ESSEX — Outreach for refugees of global conflict entered 2017 with more action planned.
The local organization, Champlain Valley Friends of Refugees, met at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex last week to recharge for the new year.
The group is one of three sister chapters organized after the Keene Valley Congregational Church facilitated a gathering last January to strategize about how stakeholders could make the region more welcoming.
Outgoing facilitator Lyn Barrett, of Westport, shared some of the successes achieved since.
A website common to the three groups, the other two based in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, is now up and running, she said.
“We raised over $3,000 for Bicycles for Refugees in cooperation with the Rev. Kirchenrieis Oderland-Spree in Germany. This money is funding the acquisition, repair and use of bicycles for asylum-seekers and refugees in Germany.
“Because of our contribution, they have been able to expand their bicycle outreach to a larger geographic area,” Barrett said.
“We hosted Christina Kampf from Beeskow, who spoke at a public meeting about the refugee situation in Germany and the bicycle project in particular.
“She explained that the project was initiated after the Protestant Church in Germany asked refugees what they (the congregation) could do to help. The newly arrived asylum-seekers said they needed easy transportation in the rural areas they are settling in. She explained the dynamics of both welcome and fear among Germans and also the process by which newly arrived asylum seekers must go through in order to obtain refugee status.”
In addition to supporting direct work with groups in Europe, the Champlain Valley organization hosted a Day Away in conjunction with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and organized an Adirondack visit for refugees from Nepal and the Congo.
Ten members from here also participated in volunteer training programs with the Vermont-based resettlement group.
Finding unique and meaningful ways to support people fleeing from war or oppression includes some very simple and straightforward efforts, Barrett said.
“We are going to look into sending welcome letters to refugees,” she said.
The Day Away gathering included sharing meals, singing and exchanging cultural truths.
And as they learn areas of need, Champlain Valley Friends plans to help fill gaps.
“One of the gaps is transportation,” Barrett said.
Friends here are considering ways to repurpose cars for families in Burlington and other areas where refugee communities have settled.
Toward outreach, she said, the friends are starting a project in conjunction with the Keene Valley Congregational Church sparked with $2,000 in grant monies from the Adirondack Foundation.
They will work with local resident Beatrice Schachenmay on her project “Frame Your Story,” which will connect local students in Willsboro with German refugee youth using cameras and journals to capture events in their everyday lives.
Expanding awareness of compassion, care and welcome for people escaping war or oppression is important in a free society, Barrett said.
And with ongoing tension in American policy and politics, the effort becomes more poignant.
“It is now more important than ever for us to stand with refugees and to become active in ways to support refugees and other marginalized people,” Barrett said.
In reflecting on their first steps last year, getting ready to take next steps, Barrett shared some of the notes members jotted down as part of what compels their action.
“We represent the true American spirit of welcome with no if’s, and’s or but’s,” one member wrote.
“We are all refugees. Our families were refugees. America was built by refugees guided by our Native sisters and brothers,” another said.
“Societies flourish when we help each other,” another member wrote.
“And economic growth, solidarity and goodwill works against racism and classism.”
Bob Harsh, of Reber, is taking the helm with “Frame Your Story” projects in the coming months, Barrett said.
The Champlain Valley organization hopes to host another Day Away for refugee families and friends this summer.
To find out more or to participate, visit adirondack-friends-of-refugees.com/champlain-valley-friends-of-refugees/.