Syracuse has been welcoming refugees from troubled countries since the 1970s. Earlier this month, the City of Syracuse was declared a sanctuary city during Mayor Stephanie Miner’s State of the City address. Donald Trump recently signed an executive order banning refugees from Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Out of these seven countries, six are in various stages of civil and military conflict.
At any given time, various agencies in Syracuse are hosting at least 12,000 to 15,000 refugees. In recent years, people have arrived in Syracuse from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Thailand and lately, Syria.
The war in Syria has claimed between 300,000 and 400,000 lives since April 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Close to 7,600,000 people are internally displaced in Syria and another 4,800,000 have become refugees and asylum seekers. The United States welcomed its 10,000th Syrian refugee on Aug 29 this year.
Here are 5 agencies doing great work in Syracuse, trying to help the refugees who have been placed in Central New York by the UNHCR.
1. Catholic Charities of Onondaga County: One of the busiest organizations in Syracuse, the CCOC handles a large amount of work for the refugees, ranging from legal representation and documentation to logistics like housing and health insurance. Kyaw-Kyaw, a member of the organization works as a case manager, a translator and as a legal representative for the newcomers.“These people lost so much during their journey. It is our duty to do what we can, and it can be done in the smallest of ways,” he says.
Contact Catholic Charities if you wish to donate or volunteer: http://www.ccoc.us/volunteer/
2. Interfaith Works of Central New York: The other major refugee relief agency is Interfaith Works. While this organization does a number of other activities also in order to promote multiculturalism, its work for the refugees is truly commendable in the current scenario of ongoing tensions in many parts of the world. Their Center for New Americans typically resettles 500-600 new refugees every year and helps an additional 1,200 people who have been in the U.S. for less than five years.
To donate to Interfaith, go here: http://www.interfaithworkscny.org/programs/center-for-new-americans/
3. North Side Learning Center: The North Side Learning Center is an adult literacy center which works to facilitate English language teaching for people arriving in America, typically refugees and new Americans. The NSLC also runs programs for young children and high school students to help with homework and remedial lessons. In addition to teaching English, the NSLC also helps newcomers adjust to American society and a number of community-based support groups are operated from within the organization. Yusuf Soule, the founder of the NSLC says that the only reason he started the center, was to help.
“When I established the NSLC in 2009, people told me it would be difficult because I would be competing with organizations like Interfaith and because nobody would ever pay for anything,” he says. “But I was okay with that, I was offering help, not looking to start a business.”
The NSLC welcomes students from Syracuse University, the Onondaga Community College and a number of other organizations to volunteer as teachers for their adult literacy program.
To volunteer for them, go here: http://northsidelearning.org
4. ICNA Outreach Center of Syracuse: This is a relatively small center dedicated to younger members of the refugee community in Syracuse. Every Saturday and Sunday, classes are held here for the children of refugees. Typically, the children are aged between five and twelve. In addition to getting lessons in subjects like Math and English, they play with each other, learning how to socialize with children from cultures very different from their own. This center depends heavily on volunteers who pick the children up from their homes and drop them back after class. To volunteer here, contact the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) here: http://www.icna.org. You can also visit them directly at 522 Salina St (Butternut St), Syracuse, NY, United States
5. Hopeprint: This organization is also a relief agency for refugees but it goes beyond resettlement services and like the NSLC, tries to help refugees adjust to life in America. It does so through collective celebrations like community dinners and cultural performances. One of their initiatives, ‘Steps to Thrive’, pairs a new American with an American-born to work together on selective objectives. This mutual mentorship is a unique way of offering help to people who are still dealing with the trauma of displacement and at the same time, making an effort to rebuild their lives.
You can engage with Hopeprint in a number of ways. They accept donations and offer volunteering and internship opportunities. Contact them here: http://www.myhopeprint.org
One of the best things about living in Syracuse is that the community is open, welcoming and receptive to diversity. Participating in any of the above organizations is guaranteed to be an educational, fulfilling, and rich experience. Let us know in the comments section if you have volunteered before. Share your experience with us. This is your chance to become a humane member of the resistance.
Image: Students interact with a teaching volunteer at the Northside Learning Center (December 2016/Ankur Dang©)