Voices from the Field – IRC Blog

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

Archive for the ‘children’ Category

A new way to heal / Boise

Posted by Wynne Boelt on 11 September, 2008

1)	Artwork created by child resettled by the IRC in Boise
Artwork created by a child resettled by the IRC in Boise Photo: The IRC
The IRC’s Boise office is helping refugee children cope with mental anguish and trauma in a new program that combines art therapy and a psychotherapy technique called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or EDMR.  The program gives small children who have fled war and persecution a chance to work through traumatic memories without actually having to talk about them.

IRC Boise resettlement director Leslye Boban told The Boise Weekly that she hopes the program can one day be used to help adults cope with trauma too.  “We’re working with a counseling group to also do the same technique with the parents, because you can’t work with the kids and open them up like that and go home to a chaotic, unstable environment.”


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Northern Iraq: Waiting to go home

Posted by jessmalter on 3 September, 2008

Jessica Malter blogs from a region of Northern Iraq bordering Iran and Turkey where she joined an IRC team bringing clean water to displaced villagers.

In the remote Qandil mountain range in Northern Iraq, Turkey and Iran have been conducting military maneuvers to rid the region of Kurdish separatist groups believed to be based in the area. The ongoing bombing and shelling has terrified hundreds of villagers who live there, disrupting their tranquil way of life and sending them running.

Over the past several months 120 families have fled the fighting and are living in what has come to be known as the Mangory Bridge Camp.

“We hid in the caves around our villages for 20 days hoping the shelling and bombing would stop, but it only got worse so we came here,” Mer told me, pictured here with her daughter. “It is only a few hours from our home, but it is peaceful. Now we are just waiting. We want to go home as there is no life for us here, but it is still too dangerous.”

One of the biggest problems the families face in the camp is a lack of clean water. Warda, pictured outside of her hut, told me she thinks her daughter is sick from drinking dirty water.

“We know the water is dirty because we have to use it to wash clothes and dishes,” she says. “The children play in it and sometimes end up drinking it, even though we have told them not to.”

When the IRC learned that residents of the camp were in need of drinking water, they moved quickly to get three water tanks installed the area. The tanks were delivered the day I visited the camp and are being connected to a nearby spring, which will provide the much needed clean water.

The women in the camp say they are very happy about the arrival of the new water tanks. They say it will make their daily routine easier and will keep their children healthy. They say their main concern now is where they will go when they are forced to leave the Mangory Bridge Camp.

In a month’s time the water will rise and the families will have to abandon the area. “We don’t know where we will go if the bombing and shelling hasn’t stopped by then,” said Seimya, pictured on the right. “It would be best if we could go to the town a few miles away, but we have no money to pay for rent. We are hoping the local authorities will help and provide us with some simple houses if we can’t go home.”

After four months of being away from their village, the children in the camp are bored and desperate to get home. They say they have very little to do here and back home they can at least help their families tend to their sheep and crops and have more space to play. This summer, their main activity has been racing across the stream that runs through the camp.

With the new school year just weeks away, parents in the camp are extremely concerned about the children missing school. Some are wondering if they should take their chances and go back to their village or try to find a place to settle that’s close to a school that would welcome the children. The children are anxious about the situation as well. “I like school,” Peshraw told me. He’s the one on the far left. “I want to be there on the first day. I don’t want to fall behind.”

The IRC is now speaking with local authorities on behalf of the displaced villagers to try and come up with a relocation plan that will enable the children to attend school and provide a safe place for the families to live until the violence subsides and they can safely return home.

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Back to school for refugee kids in Atlanta

Posted by Wynne Boelt on 27 August, 2008

IRC refugee school supplies drive in Atlanta IRC photo
IRC staff and volunteers in Atlanta stuffed backpacks with donated school supplies for refugee kids. Photos: Ashton Williams, Andrea Jones/The IRC
Going back to school is always an adjustment, especially for refugee children recently resettled in the United States. To help them start the school year, the IRC’s Atlanta resettlement office collected donated school supplies, stuffing 175 backpacks full of notebooks, pencils, glue, rulers and other essentials.

“Volunteers played a key role in gathering supplies, stuffing the bags and distributing them, as well as in getting community support for the project,” Ellen Beattie, the IRC resettlement director in Atlanta, says.

Ellen says the IRC’s goal is to give one backpack to every school-aged refugee child resettled by the IRC in Atlanta. This year the IRC expects to resettle some 250 refugee children in Atlanta.

Andrea Jones, IRC volunteer coordinator, helped to organize the supply drive and says it was great seeing some of the refugee children so happy with their new backpacks.

“To give a kid this full backpack, they open it up and some of the stuff, the glue they don’t really even know how to use it sometimes and it’s just so much fun to see kids excited about their education,” she told WAGA-TV, which reported on the supply drive (video).

How to get involved: There are various ways you can help the IRC help refugees adjust to new lives in 24 U.S. cities. Learn more here. 

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Swimming lessons for refugee kids / Phoenix

Posted by Wynne Boelt on 22 August, 2008

Phoenix swim class IRC photo
Burundian refugee children in Phoenix take a summer water safety class. Photo: The IRC
Since 2007 the International Rescue Committee has partnered with the Foundation for Aquatic Safety and Training (FAST) to teach refugees about water safety.  236 swimmers, including two Bhutanese refugees resettled by the IRC in Phoenix, set a new Guinness World Record for most participants to swim one pool length each in one hour on August 10 as part of the Kids Saving Kids Relay, which raised funds and awareness for FAST.

Joe Zemaitis, FAST founder and president, answers questions about FAST, its partnership with the IRC’s Phoenix refugee resettlement office, and breaking the world record:

Why did you start FAST?

The idea came from one of my swimmers, Braxton Bilbrey, who at age eight became the youngest swimmer to complete the swim in San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz. Braxton’s goal was to help stop kids from dying in pools in the community. FAST developed soon after.

Swim safety class in Phoenix. IRC photo

Swim safety class in Phoenix. IRC photo

How did you become involved with the IRC’s resettlement office in Phoenix?

Lori Lause, the mother of a swimmer I coach brought us the idea of outreaching to the refugee community in Phoenix. We learned that most refugee families live in apartments with swimming pools. Refugee children, however, have had an extremely limited exposure to pools and open water. With regard to drowning prevention it is tremendously important to teach these children, who don’t know how to swim and are in particularly risky situations, about water safety. 

Do you plan to continue to work with IRC teaching refugee children?

Absolutely, we have had such an outpouring of community support for this project in particular. The Phoenix-based Hubbard Swim School has given us 100% support, by offering a location for the class to take place, as well as suits for the kids courtesy of Bob Hubbard. It has been remarkably rewarding for the kids, and it works both ways. It is fun for me to see our competitive swimmers’ growth through teaching this program and so many refugees grow through learning and building confidence on both ends. 

What was the Kids Saving Kids Relay?

The Kids Saving Kids Relay was an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most participants to swim one length each in one hour. The record was previously held by a group from England with 204 participants. We intended to top that record by one, with 205 participants, but we were extremely pleased with our success of 236 swimmers in one hour, two of which were refugees resettled by the IRC.

Why did you want to break the world record?

We saw a great opportunity to raise awareness because August is Drowning Impact Awareness Month in Phoenix, and with the Olympic Games happening, it seemed like a perfect fit. But the world record here is really just Phase One.  In 2009, on May 1 and 2, FAST will host another Guinness World Record attempt for most people swimming one length in a 24 hour relay. This event will require the participation of over 3200 people.  As a truly community-wide effort we will raise a great deal of awareness for drowning prevention.

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IRC staff shattered by loss of colleagues in Afghanistan

Posted by The IRC on 14 August, 2008

Afghanistan map IRC
International Rescue Committee staff members around the globe are shattered by the loss of four courageous and compassionate colleagues who were dedicated to improving the lives of children in Afghanistan.

Yesterday morning, Shirley Case, Nicole Dial and Jackie Kirk were returning to Kabul with IRC drivers Mohammad Aimal and Zabiullah from Paktya, Afghanistan. They had spent the past two days meeting with the local community about an IRC project that aids children with disabilities.

It was during their drive home that their clearly marked IRC vehicle came under heavy gunfire, killing the three women and driver Mohammad Aimal.  Zabiullah was severely wounded. He is thankfully recuperating in a Kabul hospital.  The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Shirley Case began working with the IRC in Afghanistan in June, overseeing a project that gives children with disabilities equal access to education. “Her enthusiasm and hands-on approach were an inspiration to colleagues and her immense energy and sparkle were felt by all who knew her,” says Lisa Owen, the IRC’s deputy director of operations in Afghanistan.

Nicole Dial dedicated her life to supporting programs that help especially vulnerable children: child soldiers, landmine survivors and marginalized children. “When it comes to Nic, her commitment to protecting and improving the well being of children is truly unmatched and she brought an incredible depth of experience to her work,” says Owen.  

A long-time member of the IRC family, Jackie Kirk left behind an indelible footprint.  “It is thanks to her energy, knowledge and vision that thousands of children around the world are leading healthier, more promising lives,” says IRC senior technical advisor for education and close friend, Rebecca Winthrop.

As a driver for the IRC, Mohammad Aimal touched the hearts of many IRC staff.  He started working for the organization six years ago when he was just 19.  Infectiously cheerful, “Aimal” was someone who constantly looked on the bright side of life.

You can read the full IRC statement here.

In the last 48 hours, calls and e-mails have poured in from friends, co-workers and supporters.  If you would like to send a personal tribute, please write care of children@theIRC.org or Emily Miner, International Rescue Committee, 122 E. 42nd Street, New York, NY 10168 USA.

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