In 1997, Garang applied for a visa to come to the United States as a refugee. After waiting a few years for his application to process, Garang was admitted to the United States and arrived in Iowa in April of 2000. Determined to make a stable life for him and his family, Garang found employment in the construction industry three weeks after receiving his Social Security information.
However, while Garang settled into his life in Des Moines, the political issues in South Sudan continued. In 2005, the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement signified the close of the Second Sudanese Civil War. This agreement established a timeline for a referendum on South Sudanese independence. Garang left Des Moines in 2009 to head back to South Sudan to register individuals to vote and discuss the importance of South Sudanese independence. The vote for the independence of South Sudan took place in early 2011, with nearly 99% of registered individuals voting pro-independence.
A successful campaign under his belt, Garang left the newly-established South Sudan in 2011 and returned to Des Moines. He pursued achieving higher education and obtained an Associate in General Studies degree from DMACC. Garang went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Emergency Disaster Management from Upper Iowa University.
After receiving this education, Garang searched for positions in the Des Moines metro that would help refugee communities. Since 2017, Garang has been working with AmeriCorps RefugeeRISE. Due to his proficiency in Arabic, English, and Dinka, Garang was an essential resource for helping to teach ESL and citizenship classes. Now, he has been working with Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC) to lead health clinics that inform refugees about American healthcare practices. Garang enjoys helping individuals who were previously held back by their lack of English abilities to obtain citizenship and better integrate into society.
In contemplating his life after his AmeriCorps service, Garang is considering moving back to South Sudan to help humanitarian causes in the area. Eighteen years after his arrival in the United States, Garang is still connected to South Sudan. His father, brothers, and sisters still live there. While South Sudan is improving, Garang states that the country needs people to go and work on it. Specifically, Garang hopes to inform those perpetuating the violence in his country know that “we don’t need that.”
Daniel is a refugee who came from Burma. He graduated from high school, but he did not plan on immediately going to college. After taking time to reflect on what he wanted his future to look like, Daniel decided that he did in fact want to go to college. Like many individuals, Daniel didn’t know what school would be the right option for him. Many of his friends told him about their own experiences, but Daniel became frustrated by the sheer number of options he faced in central Iowa alone. After weighing his options, Daniel took a brave step towards higher education by applying to several community colleges. Once accepted, he realized the application was the easy part. He then had to fill out his FAFSA application, go through both an in-person and virtual orientation, choose his class schedule, and decide whether to live on or off campus. Once again, Daniel needed help. He reached out to his fellow RefugeeRISE host site members who had gone to college. Although there were many times Daniel wanted to give up, his co-members wouldn’t let him. Eventually, the four of them were able to complete all the necessary steps to secure enrollment and financial aid.
Daniel took control of his future by reaching out for help when he needed it, and now has college lined up and ready to go. His co-members are very excited for him, and hope to stay in contact with Daniel after their term ends.
By Rebecca Vasquez
At the Catherine McAuley Center, most of my interactions with refugee clients and recent immigrants have been during my ESL tutoring sessions. The moments I’ll remember the most are hearing the stories told to me by clients and students when they feel comfortable and trust me. The stories they tell provide insight into each of their lives. They’ve told me stories of cultural foods, stories of new hobbies or interests since coming to the U.S., stories of personal goals they want to reach, and stories of their families. These stories aren’t all stories of success, in fact many are about the challenges they face. The challenge of learning English and being understood, the challenge of discrimination, the experience of culture shock and wanting to preserve their culture, the generation gap between them and their children or grandchildren who are growing up here in the United States. These stories are heartwarming and earth shattering, but most of all they are important. Sharing stories helps us to better understand one another, and I’m very glad the clients I’ve worked with feel confident enough to share their stories with me.
By Moriah Morgan
Alice, a Karenni woman, arrived in Iowa with her husband and three children in 2015. She doesn’t speak English and a Karenni interpreter is rarely available. She struggled to understand the Burmese interpreter that was occasionally provided since her Burmese is limited. She and her family have gone to health care providers for years with little to no understanding of treatment. She has been a passive, often powerless patient. That changed in 2017 when she participated in a Karenni flu learning circle, one of seven learning circles held in Des Moines. When EMBARC followed up with Alice, she turned in a report showing she’d shared her knowledge with an additional 31 individuals!
For years, Alice reported getting a flu shot simply because her doctor had told her to. Of late, however, she had been losing faith. The shots were painful and didn’t seem to stop her from getting sick. It was with this doubt in mind that she attended a flu learning circle. Alice quickly learned the truth about how the flu was often mistaken as the common cold and how severe the flu actually can be. She realized how important this information was in terms of changing people’s understanding of sickness.
Alice felt it was her responsibility to teach her community. She knew that a large number of them felt the same way she did before learning the truth. She went door to door asking her neighbors if she could talk to them for a minute about the flu.
The information, Alice thought, was far too important for just a phone call. Speaking in person would allow her to gauge whether they understood what she was saying.
“I am really happy when someone appreciates the information I’ve shared, or they say, ‘oh I didn’t know the importance, but I will go now!’” Some neighbors told her they didn’t have insurance or that they were still asked to pay $20 and couldn’t afford it. Alice made sure to tell them that flu shots would be free with Medicaid, and tried to persuade them that paying $20 would be worth not getting sick if they didn’t have Medicaid.
Months later, Alice still spoke of this experience enthusiastically. She looks forward to participating in future learning circles and gaining more information about different health topics. Alice has requested to even be a host for a future learning circle so that she can promote the continuation of this valuable program.
By Path of Hope Staff, as told to Sarah Hubbard
Recently, Path of Hope’s RefugeeRISE Americorps members Tyler Scrimager and Jacques Luzindya assisted a family of eight from Congo. When the family first came to us, the parents weren’t working, the mother, who didn’t speak any English, was pregnant, and the kids didn’t have transportation to school. The family also needed help transferring their public assistance to Iowa and completing their vaccinations. Jacques helped find a job for the father. We then connected the mother to employment resources so she could begin working after her pregnancy, and connected her to ESL courses. Both Jacques and Tyler continuously helped the mother with appointments at the hospital for her pregnancy, through the day she gave birth in mid-January. Path of Hope helped the family transfer their benefits to Iowa and helped them complete their vaccinations. Jacques and Tyler both provided transportation for the kids to and from school for months until the family was able to buy a car when they got their tax return in February. Although the family’s case file is now closed, they still keep in contact with Jacques, Tyler, and the rest of the Path of Hope team. The parents have been taking the kids to school now that transportation isn't a problem. One of the children was able to get soccer cleats from the school and joined the soccer team. The father is still working at the job Jacques helped him find, and the mother looks forward to joining the workforce soon.
By Nyamal Deng and Terry Prickett
This spring, The Bridge of Storm Lake held a gardening service day for youth in the community. In the weeks leading up to the event, our team discussed how to create a good learning environment, how to teach the skills we wanted to have youth leave with, and how to build or improve the knowledge participants may already have. Additionally, our team had to learn the skills required before we could pass them on to others. On the day of the event, the youth came in not knowing much about gardening. We used the RefugeeRISE self-assessment tracking tool to give the youth participants a pre and post test about gardening. The growth in knowledge was very notable. At the end of the workshop, everyone who came had at least a ten percent increase in overall understanding of the gardening skills we taught. Many felt prepared to take the knowledge they gained to work on their own projects outside our service day. The gardening service day was a great way for AmeriCorps members to provide youth in the community with marketable workforce skills and a place to have positive social interaction. We have a whole summer of gardening service days in the works - everything from transplanting to weeding to watering to harvesting. We can’t wait to have the project continue and make an impact on the lives of youth in our community.
The “Changing Views on Daughters of Burma” project, lead by the Iowa Women's Foundation and a healthy futures AmeriCorps team at EMBARC's Waterloo office, addressed for the first time gender identity and roles in the Burma community. Navigators completed trainings and a culturally appropriate curriculum was developed and used during learning circles. At learning circles, participants were asked to rate their level of knowledge on each topic before and after the learning circle. Of the 70 participants who attended the learning circles, all but 2 reported an increase in knowledge. Navigators who participated in leadership roles gained confidence in their ability to advocate for others, understand US systems, understand and analyze the construction of gender and its implications, compare social norms, and create change within their communities.
By Katie Splean, as told to Sarah Hubbard
G. was having trouble navigating while living in Cedar Rapids. He found the bus system inconvenient and was accustomed to riding his bike everywhere when he was in Africa. While working with the Catherine McAuley Center, G. was partnered with a case manager. After the pair got to know each other a bit more, G. asked his case manager if there was a way he could get a bike. The Catherine McAuley Center put out a request to the community for a donated bike and was able to find someone who was happy to donate a new bike in honor of her son. G. is now able to ride his bike around the city to meet with business contacts, get to work, shop, and socialize.
By Katie Splean
Leya is a RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps member turned full-time employee at the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC). Here, she's teaching Job Club, which seeks to equip our clients with the skills to succeed in the workplace. For many of them, it helps plot out the steps and goals they'll need to follow in order to return to the type of employment they once had back in their home country. Leya is a great leader at CMC, demonstrating passion and dedication to her job. She does an exemplary job of fulfilling her duties and sets a great example in the workplace.
About the Blog
The service members of RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps have compiled stories of success during their membership. This blog was created with the intent of sharing these valuable stories with the public.