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VOA Connect 13 Full Show


Episode 13
[AIR DATE: 04 13 2018]


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Starting Over

(Animation Transition)

Those Left Behind

((Animation Transition))

Finding One’s Place

((Open Animation))


((Banner: Refuge))


((Banner: Adjusting))
Bill Rogers))

((Camera: Mike Kornely))
((Adapted by:
Brian Allen))

((Map: United States / Pennsylvania / Lancaster))
((Banner: A refugee family newly arrived from Congo attends classes on living in the United States))

((OMAR MOHAMED, CWS STAFFER, RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM)) You cannot give money or tips to police officers or government officials of any type, even as a thank you for assistance. No money, no tips. It’s also illegal to leave a young child, a young child at home alone. So, that is some of the American laws, do you guys have any questions about them? These are some, you’ll learn more at coming orientations.


My name is Sheila Mastropietro, and I am the local office director of Church World Service in Lancaster.
The money we get from the State Department for what we call the Reception and Placement program, the R&P program, is really only enough money to provide 90 days of support and provide basic necessities. So that’s housing, clothing, food, getting a social security card, enroll children in school, enroll parents in ESL, get a medical check, treat all the medical needs, dental, so that’s just the beginning. And then we have eight other programs that are refugee support programs.
So it’s not as if we drop refugees after 90 days, but even the amount of time we work with people, the integration has to keep on going.

((NATS: Hi, how are you? I have a group coming on. So not right now. So we can do it, you can do it when we come back later. And then if you pull it, the bus will stop. This bus is schedules on the weekends, so Saturday and Sunday. All right, so we’re back at the station.))

So, in your schedule book, if it ever says Queen Street station, that means in here. So, you just come and look for your bus number.


My name is Doucks Mbunga Kalamba. I am from Congo. Iam Congolese by nationality. I am a painter and I am 28 years old. I came here 2 years ago. It was a big challenge when I first came because I didn’t meet any African men or anyone to help me, someone who can speak the same language as me so we can help each other. That’s the reason that made me decide to be a volunteer helping newcomers in our city. When I first started doing my job as a painter, I had so many challenges. I had to prove myself to people. Some people never saw black people.


Initially, people are excited to be here and happy. They see all the food that we have. The shelter, it’s theirs, but they immediately start worrying, like ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ After a month or so, they start to think about what they left behind. Trauma comes out really not initially but at the end of the first year maybe, starting to think back on what they fled from and starting to miss their food, their land, their home. That’s one thing that people have to remember, that refugees did not choose to be refugees. It wasn’t as if they heard wonderful things about America and wanted to live here forever and never see their country again. Sometimes that’s difficult for people to understand. They think that people are drawn here and think that we have it good and they want to have a piece of that, but everybody, everybody, all the refugees, they would much rather be living in their home if there weren’t a war there, or if they didn’t have to fear being threatened or hurt or killed.


((Banner: Adapting))

((Reporter/Camera: June Soh))

((Adapted by: Zdenko Novacki))
((Map: United States / Arizona / Phoenix))

Since I moved to Arizona, I started working with refugees from all over the world. And at the end of 2016, I met a group of volunteers actively helping refugees, and we met each other on a Facebook group. So, over the winter break, somebody posted about a Syrian Sweets Exchange being done in Tucson, where Syrian refugees baked a lot of delicious sweets and brought to a church for a bake sale and there were hundreds of people supporting. So, a couple of volunteers posted about that and asked if anyone’s interested in helping.
When I first came, I haven't anybody, any friends, but American volunteers helped me in everything. I made sweets just for family in my country. Now, volunteers help me to sell my sweets in Farmer’s Market.
I’ve never tried Syrian sweets before, but I’m really excited. We got the whole family out today, and we’re coming to the farmers market and we’re just trying the different stands here and all the different food. By buying some of her Syrian sweets, you’re actually helping to support a refugee and helping her get a great start here in America.
After the overwhelming response of the first Syrian Sweets Exchange, we continued to host more bake sales at churches, synagogues, Arizona State University, and local bookstores. Besides Syrian Sweets Exchange, we have the reading program where we connect refugee families to a reading volunteer.
The initial idea of the reading program was to match each family with a local volunteer that goes and visits them in their house, and reads for an hour or so on a regular basis, and ideally on a weekly basis for consistency purposes. We didn't only create this opportunity for children to read with a local volunteer in English and advance their reading and comprehension skills, and we also connected them with local families, and they created friendships and relationships, and that is helping with the transition of these refugee families into our community.
I think that if each one of us put in a little bit effort, a lot can be done to help them rebuild their lives in their new homeland. My dad always told us about the time when he first came, he had a family sponsor who helped him with getting his driver's license, getting a library card, and helped him get a job.

((Banner: Carrying on))
((Exec. Prod: Marsha James))

((Camera: Kaveh Rezaei))
((Adapted by: Zdenko Novacki))
((Map: United States / Pennsylvania / Pittsburgh))

((HENRY REESE, City of Asylum Pittsburgh))
City of Asylum Pittsburgh began to provide sanctuary to a writer exiled under threat of persecution. The writer could be endangered with prison, violence or censored in a way that you can’t publish freely. Our goal is to provide a place to live, living income and medical benefits. We feel it’s extremely important that the writer maintain the identity of being a writer, and the only way to do that, in exile, is to be published in the country you’re in.
In the United States, there are two other cities of asylum, both university affiliated. One at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Wole Soyinka, the writer who was instrumental in founding the whole movement worldwide, was in exile and in the faculty there for a good deal. And the other program is a consortium of universities in Ithaca (New York). So, he himself was instrumental in getting these other two programs.
We have four houses with writing on the outside in various languages that were inspired by the original writer in our program, Huang Xiang. Huang Xiang was from China and when he came here, he wanted to celebrate his freedom. He had never been allowed to express himself. He’d been tortured where his mouth had been beaten in, so he couldn’t even recite his poetry publicly, or they tried to prevent it in China.
As more writers came to our program and we began to provide more houses for them, we used that idea of publishing a book, but we called it “House Publishing.” And we were creating a public library of these houses as you walk down the street.

So, we have “House Poem,” “Winged House,” we have “Jazz House” and we have “Pittsburgh Burma House.” We’ve had writers now from long-term programs from six different countries: China, El Salvador, Burma, Venezuela, Iran and Bangladesh.

Coming up….
A Life Disrupted


((Banner: Respite))

((Banner: Waiting to Return))
((Reporter/Camera: Cristina Caicedo Smit))

((Adapted by: Philip Alexiou))

((Map:: United States / Virginia / Reston))

It’s not easy to be an immigrant in another country. You have to leave many things, not only your affections, your friends, and in this case, I'm a dentist. I left my patients too. But there came a time when I couldn't take care of my patients because we did not have medications.

My daughter wasn't that young when I decided to come here. My daughter was already seven years old and it has been a very short period of time since I got here, only five months. But every time I see these babies, I see my nephews, I see other children. I see my daughter interacting with them, I see the tranquility when they attend school. When she enjoys a park, I feel it was the best decision.
In this case, I washed dishes in a restaurant. I cleaned houses. I cleaned restaurants too. I'm a nanny right now taking care of children. It isn't my profession. I miss my profession. Over there (Venezuela) people who help are followed. I use a pseudonym in my social networks. So, when someone needs something in particular, we do it through Whatsapp. If I see someone here, I'll ask another member. I'll ask someone from our organization to go there to check if that person needs medication. And immediately we are looking for someone to bring supplies to those kids. If there's a fight, or a confrontation, and some of those young people are detained, they take away their cell phones. The first thing they do is check their social media with whom they communicate. So, from that point of view, we have always been afraid. Because we are active, we help people access medical treatment, supplies, and water. To protect ourselves we use pseudonyms. We don't mention names, where we work or our profession.
If Venezuela recovers, I'm completely sure that I would like to go back to Venezuela and help with the reconstruction. Many other professionals will make the same decision. Because we love our Venezuela and it's in our hearts.

((Banner: Hardships))
((Reporter/Camera: Fabiana Rondon))

((Adapted by: Philip Alexiou))

((Map: United States / Virginia / Reston))
((Map: Venezuela / Petare))
((BANNER: Aracelis Turmero is 35 years old. She lives with her three children. She suffers from cancer and tuberculosis.))

I'm not receiving treatment for either of two diseases. For cancer there is no chemo and for tuberculosis there are no pills. I'm a single mother. I sustain the home. I feel bad because I do not have treatment. I break down more every day. I'm very thin. It is difficult to get food for everyone and that causes my body to feel pain. I do not sleep. It's not so much being poor, it's just having to go through that much work.
((BANNER: Julieta Escalona is 38 years old and had seven children))

My son, what happened, he didn’t have food and he died. He was so malnourished that his bones were visible and his face was not the same. Sometimes we go all day without eating until night. I look for a way to get food and give it to the little ones. They start crying, "Mommy I'm hungry" and that breaks my soul. It's not easy to go through this. Poverty is the state that I am in right now. We can’t even buy candy.

((BANNER: Luis Medina is 64 years old, is disabled and uses a wheel chair.))

The situation is difficult and I feel hope will never come. Going through these needs, we even have to eat rocks. Because we are in a very difficult situation. I feel bad because the medicines do not reach me, nor do I get them, or do I have any way to buy them. I do not go to bed eating and I don’t have breakfast or lunch during the day. I do not wish this on anyone. At night you don't sleep and your stomach roars like you have a lion. I am more protected outside when it's raining than in here. I don't even know how I'm alive. We do not have a life here. The devil is coming for us.

Coming up….
Exceptional Minds



((Banner: Fitting In))

((Banner: Q&A))
An estimated 1 percent of the world has some form of autism. It affects boys more than girls by about 3 to 1.))
When Joshua Littman interviewed his mom, Sarah, he was a 7th grade honors student, but having a tough time socially. Joshua has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.

Sarah describes kids with Asperger’s as “born without social genes.” They can come across as eccentric and have obsessions – for Joshua, it’s animals.

Joshua Littman: From a scale of 1 to 10 do you think your life would be different without animals?

Sarah Littman: I think it would be an 8 without animals because they add so much pleasure to life.

Joshua: How else do you think your life would be different without them?

Sarah: I could do without things like cockroaches and snakes.

Joshua: Well, I’m okay with snakes as long as they’re not venomous or can constrict you or anything.

Sarah: Yeah, I’m not a big snake person.

Joshua: But the cockroach is just the insect we love to hate.

Sarah: Yeah. It really is.

Joshua: Have you ever felt like life is hopeless?
Sarah: When I was a teenager I was very depressed and I think that can be quite common with teenagers who think a lot. You know when you are perceptive.

Joshua: Am I like that?

Sarah: You are very much like that.

Joshua: Do you have any mortal enemies?

Sarah: I would say my worst enemy is sometimes myself. But I don’t think I have any mortal enemies.

Joshua: Have you ever lied to me?

Sarah: I probably have, but I try not to lie to you even though sometimes the questions you ask me make me uncomfortable.

Joshua: Like when we go on our walks? Some of the questions I might ask?

Sarah: Yeah. But you know what? I feel it’s really special that you and I can have those kind of talks, even if I feel myself blushing a little bit.

Joshua: Have you ever thought you couldn’t cope with having a child?

Sarah: [Laughs] I remember when you were a baby you had really bad colic so you would just cry and cry—

Joshua: What’s colic?

Sarah: It’s like when you get this stomach ache and all you do is scream for hours and hours—

Joshua: Even louder than Amy does?

Sarah: You were pretty loud, but Amy’s was more high pitched.

Joshua: I think it feels like everyone seems to like Amy more. Like she’s the perfect little angel.

Sarah: Well, I can understand why you think that people like Amy more, and I’m not saying it’s because of your Asperger's Syndrome. But being friendly comes easily to Amy, whereas I think for you it’s more difficult. But the people who take the time to get to know you, love you so much.

Joshua: Like Ben or Eric or Carlos?

Sarah: Yeah….

Joshua: Like I have better quality friends but less quantity?

Sarah: I wouldn’t judge the quality, but I think—

Joshua: I mean, first it was like Amy loved Claudia then she hated Claudia, she loved Claudia then she hated Claudia.

Sarah: Yeah….You know what, part of that’s a girl thing, honey. The important thing for you is that you have a few very good friends, and really that’s what you need in life.

Joshua: Did I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born? Like, did I meet your expectations, and….??

Sarah: You’ve exceeded my expectations, sweetie. Because, you know, sure, you have these fantasies of what your child’s going to be like, but you have made me grow so much as a parent because you think….

Joshua: Well, I was the one who made you a parent.

Sarah: You were the one who made me a parent, that’s a good point. But also because you think differently from, you know, what they tell you in the parenting books.

Joshua: Yeah

Sarah: I really had to learn to think out of the box with you. And it’s made me much more creative as a parent and as a person, and I’ll always thank you for that.

Joshua: And that helped when Amy was born?

Sarah: And that helped when Amy was born, but you are just so incredibly special to me, and I’m so lucky to have you as my son.


((Banner: Exceptional Minds))
((Exec. Prod: Marsha James))

((Camera: Kaveh Rezaei))
((Adapted by: Zdenko Novacki))


People with autism have some gifts, have some incredible talents that we need to develop. Here at Exceptional Minds what we try and do is figure out what they are good at and make them better at it. We like to say that we are changing lives one frame at a time.

Exceptional Minds is a vocational program for young adults on the autism spectrum, where we teach animation and visual effects. But more importantly, it’s a place where these guys can come learn about themselves and grow and develop in a safe environment, but a very challenging environment.

Well, this great group of parents got together and they said, “We need to make a difference.” And so they came to me. I had a visual effects studio at the other end of town, and they said, “we need your help starting this school.” And I said, “Well, alright, I’ll give you 10 hours a week and that turned into 20, and 30, and 40 and pretty soon I shut down my company and I dedicated myself to just working with these guys here at Exceptional Minds.
I started playing video games around, I want to say 4th grade and never really looked back after that. I watch a lot of animated stuff, mostly Japanese animation. When I started here I was a little nervous. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. In a normal classroom, you just kind of sit there and they lecture at you and you just get more and more bored. Because all you are doing is just sitting there listening. I guess I like coming here because It’s so hands on and we are doing so many different things.

The heart of our program is a full-time 3-year vocational program where they learn to do visual effects and animation and title work specifically for the entertainment industry. But, we also have part-time programs and we have a summer program for younger kids, to kind of get indoctrinated in the kind of things that we are doing here.
The program would teach them not only the technical skills that they needed, but the work readiness skills that they needed in order to get a job. So, we focus on how they look and what their attitude is and organizing themselves, and problem solving on their own.

First year, we learned animation and photoshop. Photoshop is pretty cool actually, you can do a lot of really neat text effects. I am learning a lot of editing and visual effects. And I know how to make a lightsaber. We are all a bunch of people and we kind of like similar things. And we basically just all kind of hang out and be nerds together. And it’s awesome.

Our dream is that we can show other people how to do what we are doing. That they can, in their own towns, figure out ways that these individuals can be useful and have them be a part of society.

Exceptional Minds is a place you can go, and you will be accepted, and you will learn things, and it’s awesome. I want the world to know that I like designing things

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