Last month, InterFaith Works organized a Community Orientation, featuring a conversation between Abdul Saboor (a refugee from Afghanistan who oversees the Match Grant Program at InterFaith Works) and Dominic Robinson (our Vice President of Economic Inclusion at CenterState CEO) and a panel discussion with a variety of service providers in our community. Guests enjoyed refreshments as they learned more about the refugee experience and the ways citizens can help support New Americans in Syracuse.
Quotes from ABDUL SABOOR
“When you go from being detached from your home, from your country, from the place where you built your dreams on, when you go to leave those places, it’s not easy. It’s something that I personally wish for no one. But, this is a journey, and this is something that I had to make in order to survive, in order for us to continue our dreams. This was a very, very rough transition. Grass root agencies such as InterFaith Works, Catholic Charities, ARISE, and others who are willing to accept and to do the resettlement at the grassroots level, are the ones who are actually going to welcome these families from the airport, from the housing, to making their appointments, to getting an ID card, a benefit cards, and helping and establishing a life, jobs—you can name it and every step of that process is easier said than done.
It requires a lot of effort and it is not the job of the resettlement agency alone. It takes a neighborhood, it takes a community. I don’t think InterFaith itself alone could do the resettlement work that they’re doing right now if it wasn’t for community support . . . Because I lived there, I can see how society, the pillars of our communities are not based on the individual. It depends on all of us . . . We do it hand-to-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder with those individuals and we try to make sure they succeed because their success is our success. And by ‘we’ meaning us as a community, as Syracuse. Because if they struggle, we struggle.”
“When I first arrived, I had 3, 4 priorities that I had to establish. First thing was I had to get a job. Becoming self-sufficient in a place where I had no friends at that time in my life was a number one priority. . . But, this life was not about me only. I had a wife, so, building a family, making sure that my family accepts the new neighborhood we’re going to live in as home . . . Bombs, and kidnappings are no longer the impressions that we have to worry about. Survival no longer becomes a question. I’m a special case. [As an English-speaker] I had the ability to speak and communicate and break all my frustrations out, and sit down to someone like Dominic and InterFaith Works and complain about all the challenges I’m facing—my wife didn’t have anyone. And it goes along to the many, many hundreds of women and men and childrens who are coming into our doors. While you have so much to say, you can’t say it.“
“Next time you visit Destiny Mall. There’s a lot of Cubans that are in Destiny Mall right now. They’re just living in those shadows, but I’ll be honest with you – if you do get the chance to say ‘hello,’ and you have the opportunity to ask him about his background, I will almost guarantee that everyone of those guys were either a nurse or a doctor. So, by just excepting that they’re going to start from zero, a jump that a majority of us would not take—becoming a janitor and going to Destiny Mall. But, they happily do it because it provides them income. But yet, they take off that doctor hat and they accept the janitor hat. . . . If you get the first job it will get you going, so that you can get the second job, you can get the third job, and eventually end up exactly where you come from.”
Quotes from DOMINIC ROBINSON
“I was really enamored with the idea of neighborhood-level work. Thinking, if we could community organize, we can get neighbors to work together, that’s kind of the currency of all good social change . . . I happen to be a white male who grew up with an upper-middle class background. You know, I drew the longest straw possible in our world. But, I think the dynamics that I was interacting with were all part of this larger system of inequality that we’re all trying to work against. So, it’s kind of a matter of saying, ‘Okay, I’m working in a community that has a lot of refugees,’ but I think the underlining principle is the same: there are people across our country, across our community who have the answers, who have the ability and the power within them to change their communities, to live good, productive lives, to provide for their families and for whatever reason, they face barriers to that. And so, I think the organizing theory in this work for me over the years, is always trying to build better systems to allow that self-empowerment to be possible . . . Get out of the way. Let business owners take hold, let people enter into leadership positions within their workforce, and not try to be too forceful for what it means to help, but rather create the tools and vehicles that allow that to be possible.”
“When facts don’t sink in, I think we have to tell stories. I’ve had the luxury you know, these past years, of experiences where you’ve talked about the resiliency, you talk about the people who keep putting one foot in front of the next, in front of the next and all of those challenges, all of that gut-wrenching, soul-sucking amount of work that it takes just to flee political persecution to come here, to start a new life, to go to work oftentimes in a place that is far below your skill set, but to do it because you have to put food on your table—whatever it is. I would just ask, ‘Why wouldn’t you want that person in your community?’ And, when we also know that there is a net economic contribution that in fact the more productive we are, the more jobs there are. We’re not taking jobs away. When a group of people are creating an impact, more jobs come. There’s actually a scarcity mindset that is far too prevalent now, that we have to hoard all the opportunity, when in fact, if we only welcome people, we create a reality of abundance. I think that’s the story we have to do a better job of telling.”
The Community Orientation ended with a panel representing many of the service agencies who help refugees transition to life in Syracuse. To begin, Beth Broadway, Executive Director at InterFaith Works, introduced the panel and stressed the importance of each role these organizations play in refugee resettlement: “We know that ecosystems are best when they are diverse. And when that diversity is lost . . . it makes it very vulnerable. And resilience in that ecosystem is reduced and that is making it ultimately endangered. The same is true for our human family. That when our human family is not diverse, the system is not as resilient and we are endangered at that point. We recognize . . . that to do refugee resettlement work, it’s an ecosystem that requires many different parts. And if the parts are diverse and require many different way of interacting and providing support, we will be stronger for that.”
The panel included Christina Costello, Director of Health Services at Catholic Charities; Janet Lenkiewicz, Income Maintenance Specialist at Onondaga County Department of Social Services – Economic Security; Jacki Leroy, Director of ENL Services at the Syracuse City School District; Shelly Tsai, Staff Attorney at Legal Services of CNY; and Khadija Muse, Bridging Case Manager and Women’s Empowerment Program Director at ARISE. Participants talked about their own experiences working with the refugee community and answered some questions from the audience.
The Orientation was followed by a World Refugee Day celebration with music, presentations, and food at Dr. Weeks Elementary School. To learn more about the days’ events, check out this photo gallery from Syracuse.com and some of the photos and videos posted by InterFaith Works on Facebook.
There are many ways you can get involved with the refugee community in Syracuse. Abdul suggests talking with volunteer coordinators at InterFaith Works and Catholic Charities to volunteer your time or donatea variety of different items to their programs. If you’d like InterFaith Works to come talk to your church or civic group, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.