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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora