odinews

December 2011

Vol. 3 Issue 6

Latest news and stories 
In This Issue
Opening Doors Year in Review
Meet Rosie, a Member of Sacramento's Growing Burmese Refugee Population
Iraqi Refugee Finds Success Thanks to Opening Doors' Microenterprise Program

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Current Events

  Want to make a difference in Iraqi refugees' lives?

 

Volunteer with RHEAP!

 

Iraqu Refugee

 

The Refugee Health and Employment Attainment Program (RHEAP) needs volunteers on Tuesday nights beginning January 31st, 2012. In particular we are looking for:

 

* Tutors (hours needed: from 7:00 - 8:00 pm) 

* Childcare and Youth Program Volunteers (hours needed: from 5:00 - 8:00 pm)

* ESL Teachers [requires some prior experience] (hours needed: from 5:00 - 6:00 pm)

This opportunity costs nothing but a little of your time, yet the rewards are phenomenal. Don't miss this chance to help! For more information and an application, please see our website.

 

 

  

Save the date!

 

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

 

Chocolate

 

To raise public awareness about this issue, Opening Doors will be sponsoring a number of events, including "Coffee + Chocolate: Examining Child Labor Trafficking."

 

"Coffee + Chocolate" will feature artwork on display inspired by Fair Trade, in addition to a screening and discussion of the documentary film, The Dark Side of Chocolate.

 

Please join us for "Coffee + Chocolate" on Tuesday, January 17 from 5:00 to 9:00 pm at Sol Collective (2574 21st St.) in Midtown Sacramento.

 

 And watch your e-mail and our Facebook page for more human trafficking events throughout the month of January.

 

 

Toys for Refugee and Human Trafficking Survivor Children

 

 

 

Once again, Westminster Presbyterian coordinated a holiday toy drive for refugee and human trafficking survivor children. 

 

Opening Doors would like to thank them, and event organizers Carol Merritt and Liz Lyser in particular, for their tireless efforts these many years in helping make these children's holidays a little brighter. 

 

A big thanks also to the group of Santas from Hartford Insurance who added gifts (this year and the past two) so that all of our families' children will have presents to unwrap.

 

Greetings! 

  

What a year it has been!  In spite of financial challenges, Opening Doors created new programs, expanded existing ones, and did work that led to significant positive change in the lives of many of our area's neediest families and individuals.  These successes could not have been possible without your support and contributions. 

 

Opening Doors would like to extend our deepest gratitude to all of you who donated your time and effort as volunteers and mentors, who provided tax-deductible monetary contributions, and who donated much-needed goods and supplies for our refugee and survivors of human trafficking clients.  Your efforts changed lives.  In the stories below, you will read about two clients who were changed by their contact with Opening Doors' staff/community team.  Also, in case you missed all the exciting happenings here, we provide you with our Year in Review summary. With your help, we can make 2012 even better than 2011!

Opening Doors Year in Review

Here are some highlights of our 2011 accomplishments:

 

We created 22 new jobs in the Sacramento area by assisting 25 refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs to start or expand small business. One hundred nineteen micro-entrepreneurs better understand how to effectively operate a small business due to their business training and technical assistance from Opening Doors.

 

We launched the very successful MoneyWork$ program through which:

  • 41 low income people increased their savings;
  • 26 low income people reduced their debt;
  • 64 better understood the financial system and were empowered to make better decisions for the own and their families' financial futures.

The program will serve even higher numbers in 2012.

 

We helped 46 victims of human trafficking to escape their trafficking situation, find safe housing, locate counseling, be treated for physical injuries or illnesses, locate legal assistance and address other issues as they reestablished themselves in the Sacramento area. We educated approximately 1200 community members in the subtleties of human trafficking so they will be better able to recognize and report trafficking situations.

 

We launched the Immigration Legal Services Program to assist immigrant victims of crime who need assistance in order to stay free of their abusers and/or traffickers. In addition, we assist United States Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents to petition for family members abroad. We provided legal assistance to 55 immigrants since the program opened in July 2011.

 

We assisted 70 refugees to find safe homes in our community and to begin successful new lives here. We also survived a very difficult period in the world of refugee resettlement as new layers of security checks abroad kept refugees from arriving for many months and greatly reduced our funding.

 

Through our REAP program 41 refugees and human trafficking survivors increased their English language skillsand learned job-hunting skills such as resume writing and interviewing. We undertook a major expansion of the program to make it more welcoming to women and to include a much-needed health education component.

 

In partnership with the University of California, Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center and the Mesopotamia Association, we began a community-based participatory research project to better understand the health needs and concerns of our area's growing Iraqi refugee community.

 

We began a major expansion of our microenterprise and microloan program which you will hear more about in the coming year.

 

We pushed our wildly-successful internship program to new levels. Sixty-four interns (including undergrads, masters and PhD students, law students, and graduates of bachelors and masters programs) donated 350 hours each, learning new skills, gaining resume-building work experience and enabling Opening Doors to do its important work.

 

Seventy-eight Opening Doors volunteers made a critical difference in the lives of refugees, trafficking victims and other low-income area residents.

 

We completely upgraded our agency communications. We revamped our website, gained 152 followers on Facebook and 113 on Twitter.

 

We continued to increase our fundraising through individual donations. Our year-to-date amount as of November 30th, prior to our important end-of-year fundraising efforts, was 72% higher than 2009's year total.

 

We managed to accomplish all this with an extremely dedicated staff of 7 fulltime, 6 part-time workers, and many wonderful volunteers and supporters from our community. Thanks to all of you who have been a part of our team. Together we will continue to help underserved community members have safer, happier and more prosperous lives.

 

Donate now to continue this work in 2012.

Meet Rosie, a Member of Sacramento's Growing Burmese Refugee Population 

And a warm welcome to Krista, one of the littlest members of our community!

 

Rosie and Krista
Rosie and Krista

 Rosie is a refugee who arrived from Burma in October 2011.  Originally from the Chin State area in Western Burma, she is part of the ethnic Lai Chin, a predominantly Christian population and one of the largest Burmese refugee groups.  As a Christian, Rosie was subjected to constant persecution.  She was prevented from celebrating religious holidays and from congregating for worship.  She witnessed other Lai Christians who refused to convert being taken into the forests outside of her village and executed. 

In 2006, the Burmese army entered Rosie's village and gathered all young, able-bodied men and women.  Working as a preschool teacher at the time, Rosie was forcibly removed from her classroom and ordered, along with the other villagers, to carry the soldiers' supplies as they were marched away from their homes.  Not knowing where they were being taken or what would happen when they got there, that night, Rosie and her husband, John decided to escape from the army.  The couple fled to Malaysia, a nation that has no refugee camps.  There they were considered illegal immigrants since they lacked documentation.

As a nation, Burma has been in a state of constant civil war since being granted independence from the British Empire in 1948. The Burmese military dominates all forms of government and retains the authority to suspend laws and civil liberties at will. Due to these abuses, Burma has a severe record of human rights violations in addition to serious violations of religious freedom. Burma also spends less on public health than any other nation in the world. According to the U.S. State Department, over two million Burmese have fled for economic or political reasons, and many, like Rosie, to escape violence and religious persecution.

After hearing about the UN's refugee agency from other Burmese migrants in Malaysia, John and Rosie began the long process in June of 2009 to become officially recognized as refugees. They were interviewed five times during the course of their application process before officially being able to move forward and relocate. After two years' efforts, the couple finally arrived in the United States, a nation they selected because of our ethnic diversity and our freedom of religion.

Upon arrival in Sacramento, Opening Doors staff and volunteers met them at the airport and transported them to an apartment that had been furnished with donated furniture, household items, and food. Seven months pregnant with their first child, Rosie was grateful for all the assistance provided during the move-in.

Since then, Rosie has given birth to a little girl, a month ahead of her expected due date. Krista was born Wednesday, November 23, as an early Thanksgiving present for her proud parents. The delivery was attended by Sarah Jafari, Rosie's volunteer mentor who will continue working with John and Rosie as they adjust to their new lives as parents, and as residents of the United States. Additionally, Carmichael Presbyterian Church will be hosting a baby shower to assist the couple in gathering the baby supplies they currently lack. Rosie calls being a new mother an "amazing" experience and is thrilled with the progress Krista is making.

In the months to come, Opening Doors staff and volunteer mentors will also help the couple get their social security cards, understand their new home and neighborhood, and begin looking for work. Through Opening Doors' RHEAP (Refugee Health & Employment Attainment Program), they will work with volunteers to develop resumes and learn about the U.S. job application system and workplace culture.

Rosie says it is a relief to finally be in a nation where she no longer has to hide her religious affiliation or legal status. Rosie enjoys working very much and looks forward to getting back into the workforce now that she has delivered her baby. In time, she hopes to open her own bakery. Opening Doors' Microenterprise Program will be there to assist her with this when she is ready.

Iraqi Refugee Finds Success Thanks to Opening Doors' Microenterprise Program

Meet one of Sacramento's newest enterpreneurs: 

 

Kamal
Kamal stands in front of his new auto sales business

 

All refugees coming through Opening Doors bring with them a history filled with memories of the good, the bad, and even the horrifying times in their lives. If they are with Opening Doors, they are survivors, and survivors do not stand still waiting for good things to happen. They work to make them happen. Kamal is one such refugee. He came to Opening Doors for a small business loan. Along the way to qualifying, we learned his story.

 

As adults, Kamal and his siblings all worked as jewelers in Baghdad, a business they learned at the feet of their father and grandfather. Kamal also had an ongoing interest in auto sales, thanks to a cousin who would find cars and have Kamal sell them for him. Despite his business successes, decades of increasing political unrest and widespread violence made continuing to stay in Iraq increasingly dangerous. Kamal was eventually forced to flee Iraq in 2005 after finding himself the subject of threats. He initially travelled to Jordan in hopes of seeking asylum, but was refused admittance. He remained on the border between Jordan and Iraq for three days before trying again for Syria, a country where he would remain for 4 � years.

 

Kamal's story is, unfortunately, not a singular one. The U.N. estimates that over 5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, and 1.5 million since 2006 alone, when sectarian violence increased after the bombing of the Samarra Mosque.  The bombing killed thousands of Iraqi citizens and spurred a series of attacks on other mosques.

 

While Kamal dreamed of once again owning his own business, the Syrian government prohibited Iraqi refugees from working. Undaunted, Kamal turned his attentions to the local Iraqi refugee community. For the first two years in Syria, Kamal worked as the financial trust advisor for his religious group, which numbered over 1,200 refugees, and was later selected as their president. Having heard about the U.N.'s refugee resettlement program while still in Baghdad, Kamal immediately applied for refugee status upon arrival in Syria. After 4 � years of discussions with U.N. representatives, Kamal was finally approved to relocate in 2010. Although many Iraqi refugees were choosing to resettle in Australia or other Western nations, Kamal chose the United States because of the greater work opportunities available for refugees, a choice which inspired 513 of his community members to follow. Currently, none of Kamal's family members remain in Iraq. His aunts, cousins, siblings, and even his daughter have resettled all over the world.

 

After arriving in the U.S., Opening Doors staff members listened to Kamal's aspirations of once again owning a business and encouraged him to pursue them. With that support on offer, Kamal decided to put to good use the know-how gained from his work in auto sales and open his own dealership. He had some savings of his own, yet was in need of additional financing in order to purchase the used cars for his lot. Kamal applied for a bank loan, but was denied because, as an immigrant, he didn't have a credit history.

 

Undaunted, Kamal came to Opening Doors in July 2011, where he applied for one of Opening Doors' Prosperity Project loans.  The Prosperity Project provides individualized business counseling and microloans in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 to qualified entrepreneurs looking to establish or improve small businesses. Many of our refugee clients are unable to receive funding through traditional sources, and find dealing with U.S. banks and doing business in the American marketplace a totally new experience. Over two months, our staff members, Muhamad and Ben, discussed with Kamal what it takes to start a business, the expenses he would encounter, interest rates, licensing, leasing a sales lot, and exactly how he would use Opening Doors loan funds. He also completed a cash flow projection that we reviewed to ensure all possible expenses were included. In mid-August he was approved for a loan. Kamal used the funding to purchase his initial auto inventory, and officially opened K.A.S. Auto Sales on September 1st on Silica Avenue in Sacramento.

 

At a recent site visit, it was clear that Kamal truly enjoys running his own used car business. He sees many potential customers on a daily basis, and the surrounding car dealerships are very supportive of him and his efforts. Kamal's dealership is doing extremely well for a new business. In three months, he has bought and sold more than 20 cars and has even been able to employ a full-time salesman. Kamal's business savvy and willingness to work hard, combined with Opening Doors' assistance, has created an ideal situation for him to succeed and contribute to our area's economy.

 

Kamal is enjoying his new life in the United States. He says that he and his family have had an easy time adjusting to living in Sacramento. Kamal appreciates American democracy and the opportunities he has found for work. He thanks Opening Doors for having helped him and other refugees and hopes to encourage other refugees to follow in his footsteps and open their own businesses. However, Kamal's dreams have not ended with his car dealership. Thoughts of the jewelry business of his childhood have always remained with him. In a year or so, after his auto sales business has become stronger and he has saved up the money necessary, Kamal plans to go back into the jewelry industry. "I will do it!" Kamal confidently asserts; Opening Doors has no doubts that he will.

Thank you for following our work. Together we can make a difference in the lives of refugees, survivors of human trafficking  and other underserved residents in the Greater Sacramento region. If you would like to volunteer or make a donation, please click here

Sincerely,

 


David Blicker

Executive Director
Opening Doors, Inc.