On World Refugee Day, Pittsburgh Agencies Try to Help

By Weidenhof, Alex | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 22, 2017 | Go to article overview

On World Refugee Day, Pittsburgh Agencies Try to Help


Weidenhof, Alex, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


For many refugees, resettling in the United States can be a challenge. But Pittsburgh organizations hope to change that - from resettlement to finding housing and beyond - and hoped to spread their cause during a World Refugee Day celebration Wednesday.

Three local agencies - Jewish Family and Children's Service of Pittsburgh, Northern Area Multi-Services Center, and Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach - work with national groups that help resettle families and individuals granted refugee status in the U.S. Beginning their work before the refugees come to the U.S., these three agencies find and furnish affordable housing and pick up the new Americans from the airport upon arrival.

Leslie Aizenman, director of refugee and immigration services at JFCS, said the move to the U.S. is an incredibly stressful time for refugees, who are often unprepared for a move to a country that can be wildly different from their home nation.

"These are people who've been through trauma," she said. "They didn't expect this [move to the U.S.] to happen."

Despite this, said Ms. Aizenman, many refugees adjust to American life within several months or years. JFCS, rather than an employment agency, helps refugees navigate the world of U.S. job applications and often helps set refugees up with employment.

Even with housing and jobs, there are some aspects of life in the U.S. that are still foreign to refugees. That's where organizations like Hello Neighbor come in.

Hello Neighbor is a new program created in Pittsburgh in January. Sloane Davidson, its founder, described the organization as a "post-resettlement program" that picks up where resettlement agencies may not help. For example, she said, many refugees miss the social life from their home country.

The organization pairs refugees and refugee families with mentors from the U.S. - currently there are 25 refugee-mentor matches - with two main intentions: to help refugees navigate some often-confusing aspects of American life and to provide an opportunity to socialize.

For Mariam, Razai and Gabriel Musai, who fled Congo to Uganda in 2001 and received refuge in the U.S. in August 2015, Hello Neighbor serves both functions.

Razai said a problem her family still has even after being in the U.S. for two years is American currency, and two big culture shocks came when the Musais first moved to the U. …

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