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

Archive for the ‘UnitedStates’ Category

Trying to Save the World, One Congressman at a Time

Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 24 October, 2008

Andrea Romero

Andrea Romero

Guest post by Andrea Romero, IRC Advocacy Intern

From April to August of this year I worked as an unpaid intern in the Washington, D.C. office of the International Rescue Committee. I traveled to Washington from Stanford University where I am a student because of my interest in the IRC’s global humanitarian work. I joined the IRC’s government relations and advocacy team that works with – and attempts to influence – U.S. government agencies, Congress, and international agencies.

The job of our team is to understand the needs of people who have been uprooted by war, civil conflict or ethnic persecution and then lobby the U.S. government to come to their aid. We work to garner support for IRC programs and for the issues we care about: health care, child survival, stopping violence against women, post-conflict development, and good governance. And if that isn’t hard enough, we work with government officials who are notorious for having a short attention span for anything that’s not easily translatable into a five-second sound bite.

The most important lesson I learned while working in Washington, much to my surprise, is that the majority of Congress people are extremely accessible and ridiculously ordinary. I do not say this out of disrespect or to shock anyone, but only to say that our government is more democratic and open than I ever thought it could be. Anyone can walk into a government office, in their home district or in Washington, and set up a meeting with their senator, representative or a member of their staff.

This fact completely changed my idea of government being detached from everyday life. This is why the IRC has advocates on behalf of our humanitarian efforts in saving those who need it most. Some members of Congress care about nuclear warheads, others care about energy policy, healthcare, farmers, pets, or what have you. The IRC, in particular, seeks out Congress people and state officials that care about refugees and the other victims of war who are left displaced, vulnerable and in need of help.

That means whoever is working in our office is doing the best to set up every meeting, attend every forum, basically be everywhere at once where people gather to debate U.S. policy toward global hotspots, in order to prove to politicians that we are doing the best job in the whole world at protecting refugees and seeing that the world’s most vulnerable have a place to turn. The IRC and many other NGOs and government supported organizations all have an interest in influencing the debate on humanitarian issues.

What makes the IRC different? Call me crazy, but I think the IRC has some of the most educated, driven, experienced and well rounded people in Washington, DC. We are no nonsense. We get down to the nitty-gritty programming and execution. We have to communicate back and forth on the ground to countless countries where our personnel are hard at work, often risking their lives for the lives of others. Our experienced field workers are the cornerstone of our organization upon which we ground our advocacy. Before we speak, we want our work to precede us.

Even with all this on their plates, my colleagues somehow manage to stay sane. They are working, quite simply to save the world. And they know that as long as they keep pushing, progress can be made little by little. Ever so slowly, that battle for awareness or funds or equipment that initially seemed as steep as Mt. Everest becomes more like a rolling hill.

There are billions of ways we can make change just by speaking our minds about issues to government decision makers. If it’s not starting at a monetary donation, it’s creating ‘awareness’ — and from there, hopefully, information and involvement will spread like wildfire. It’s really that simple. Go figure.


Posted in howtohelp, UnitedStates | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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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Vote for two important refugee projects

Posted by The IRC on 28 August, 2008

American Express members project banner
The IRC is supporting two projects nominated for the American Express “Members Project,” a charitable giving contest.Please vote to get them into the top 25 where they’ll have a chance for a share of $2.5 million in funding from American Express.

Malaria Prevention for Refugees in Thailand
Providing bed nets and other simple and cost-effective malaria control activities to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria among Burmese refugees in Thailand.
Vote for this project >

Refugee Career Development
Providing career development activities to increase job readiness, job retention and earning potential for newly arrived refugees in the U.S.
Vote for this project >

The deadline is next Monday, September 1, so please click now and vote!

Posted in Asia, health, howtohelp, refugees, UnitedStates | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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. 

Posted in children, education, howtohelp, refugees, UnitedStates | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

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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