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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs