LIRS World Refugee Day Academy graduates Claudette Nshimiyimana, from Rwanda, and Omar Bah, from The Gambia, along with Jeannette Ayinkamiye, co-founded the Center for Refugee Advocacy and Support (CenRAS). CenRAS offers critical and comprehensive services to refugees, including after-school programs, domestic violence intervention, and youth mentoring. In this blog, Claudette describes the challenges refugees face and how CenRAS helps them overcome these challenges.
For the first time, this year’s event has expanded to include migrant leaders. To apply for the 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy, visit lirs.org/2015academy. Application deadline is April 14
Working to improve the resettlement process and lives of refugees in Rhode Island is very rewarding work which I do with passion. As a former refugee, I started advocating for the course of refugees since my arrival about eight years ago. I was young, spoke English, and yet was faced with overwhelming challenges. I thought other refugees who had no job skills, English language skills, and were battling with past extreme traumas compounded with new stressors such as economic and acculturation issues, needed someone to always stand for them.
There was this issue of lead poisoning that was ravaging children in refugee households in Rhode Island. I partnered with fellow refugee community leaders and other interested parties who fought (and are still fighting) for improved housing and resettlement standards of refugees within the state. This and many other concerns led us to establish CenRAS as a community-based organization (501c3) in Rhode Island. Founded by refugees for the empowerment of fellow refugees, CenRAS creates opportunities within the refugee community for an improved refugee resettlement process and increased presence in the broader Rhode Island community. We train refugees to speak for themselves on issues affecting their lives, making their voices heard, and their diverse needs met at policy decision-making levels.
CenRAS is a community center where refugees meet and receive services and training as well as a location of cultural enhancement and exchange within the refugee community. In addition to all the advocacy we do on behalf of refugees, CenRAS has four distinct programs that we are currently operating in Rhode Island:
After-school Program: For four years, CenRAS has consistently organized after-school programs for refugee children. The purpose of the after-school program is to foster accelerated educational development for refugee children as a means of bridging the learning gap that exists from refugee camps to American school systems. The biggest challenge of refugee children upon arrival in the United States is the gap in education. Most refugee children do not have basic education and therefore experience difficulties adjusting to the level of their peers despite being placed in the same classes as children of the same ages. CenRAS has successfully run after-school programs through the support of volunteers and partners such as the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) and Moses Brown School. Our efforts have registered marked improvement in the progress level of refugee children at school.
Domestic Violence Intervention: In the beginning of 2015, CenRAS launched a flagship program, Keeping Families Together. This program is run in partnership with the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sojourner House, and funding from the office of the State Refugee Coordinator at the Rhode Island Department of Human Services. CenRAS has successfully trained and certified 20 refugee community leaders with specific focus on topics on various forms of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stigma, cultural nuances, resources, and possible solutions including referrals.
Community Health Workers: Through the Vida Sana Partnership with the Clinica Esperanza/Hope Clinic, CenRAS engages refugees from the following countries: Bhutan/Nepal, Burundi, Burma (Myanmar), Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia/Senegal, Iraq, Liberia, and Rwanda. Data supplied by the State Refugee Coordinator shows that providing healthcare access, education, and related services to refugees from these countries accounts for approximately 75% of the refugees being resettled in Rhode Island. Community leaders from these countries are identified to engage in training and subsequent healthcare related services in their national and cultural communities.
Refugee Youth Mentoring: Despite the successes in many other areas, CenRAS has realized that major challenges continue to confront the refugee population in the state of Rhode Island, especially the youth. Therefore, CenRAS operates a mentoring program of refugee youth. Because the after-school programs that CenRAS runs serve mostly younger children and children in their early teens, the organization deems it necessary to implement a program that primarily targets adolescents in their late teens or early twenties. The youth mentoring program includes comprehensive awareness regarding life choices such as smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, dietary and weight related issues, crime prevention, and college readiness. The nature of the program includes the invitation of guest speakers, volunteer trainers on specific topics, community services through visits to families in need of help, visits to important places such as hospitals and community colleges, and agencies where they are inspired with new skills and ambitions. Part of the program activities also include activities on college preparedness for these youth by filling out college application forms and financial aid application.
We are proud to walk alongside CenRAS.