allows businesses to provide the gift of time to their employees, reduce employee stress, support a healthier workforce, improve productivity and retain and attract top talent. Learn more about Best Upon Request at https://www.bestuponrequest.com/.
Reunited at Last: Bringing Families Together
Tressor Kalala hadn’t laid eyes on his wife, Sadiki, or his children in 10 years. Now, all separating them was a bold red line at the Greater Cincinnati Airport.
This was the joyful scene from just before Christmas that Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Director Alisa Berry recalls with tear-filled eyes.
“It’s amazing to see families reunited and knowing that they have found a much safer place to raise their families,” Alisa says. “To be a part of Catholic Charities making this contribution to society is a wonderful feeling. It’s also humbling because you realize it’s easy to take what we have in America for granted. So many people are driven from their homes by their governments.”
Among the Lucky Few
More than 17 million refugees worldwide flee their homes because of war and persecution. Many settle in UN refugee camps. Less than 2% get the opportunity to resettle in the US, Canada, Europe or Australia. Tressor and his family, natives of the Republic of Burundi, are among the lucky few.
He escaped 10 years ago taking a circuitous route to get to the United States. He stayed in touch with his family via Skype, hoping, praying and dreaming to be together again. At one point, he nearly gave up hope.
“I am so grateful to the United States of America, to Catholic Charities and all of the kind people,” he said.
Two years after arriving in Cincinnati and going through Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program, Tressor saved enough money as a maintenance worker to buy a house. Studying at Cincinnati State College, he works hard to ensure a bright future for his family.
Refugee Resettlement enables newcomers to feel at home in our community and to gain self-sufficiency.
His wife Sadiki, son, Albert, and daughter, Gisele, have a long journey ahead. With your support of Catholic Charities, the road will be easier as they learn English and the skills to be successful in America. Learn how you can assist others like Tressor’s family here. Watch his story as shared by Local Channel 12 News here.
Because of You, Aman Achieved His American Dream
When Aman Aria arrived as a refugee from Sudan in 2004, he was in his own words, “A blind and deaf man.”
Well educated in his homeland, he came to Cincinnati with no understanding of the English language. “I couldn’t speak to people; I couldn’t even read the signs in the airport or on the street.”
Thanks to your support of Catholic Charities, our Refugee Resettlement manager met Aman at the airport with a translator. They collected his few belongings and took him his first home in America. The apartment was furnished fully down to the linens and cleaning supplies. All of these items were purchased with donations to Catholic Charities.
On his first day in the United States, the Catholic Charities van picked Aman up for his first English for Speakers of Other Languages class (ESOL). He learned how to navigate the local transit system and the basic phrases to get around Cincinnati. Importantly, he learned communication skills for the workplace.
One of the goals of the refugee program is to evaluate newcomers for employment and assist them in securing work within 90 days of their arrival. Aman, already fluent in multiple dialects from his Sudan, was a quick study and within weeks had landed his first job at the Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli on East Court Street downtown.
Working not only allows refugees to become self-sufficient, it introduces them to a wider variety of people and to opportunities to expand their new language skills. Aman made friends quickly and continued his classwork at Cathlolic Charities while branching out on his own to build his American Dream.
This included enrolling in Cincinnati Cooks, a culinary arts program of the Free Store Foodbank. Aman soon became a restaurant line cook. He worked in a number of area restaurants while living frugally and saving his money for the future.
With his savings, he purchased a house out of foreclosure. It needed plenty of work, so he brought in a remodeling firm to help with one condition: They had to hire him as part of the crew so he could learn the tradecraft he’d need to expand.
Dancing with the Bhutanese
Catholic Charities is the only agency in the Greater Cincinnati area that resettles economic and political refugees brought into the United States by the U.S. State Department.
Recently, Catholic Charities has resettled hundreds of refugees from Bhutan which is a mountainous nation sandwiched between China and India in the Himalayas. As the Bhutanese refugee community grows, their culture of dance has influenced at least one suburban Cincinnati neighborhood.
The PTA of Monfort Heights Elementary in the White Oak area of western Cincinnati holds a dance recital every year. They offered a young Bhutanese girl from a client family of Catholic Charities, the opportunity to take part in a dance class program. She then recruited other classmates who are from Bhutan and they performed a demonstration dance at the dance recital.
The audience loved it. After seeing the dance, the PTA added a Bhutanese dance class to the school’s dance program. The class is taught by Indira Kuikel, a senior at Colerain High School and herself a refugee. Cultural costumes were donated by the Indian community. Nor Siwa, an accomplished tailor and refugee, altered the costumes.
The first dance class included 8 American girls and 2 Bhutanese. They performed as part of the dance program’s recital at McAuley High School.
Bhutanese dancing—another unexpected cross-cultural experience resulting from the Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement program.
From War Refugee to American Hopeful
Twenty-two year old Nupcia Mbilampassia is a beautiful young mother with a shy smile. She’s a university graduate who likes to go to the park and hang out with her 2-year old daughter and friends. She’s got a job, goes to church, and, to an outsider, looks like your typical Cincinnatian.
But looks are deceiving.
Nupcia has had a life of upheaval. This spring, she came to Cincinnati from Gabon, a small West African nation that sits between Cameroon and Congo. She was a war refugee, originally from the Republic of Congo, where civil war broke out when she was just eight years old, forcing her family from their home. Even after the fighting stopped, the political situation in Congo did not improve.
After 14 years as a refugee, she was granted the status to leave Gabon. Nupcia came to the United States, with her daughter Serlya Makita, as a client of Catholic Charities’ Refugee Settlement Services. She had to make the difficult decision to leave without her husband, who is waiting to join her in the U.S.
She came to Cincinnati in March 2012, and got a job soon after. Like many immigrants before her, she is starting at an entry level job. “I am working at DHL. The type of job that I am doing is sorting letters based on zip code,” she says. She has already been recognized for her hard work and has gone from part-time to full-time.
Catholic Charities has been very helpful in connecting her with the resources she needs to make a home in Cincinnati.
To help her get started, Catholic Charities helped her get an apartment, pay for her rent and other necessities; and she’s receiving financial assistance from the government. She’s quick to point out that, as her income increases, the assistance level will go down.
When a car became available for Catholic Charities to give to a refugee client, the decision was easy as to who it should go to-Nupcia. She’d never had one in her home country and it is important to her. “This helps me with my job, so I can get to work,” she says.
Catholic Charities is the only provider of direct resettlement services for war, religious and political refugees in Hamilton County and Southwestern Ohio. Over the past thirty-one years, more than 11,000 refugees have been resettled in the Great-er Cincinnati area under the auspices of Catholic Charities, which works with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Department of State.
The program helps refugees before they travel from their refugee nation, once they arrive in the U.S., and after they’re settled. Once they are in Cincinnati, the agency helps refugees find work, housing and English courses, in addition to getting proper documentation like a Social Security card.
Nupcia hasn’t quite adjusted to the U.S. culture, especially the food. But she’s made friends through church, and likes to learn about the city through their eyes. She’s doing well, but some days are tough in a totally new environment.
“It’s very difficult or hard, but its OK,” she says with a smile.
In Gabon, she studied marketing, but hopes to get an IT degree here. The challenge is that she has to start over academically. “I want to pursue my studies. I have to get my GED and then I can go to a university here,” she says.
Nupcia has gone from a future of refugee uncertainty to one of American hope.