News / USA

Helping Refugees Ease into US Way of Life

Center promotes understanding to avoid cultural clashes

Phyu Phyu Aye teaches sewing and helps her students adapt to a new culture at the Refugee Resource Center.
Phyu Phyu Aye teaches sewing and helps her students adapt to a new culture at the Refugee Resource Center.

Multimedia

Audio
Erika Celeste

Fort Wayne, Indiana, deals with cultural obstacles every day.

The Midwestern city of 250,000 is not only home to the largest Burmese community in America, the U.S. State Department also uses it extensively as a resettlement site for refugees from around the world.

It's home to Bosians, Darfurians, and Hispanics, among other groups.

Melting pot

Minn Myint Nan Tin, with the Burmese Advocacy Center, or BAC, says keeping this melting pot from boiling over is a delicate balancing act.

Nyein Kyaoo helps his students learn computer skills as well as the differences between Burmese and US society.
Nyein Kyaoo helps his students learn computer skills as well as the differences between Burmese and US society.

"Sometimes people need to take time to adjust to a new place, a new culture, a new system," she says, but adds, "you can't excuse [inappropriate behavior] either. It doesn't matter if you're American or Burmese or Latin or African."

Nearly all refugees in the Fort Wayne area visit the Refugee Resource Center. BAC and 10 other organizations offer services and classes there, in everything from how to clean a home, to proper indoor plumbing etiquette, to employable skills. These are new concepts for people who may have lived in rural areas or refugee camps all their lives.

Job and people skills

Phyu Phyu Aye, a Burmese refugee who's lived in the United States for a decade, teaches sewing at the Center, but also advises her students on many cultural issues.

For example, she explains that it is important to look Americans in the eyes when speaking, as opposed to the Asian custom of looking at the ground.

In the adjoining room, students in a computer class overhear the cultural discussion and join in. Instructor Nyein Kyaoo says he also speaks about American culture in his class.

Immigrants attend an English language class at the Refugee Resource Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Immigrants attend an English language class at the Refugee Resource Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The different cultural norms were highlighted this past spring, when a public laundry facility in Fort Wayne posted a sign stating that Burmese customers were not welcome. The sign was prompted by an incident in which a few Burmese refugees doing their laundry there were chewing betel nuts, and repeatedly spat the blood red juice on the laundromat floor.

Connecting with first responders

Across town, the Multi-Cultural Council is taking another approach to reducing cultural misunderstandings.

MCC Director Irene Paxia grew up in Italy, and knows first-hand how language barriers can waste precious time in emergencies.

She recalls her immediate response after a recent car accident when she automatically dialed Italy's 118 distress code instead of America's 911. "Right away, I was brought back to reality, how things can be difficult for me as well."

To help reduce these barriers, MCC is working with Fort Wayne's police, fire, and ambulance services, who are first on the scene in emergencies. Council members go door-to-door, distributing special magnetic emergency cards to refugee and immigrant homes. In a crisis, first responders know to look for the card on the refrigerator, to learn the victim's language and other important information.

A large part of the council's job is also spending personal time in refugee neighborhoods. Because many immigrants are from countries where government authorities repress and persecute their own citizens, they're often afraid to report crimes in the U.S. Sometimes they're reluctant to take part in important training such as fire safety classes and child identification programs, which guard against abduction.

During their meetings, MCC staff members and volunteers discuss ways of cutting through those fears with police officers and firefighters.

A Fort Wayne laundromat reworded its sign to prohibit the action, rather than the people.
A Fort Wayne laundromat reworded its sign to prohibit the action, rather than the people.

Cultural understanding

MCC members are slowly making inroads.

In 2007, after a fire destroyed an apartment complex housing dozens of immigrant families, only one family accepted help from MCC. But in a similar incident this year, most of the families used its services.

And the laundromat incident was resolved through some of these programs, too. The company offered a public apology, donated funds for diversity training, and changed its sign to prohibit the action 'betel nut spitting,' instead of the people.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More