According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are more than 25 million refugees in the world today. Thousands of refugees have resettled in Rochester over the years.
In an effort to draw attention to the plight of refugees around the world while commemorating their courage and resilience, UNHCR established World Refugee Day, an international observance taking place on June 20 each year.
On Thursday June 20, 2019, Digital Literacy, a program of Literacy Volunteers of Rochester, and the Office of Adult & Career Education Services (OACES), a division of the Rochester City School District, hosted a World Refugee Day Celebration to show support for refugees in Rochester as well as honor local organizations whose efforts are changing lives.
The event began with an overview of the refugee journey by Lisa Hoyt, Director, Refugee & Immigration Services at Catholic Family Center. She noted that, in 2018, the United States was one of the top ten resettlement countries and that Catholic Family Center assisted more than 250 refugees who arrived in Rochester from 16 different countries. Hoyt observed that although there has been a significant decline in refugee resettlement locally as well as nationally over the past few years, it is still imperative that we provide refugees with the opportunity to rebuild their lives and enrich their adopted homeland.
Paul Burke, Director of OACES, recognized Catholic Family Center and its Refugee Resettlement Program as well as Refugees Helping Refugees, Mary’s Place Refugee Outreach, The Community Place of Greater Rochester, and Literacy Volunteers of Rochester for their work. Burke underscored the importance partnerships play when it comes to meeting the needs of adults in Rochester, especially as it relates to Literacy Zones, a statewide reform initiative designed to provide pathways to a better life through literacy, education, workforce preparation, citizenship, and English language proficiency programs.
Seven refugees from Afghanistan, Cuba, Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo sat on a student panel to share their stories. Two students – Yamila Gonzalez Cabeza of Cuba and Nabila Qadiri Kohistani of Afghanistan – were selected to each receive a laptop, mouse, USB drive and laptop bag. The giveaway was sponsored by OACES and Digital Literacy as a way to celebrate local refugees’ perseverance and growth as well as foster self-reliance by removing barriers to success through digital literacy. OACES students entered to win one of two laptops by filling out a brief survey asking them to describe what they’re learning and how owning a computer would help them.
Brenda Zornow, Digital Literacy Director at Literacy Volunteers of Rochester, also acknowledged the service partnerships provide saying “We are here today to celebrate the empowerment of refugees in our area. When community organizations come together to create partnerships we allow refugees to fulfill their goals and to feel more secure and at ease in their new communities.” She echoed the importance of resettling refugees and helping them integrate into their new community, stating “We all benefit from the diversity in our neighborhoods, our workforce, and from the shared skills and experiences of the refugees who are able to find a new home in our area.”