Voices from the Field – IRC Blog

International Rescue Committee (IRC) Refugee, Staff & Volunteer Blog

Archive for October, 2007

Refugees Greet Colin Powell in Phoenix

Posted by Emily Holland on 31 October, 2007

3-year-old Iraqi refugee Al Khattab greets Colin Powell with a sign in Arabic that reads “Welcome to Phoenix, Arizona.”
Photo: Emily Holland/The IRC
When General Colin L. Powell stepped off his plane in Phoenix, Arizona yesterday, he was greeted by children from very different corners of the world.  These children and their families — from war-torn Burma, Burundi and Iraq — were coming to thank General Powell for supporting an organization that has truly changed their lives.Their families are in Phoenix today because of the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), that has allowed them to resettle in the U.S., and the International Rescue Committee, which is helping them to rebuild their lives.  General Powell, an IRC overseer since 2005, has been a long-time advocate for refugees and victims of international conflict.

Robin Dunn-Marcos, regional director of the IRC’s Phoenix office, welcomed General Powell and highlighted the difference the IRC is making in refugees’ lives:  “Each of the refugee families represented today are all standing here in freedom because of agencies like the IRC, working internationally and domestically, and because of the opportunity our government provides refugees to be resettled under the U.S. admissions program.”

Dunn-Marcos then introduced General Powell to the Htoo, Latif and Gahungu families, beginning with the Htoos from Burma.  Father Boo Htoo was raised in a refugee camp where he met his wife.  They had their two children there.  A former teacher, Mr. Htoo is now using his skills as an educator to assist the IRC in helping newly-arrived Burmese refugees adjust to their new home.

The Latif family fled sectarian violence in Baghdad and arrived in Phoenix only six weeks ago.  With the help of the IRC, Mr. Latif is looking for a job and his 3-year-old son Al Khattab is already learning English.  His first English words, which he shared with General Powell, were “thank you!”

Finally, General Powell met the Gahungu family from Burundi.  Evode Gahungu fled Burundi for the Congo when he was just six years old.  He lived there as a refugee and became a teacher until he was caught in a rebel ambush and left for dead.  Rescued by a humanitarian organization, Mr. Gahungu recovered, spent another eight years in a refugee camp and there met his wife, Janine.  Resettled in Phoenix, Mr. Gahungu was hired as a janitor at the Phoenix airport.  He and his wife have four children and will be welcoming another child – an American citizen – soon. 
General Powell personally welcomed each family before addressing the audience.  Among those assembled were Charles Shipman, Arizona State refugee coordinator, and several IRC staff members, including former refugees from Iraq and Burundi.

Colin Powell welcomes refugeesPowell’s remarks:

“The International Rescue Committee, formed some 70 years ago to reach out and help people who have been displaced by war, by pestilence, by oppression, and to help them get settled in another part of the world, has done a marvelous job over these past 70 years, and I’m proud to be a member of the overseers.  It’s an extension of what I did as Secretary of State, where the program fell under my area of responsibility.”

“Every year, America opens its arms, its hearts and its homes to refugees.  ‘Refugees’ meaning they have no home, they’ve lost their homes, they’ve been living in camps far away from their homes.  And they’re going to be in those camps unless somebody opens their hearts and their country to them.” 

“America’s had a great reputation over the years.  We bring in more refugees than any other ten countries combined.  And it’s only right for America to do this.  It is part of our tradition.  It is part of our culture.  It’s the symbol of the Statue of Liberty.”

“And so I want to personally welcome these families.  I know that they will become great Americans.  I am sure that they will integrate into the Phoenix community well.  And I would like to thank the citizens of Phoenix for welcoming them and for opening their hearts and their arms to these three great families, who thought they might never find a home but they found one here in a place where so many of our forbearers found a home…a wonderful place we call America.”


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Interview with War Correspondent Kevin Sites

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 29 October, 2007

Kevin Sites reads from “In the Hot Zone” at the IRC office in New York, October 25, 2007
Photo: The IRC
When Kevin Sites stopped by IRC’s New York office on Thursday to read from his new book, “In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars,” he also took time out to answer a few questions.

We spoke about the Hot Zone project, his encounters with IRC staff in the field, some of the conflicts on his “watch list,” and what he’s working on now.

Kevin also shared the lesson he learned from the project: that “war defines itself as combat … but is really collateral damage.”

He said, “you hear so often that politicians and generals will say, well, in any war, there’s going to be some collateral damage. And it’s a huge lie. In any war, it’s almost all about collateral damage. It’s about the destruction of civil life, going on for generations. The combat, as any soldier will tell you, is a very small part…”

Interview with Kevin Sites Listen >

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IRC Staff Pick: “In the Hot Zone” by Kevin Sites

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 29 October, 2007

“In the Hot Zone” by Kevin Sites
One of the world’s most respected war correspondents, Kevin Sites spent five years covering global war and disaster for several national networks.  While working for NBC, he drew both praise and death threats for videotaping a U.S. Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent in a Fallujah mosque.

Kevin talks about that controversial incident in his new book, “In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars,” which chronicles the year he spent as a solo Web journalist, posting multimedia dispatches from the world’s “hot zones.” 

Without the backup of a big TV network, he relied on nonprofit organizations to help him get close to the conflicts he covered. The IRC was one of them, and the book includes anecdotes about IRC staffers Kevin met in Congo and South Sudan. He calls them “unknown soldiers” who have taken on dangerous work helping people caught up in war zones.

Kevin visited the IRC in New York on Thursday to talk about the Hot Zone project and read from the book.  In one selection, he describes grappling with how best to tell the stories of child soldiers, of rapes and of poverty — stories readers find so overwhelming, he says, they “often have the effect of shutting people down, rather than helping them step up.”

Kevin Sites introduces and reads a passage from “In the Hot Zone”  Listen >

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Child Labor in Uganda, Iraqi Refugees, More [This Week’s Voices]

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 27 October, 2007

Iraqi Boy
Photo: The IRC
– A 13-year-old child laborer in Uganda: “So much work made me crazy”

– Michael Kocher: Bush and Congress are in a “willful state of denial” about the Iraq refugee crisis

It’s Tom Brokaw’s turn to be interviewed on Rwandan “Peace Radio”

– Lydia Gomersall meets Christian and Muslim teens working for peace in Central Sulawesi: Parts 1 and 2

– Eliza Williams celebrates 40 years (!) serving with the IRC

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“So much work made me crazy”

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 24 October, 2007

An IRC program is helping Ugandan children forced by necessity into child labor to go back to school and establish careers
Photo: The IRC
Peter Biro posted a story on the IRC Web site today about IRC programs helping children in war-ravaged northern Uganda:

Geoffrey Olal and his five sisters were orphaned five years ago when their parents died of AIDS. At the age of 13, Geoffrey was forced to work laying bricks to feed himself and his sisters. In a good month he made 40,000 shillings, or about US $25.

“To make even this much I worked every day, all day long,” he said. “So much work made me crazy.”

A child protection committee started by the IRC found Geoffrey doing work that was hazardous to his health and inappropriate for his age. The IRC helped him go back to school and build a career as a skilled carpenter. He’s now able to pay for his sisters’ education. Link

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