Where cultures come together: Columbia group seeks to ease transition for refugees
As a refugee from Bosnia, Senad Music knows firsthand how difficult it is to get acclimated to a new culture. He says when he came to America 16 years ago he found it difficult to adapt to the culture, and he is trying to make the transition easier for newer refugees. On a recent weekend at Columbia's World Refugee Day, that means manning the grill during the World Refugee Celebration.
“My mission today is kind of cook food, you know, be on the grill, and welcome people from the community and other refugees," said Music.
Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbia put together a celebration for World Refugee Day last weekend. The event showcased the newly-completed Columbia Refugee Garden and held a potluck lunch with dishes from all over the world.
Music says it’s important to have a place where cultures from all over the world can come together and learn about one another: “We are trying to involve everyone to understand these refugees and how they come to the country, and of course they like to share food from many different countries.”
Music is the office manager for the Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbia. Phil Stroessner is the Employment Developer for the group. He works to extend a warm welcome to those who have come to Columbia from all over the world, and takes it upon himself to introduce refugees to residents in the city: “Refugees tend to be pretty invisible here in Columbia, so we’re just trying to showcase their culture and their achievements, and what they bring to the city of Columbia. And also to thank Columbia, the city itself and the community members here because they’re so welcoming to refugees.”
More than 150 people showed up to the celebration, where they sang, danced, and enjoyed a potluck lunch with dishes from all over the world. Even the youngest attendees got to know each other better.
The celebration was pretty light-hearted, but Stroesser says there are harsh realities facing refugees that add to the stress of coming to a new country. Part of his job is helping refugees find employment, something he says has become more difficult: “It’s definitely become harder as the economy goes down. You hear a lot of employers saying, ‘Why hire refugees when Americans need jobs?’ and I understand where they’re coming from, and I understand the pressure that’s on them.”
Stroessner says the number of new arrivals at his refugee agency is down, and funding is too. But maintaining agencies such as the Refugee and Immigration Service is extremely important, often vital, to the success of new immigrants. Through an interpreter, a refugee who arrived from Syria less than a week ago says it will take time to fully adjust.
SYRIA0625a TRT: 9 OC: “… to the culture.”
“Generally, it’s beautiful, but it will take him time to get used to the system, used to the people, used to the culture.”
Music says the goal of the celebration is to help people understand and accept that refugees want nothing more than to fit into their new culture.
MUSIC0625c TRT: 12 OC: “… and their kids.”
“I mean we’re just trying to show people that they understand that we are strangers when we come, but we are not strangers. We are just trying to fit into the community, and try to live life safe and nice for us and our kids.”