Voices from the Field – IRC Blog

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

Archive for February, 2008

“Children were being punished for normal kid stuff” [This Week’s Voices]

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 29 February, 2008

Women’s Commission
Photo: Michelle Brané/Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children
A weekly round-up of notable quotes in the news and on the Web:

“People [at the immigration detention center] told us that children were being punished for normal kid stuff—running around, making noise, tantrums. I have a two- and four-year-old at home, and I kept thinking, how would I manage in here keeping them under control?”

– Michelle Brané, director of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children’s detention and asylum program, speaking with The New Yorker for an article about the effects of U.S. detention policies on immigrant families.

“Today’s humanitarian crisis in Iraq — and the potential consequences for our national security — are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won’t explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?”

– Angelina Jolie, actor and UNHCR Goodwill ambassador,  in an editorial in today’s Washington Post about the Iraqi refugee crisis. The International Rescue Committee honored Jolie and António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, with the 2007 Freedom Award last November.

“Unless they are already outside of Iraq and have made their way through the refugee program on their own merits, it’s very, very difficult for us to unify families. It is going to be a long wait.”

– Susan Donovan, IRC;s resettlement director in Charlottesville, telling The Daily Progress about the difficulties Iraqi refugee families have staying together.

“These casualties are the result of civil war, lack of a stable government and the collision of warring factions, including Hutus from neighboring Rwanda.”

– Parade’s Intelligence Report, citing the IRC’s recent mortality survey in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Posted in Africa, children, news, refugees, UnitedStates, war | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

98% Interest [Voices from the Archive]

Posted by The IRC on 28 February, 2008

Discussing personal financial management with a refugee in San Diego.
The IRC’s Jason Jarvinen (left) discusses personal financial management with a refugee in San Diego. Photo: Ralph Achenbach/The IRC
[Originally posted one year ago] By Kasra Movahedi, the International Rescue Committee’s community and economic development programs manager in San Diego

98% interest. That’s how much a Sudanese refugee in San Diego was being charged for a loan that he received from a less-than reputable financing company 10 months ago. He sent the money to his mother in Africa, who was ill and needed the funds to pay for medical care. After repaying nearly $2500 over 10 months, his outstanding principal balance was HIGHER than when he began because he made two late payments. The financing company was taking funds directly out of his barren checking account as soon as any deposits were made, he had lost his job, he was falling behind on his credit card payments, and the bank was about to repossess his car.

IRC‘s San Diego financial literacy program was able to package a loan for this refugee that paid off his 98% interest loan and his outstanding credit card debt in full. The IRC loan was also used to bring him current on his auto loan, preventing the vehicle’s repossession. With greatly reduced expenses and the recent attainment of steady income, he has realized some sense of financial normalcy. He plans to re-enroll in college this fall.

Three weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to share this story and several others like it with IRC’s Board of Directors when my colleague Kate Hughes and I traveled to IRC HQ in NYC to present on IRC’s San Diego community and economic development programs. For an organization that works in more than 25 countries and employs thousands of individuals, being given time at a Board of Directors meeting was, to be blunt, a big deal.

The focus shifted from successful business owners and homeowners to refugee health and community gardens when Kate began her portion of our presentation. Kate’s work is of particular interest because it is the first time that IRC has delved into food security programs. After two rounds of unexpected applause and a brief Q&A session, Kate and I returned to our seats for the duration of the board meeting, relieved of the nervous energy that filled us before our presentation.

The rest of the board meeting was focused on IRC’s important work overseas; Iraqi refugees, our emergency response approach, and an updated look at the situations in Somalia and Darfur. I listened intently as each of these issues was discussed, and was exhilarated to witness the context of the discussion always focused on “the humanitarian thing to do.” It is not every day that you get to witness the primary decision-making body of an international aid organization discuss ways to alleviate suffering throughout the world.

In reflecting on my trip, I can point to two interrelated insights that I gained:

First, with more in-depth, first-hand knowledge of IRC’s work abroad, I have a better context for the role of my economic development work domestically. My department is at the tail-end of a compelling & vertically integrated continuum of services stretching from some of the most remote locations in the world all the way to sunny San Diego. The IRC can provide emergency relief when a refugee is forced to flee their home, set up short-term camps to keep people alive and safe, assist in the processing for those individuals fortunate enough to be slated for resettlement, provide for airport pickup and initial housing for those brought to the U.S., assist in reuniting families domestically, assist in learning English, assist in finding employment, help refugee students with after-school programming, help in starting a business, assist in saving for a down payment on a home, and offer education and financial products that can help new arrivals avoid predatory lenders and fringe financial service providers–some of whom charge 98% interest. Pretty amazing when you step back and take a look at it.

The second major insight: I am very fortunate to do what I do.

Posted in education, refugees, UnitedStates | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

“I am happier now that I can help myself” [Voices from the Archive]

Posted by The IRC on 25 February, 2008

Photo: The IRC
[originally posted on theIRC.org] My name is Aloyo. I’m 19 and live in a refugee camp in the Pader District in northern Uganda. Life is hard here, but the International Rescue Committee’s ORACLE project has helped me lead a more meaningful life. I lost my parents in 1999. We were five children in the family, two boys and three girls. After the death of my parents, we had to find someone to take care of us, give us schooling and help us with other basic needs.

At first I got involved in child labor, but in 2001 my aunt offered to look after us and we were greatly relieved. Despite her good intentions, though, she could not always provide for us. We at times had to survive on one meal a day. Getting clothes was a problem for me and sometimes I would miss school.

I got involved in the ORACLE project when the ORACLE staff came to my school and later to my camp. They had come to help orphans and children who were involved in child labor. I was selected because of being an orphan. After some months, they brought me a school uniform and a school bag, and exercise books, pens and pencils, a ruler and a pair of slippers.

In 2005, the local leaders of my camp told my aunt that the ORACLE project was sponsoring training in catering and hotel management and wanted to know if I was interested. My aunt talked with me and we agreed it was a good idea. So I and 27 other children were taken to the Lira School of Catering and Hotel Management on the first day in May in that year. ORACLE paid all our school fees and tutored us in school requirements.

I successfully completed the three months’ training and attained a certificate in catering and hotel management. Later, the project organized a three-day business management course for us at the Pader town council, and we also received a set of start-up tools: two charcoal stoves, two saucepans, a frying pan, a baking tray, some serving spoons, and a set of utensils and plates, glasses and cups, for a dozen people.

I have used the skills I learned to start a restaurant in my camp. I employ two people and take in about 100,000 shillings (about $55 U.S. dollars) a month, sometimes less because of the fluctuating number of customers and the level of poverty in the camp. But I always buy my supplies in Lira since it is Lira that supplies most of Pader with food and other basic goods.

I am happier now that I can help myself, my aunt, my sisters, my new baby, and other people. I am confident I can do the same business in other places using my knowledge and skills.

I wish to thank the IRC ORACLE project very much and may God bless them all. I hope they can continue helping children and other people in the camps in Uganda. Thank you very much, the people working for ORACLE.

Posted in Africa, women | Leave a Comment »

In West Africa, men “can prey upon women with impunity” [This Week’s Voices]

Posted by The IRC on 22 February, 2008

Women taking part in the GBV Global Crescendo project took these photographs of violence in their villages. These photos are not staged.  They document real attacks against women as they took place.  Men routinely use violence against women with complete impunity.
Women taking part in the GBV Global Crescendo project took these photographs of violence in their villages. These photos are not staged. They document real attacks against women as they took place. Men routinely use violence against women with complete impunity. Photo: Goze Martine
A weekly round-up of notable quotes in the news and on the Web. 

“Here in West Africa, as in so many other places where rape was used as a weapon of war, it has become a habit carried seamlessly into the ‘post-conflict’ era. Where normal law enforcement and justice systems have been disabled by war, ex-combatants and civilian men alike can prey upon women with impunity, and they do.”

Ann Jones, an author, expert on violence against women and volunteer with the International Rescue Committee’s gender-based violence unit, published an op-ed about women in West Africa in The Los Angeles Times.

“Congo was ignored for too long.”

Charles Nasibu, a Congolese journalist living as a refugee in Norway, wrote in an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, which cited the IRC’s mortality survey that estimates 5.4 million have lost their lives since 1998.

“Atlanta is a big city. Everything is huge. And people, the majority are very nice. They don’t care whether you’re Arab or Asian. But it’s not the city I was dreaming of. I didn’t dream I would be living in America as a refugee.”

– Ahmad Ali (not his real name), an Iraqi refugee resettled in Atlanta with his family by the IRC, said in the cover story of Creative Loafing entitled “From Baghdad to Doraville,” last week.

“I can’t wait until when I hear the time they are coming. It’s a feeling like when you think you lost something really important, then all of a sudden, you found it.”

– Gabriel Dut Bethou, a so-called “Lost Boy of Sudan” resettled in the U.S. by the IRC told
The Milford Daily News of Massachusetts. Bethou hopes to reunite with his family after not seeing them for 13 years.

Posted in Africa, emergencies, refugees, women | 1 Comment »

Video: Colin Powell Welcomes Refugees to Phoenix

Posted by The IRC on 19 February, 2008

Former Secretary of State and International Rescue Committee Board of Overseers member Colin Powell recently visited the IRC’s resettlement program in Phoenix, AZ. There, Powell met with a small group of refugees resettled to the Phoenix area. Among them were families from Burma, Burundi and Iraq. “I want to personally welcome these families,” Powell told the group. “I know that they will become great Americans.”

Posted in Africa, Asia, MiddleEast, refugees, UnitedStates, video | Leave a Comment »