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Archive for : HIAS

Repair Interview: Martin Storrow of Keys for Refugees

Finding out that there are 60 million refugees and displaced people around the globe can be overwhelming. It can be terribly difficult to know how to help, or even where to begin a conversation. That’s why Martin Storrow and Rachel Brandt founded Keys for Refugees – a brand new, grassroots campaign to help raise awareness about the world’s refugee population. Their idea is simple, but profound: keys are a symbol of home, security, and comfort. And they can help to “unlock” important stories.

Through Keys for Refugees, people can purchase red keys for themselves or friends that serve as a reminder and a starting point for conversation. A portion of the proceeds from the keys goes to HIAS, the oldest refugee resettlement organization in America, and Repair the World’s partner in our #SupportforRefugees campaign. We recently spoke with Storrow to find out more about the inspiration behind Keys for Refugees, how people and organizations are using their keys, and how you can get involved with this inspiring movement.

Can you tell me a bit more about the inspiration behind Keys For Refugees?
I was in Europe around the time the Syrian refugee crisis was reaching a tipping point, and the things I saw really affected me. I’ll never forget the images of families sleeping on train station floors, living their lives very publicly with nowhere to go. When I came home, Rachel and I started having conversations about what we could do to help the 60 million people who are currently displaced around the world.

The more we spoke about this with our families and friends, the more we began to realize how powerful a conversation can be. We started Keys For Refugees with the simple idea that a key can unlock a conversation, a conversation can lead to action, and a series of actions can change the world.

How did you decide to donate the proceeds to HIAS?
We believe that every person should have a place to call home. We see the 60 million displaced people around the world as individuals – each with dreams, each hoping not just to survive, but to contribute. HIAS not only helps to provide relief to those who are displaced, but also helps to resettle refugees and ensure that they have a support system so they can thrive. We love that their mission is rooted in Jewish values, and were really impressed by the HIAS/Repair the World #SupportForRefugees partnership. There are many wonderful organizations that are supporting refugees around the world, but we were excited to make HIAS our first partner in this campaign.

Can you share a story that demonstrates the impact of your work?
The campaign is still new (we just had our pre-launch last month), but we’re already seeing an impressive response from those in our networks and in the Jewish community. We were really moved by the connections people were making to Passover. One organization, for example (The Well in Detroit), set fifty red keys on their seder table so they could start conversations about those making their own modern day journeys to freedom. That was really inspiring.

What’s the best way for people to get involved?
The simplest thing you can do is visit our website to buy a red key or gift one to a friend. We have ‘key’ facts there too, so you can start unlocking conversations – whether in-person or by posting in social media. This is a huge humanitarian challenge, and it can certainly feel daunting, but big change often starts with small actions. We’re at the beginning of something special, and we’re excited to bring people together to raise awareness, spread hope, and help build a movement.

A Refugee-Focused Alternative Break With Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life

This guest post is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s Passover campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis. It was written by Ya’arah Pinhas and Will Simon, and covers a jam-packed alternative spring break program focused on refugee resettlement, and run by Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life.

Over the recent Spring Break, Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life’s Social Justice Committee led a service learning trip to NYC and NJ exploring refugee resettlement in the area. With an ever increasing number of 60 million internally displaced people, asylum seekers, and refugees worldwide alongside the media’s focus on the Syrian refugee crisis, the committee has focused its efforts on raising awareness on campus and encouraging students to take action on this topic. The trip’s goals were to learn about the process of resettlement of refugees in the US, specifically looking at the services provided to them once they arrive within US borders, and volunteering with organizations that assist refugees newly arrived to the US and advocate on their behalf.
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Repair Interview: Zhanna Veyts on Being a Refugee, Then Helping Others with HIAS

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s Passover campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis.

What if you had the opportunity to give back to someone or something who made a profound difference in your life? For Zhanna Veyts, that is exactly what happened. In 1989, when she was still a child, Veyts and her parents left the Soviet Union for America with the help of HIAS – the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S. (and our partner in this month’s #SupportforRefugees campaign.)

Today, Veyts works for HIAS supporting refugees going through the same transitions she went through nearly 30 years ago. Repair the World recently spoke to Veyts to find out how her experience shapes her work and how, despite our differences, we all pretty much want the same thing.

Can you tell me a bit about your own refugee experience, and how it impacts your work at HIAS?
I’m originally from Ukraine and came to America with my parents in 1989 with help from HIAS. We went through Vienna and Italy like hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish refugees at the time. We had to figure out if we would be able to go to America or Israel. When we arrived in Los Angeles, our experience was not unlike everything that refugees experience today. You get an apartment, it gets furnished, there are social programs, you enroll in school or get a job, you have to learn English, and life starts anew. You get here and very quickly you’re on your own.

The process is quite complicated, but HIAS has been doing it for 130 years. I realized later that some of these big decisions that made a huge impact in my life at different crossroads were directly related to HIAS. It is so interesting to be working on the other side of it now.

What did it feel like to be an adolescent going through this experience?
When we left, we thought we would never see my grandparents again. That happens to so many people today. We did not know that years later, the situation with the Soviet Union would change and we’d be able to bring them here. We really thought we were saying goodbye, and that was really rough.

I also remember the dramatic difference between my life in Ukraine before the Iron Curtain fell, and what I found in Europe. It was Christmastime when we made it to Vienna and Italy. Everything was sparkly and clean, it felt like Disneyland. Before the Internet and with no access to Western television, I’d had no vision of what to expect when I left. Arriving there, I had a definite, “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moment. Soon after we came to America we moved to Los Angeles, and I attended public school the first year. I remember it feeling so much bigger and more diverse than anything I’d experienced. A year later I transferred to a Jewish day school and remember being really aware that there were differences between me and the other kids.

How did you end up working for HIAS?
It was kind of serendipitous. Going to Jewish day school and Jewish sleep away camps had a big part in shaping who I am. In college I attended Hillel events and went on service trips. The service part and social justice part of Judaism always made a lot of sense to me as a person from somewhere else who had been included. When I moved to New York, I got a job at the JDC working for their non-sectarian disaster relief department. I found the work really interesting, and it was in-line with my sense of Judaism to help others beyond our own community. When I got the job here three years ago, everything came full circle.

What do you do at HIAS?
I work in communications and digital media, running social media and our blog. I think of these things as different platforms for story telling. The stories of the people HIAS works with are what makes this work really compelling. This organization facilitates this completely transformative shift in people’s lives. I experienced that myself. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s the beginning of a whole journey that people go on. And it’s difficult and hard for many people. But so many people finally find safety and freedom.

I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to meet a lot of people HIAS works with in different capacities. I’ve seen programs in Africa and met Afghanis, Iraqis, and people from so many different corners of the world who all have their own stories and experiences. But the majority of them, when we ask them what’s the best thing about getting to America, say “feeling safe.” When it comes down to it, people really all want the same thing. They just want to have a nice, warm, safe environment for their families.

Find out more about HIAS’ work, and Repair the World and HIAS’ #SupportforRefugees campaign.

Photo: Veyts (second from right) making a home visit to a family of Ethiopian refugees living in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo credit: Glenna Gordon/HIAS

Spotlight On: Project Hive

This April, Repair the World is teaming up with HIAS, the country’s oldest refugee resettlement agency (it was originally founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe) for a campaign focused on the current global refugee crisis.

In the lead up to Passover – a holiday that recalls a time when our ancestors wandered in search of a new home – #SupportforRefugees will share the stories of refugees around the world, and offer opportunities to get involved.

We will also be highlighting awesome organizations like Project Hive, which shine a light on the nearly 60 million people around the world who have had to flee their homes because of violence or persecution. Project Hive is changing the way that Americans talk and think about refugees, encouraging them to learn about people’s experiences as refugees, and unlock the potential of US to support and advocate for them.

Join Project Hive, Repair the World, and HIAS all April long for ways that you can make a difference!

Report From the Field: Latest Dispatch from HIAS Volunteer in Kenya

Amy Schwartz, PR/Communications fellow at the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya (HRTK), is blogging from Kenya this summer for HIAServe and Repair the World. This is her second update, you can read her first post here. Amy will be a fellow at HRTK until the end of August, and will continue to update us from the field.

To begin, check out the mini-documentary about the dreams and struggles of a Jewish youth group in Uganda, the Abayudaya Youth Association.
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Report from the Field: A HIAS Volunteer in Kenya

Amy Schwartz, PR/Communications fellow at the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya (HRTK), is blogging from Kenya this summer for HIAServe and Repair the World. Amy will be a fellow at HRTK until the end of August, and will continue to update us from the field.

Chapter 1: Karibu To Kenya

Arrival into Nairobi: 13:30 on Monday, the 31st of May to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

See in the distance: Steven, a driver at the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya, holding my name up boldly and smiling. “Karibu!”, he says.

What is Karibu do you ask?

Swahili for ‘Welcome.’

Okay makes sense; he was waiting for me to arrive for my fellowship with HRTK and wishes me Karibu! But what I found out instantly was Karibu doesn’t just mean the standard. ‘Welcome’ that you might see on signs, storefronts, and border crossings.

Karibu also means ‘you are welcome here’. You are welcome here in Kenya. Karibu! A greeting not only to say hello, but that I was wanted here in Kenya. For a moment, I was almost confused! And it wasn’t jet lag.
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