Homemaker for Refugees
by Emma Bartlett
July 5, 2022
Justin Bibee, 34, (Morocco 2012-14) is an avid human rights advocate. He jokes that just like those in the military service receive badges for their work, he aims to be the most decorated human rights advocate – and he’s already on his way to achieving that goal. Bibee was recently named a 40 under 40 winner which is an annual contest hosted by Providence Business News. This is a statewide contest and awardees are selected based on career success and involvement within their communities.
A graduate of Cranston East, Bibee currently works as a refugee resettlement case manager for Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island in Providence, but his human rights work goes back to his 20s. After Bibee graduated from Rhode Island College where he obtained a degree in justice studies, he moved on to Vermont’s School for International Training (SIT) in 2013 to obtain a master’s in peacebuilding.
“As part of my master’s degree, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco from 2014 to 2016. And I was awarded a competitive United Nations internship,” said Bibee, who was selected from 360 international applications.
Bibee served as an English teacher in Morocco and founded the country’s first-ever volunteer-based human rights organization known as Humanac; it was also where he met his Moroccan wife who was part of the Peace Corps and taught Americans Arabic and about the local culture.
“I remember seeing her smile my very first day in Morocco, but we didn’t speak to each other until six months later when we both had training in Marrakech. There I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk, and we’ve been together ever since. We got married in Morocco in 2015,” Bibee said.
Tanzania was Bibee’s next stop after Morocco where he spent time in three refugee camps: Nyarugusu, Nduta, and Mtendeli. There, he worked with Burundian and Congolese refugees on financial inclusion, empowering women to hold onto money, establishing savings groups and connecting refugees to banks in their host country. He said many of the camps had restaurants, schools, businesses but no places to store money. People would either carry their life savings in their pockets or stored the funds under their mattresses which made them vulnerable to robbery.
Bibee has also worked with individuals experiencing homelessness and those living with HIV/AIDS. In 2018, he was accepted as a PhD student in peacebuilding at Durban University of South Africa. More recently, Bibee and his wife moved back to Rhode Island when she got a job at the Rhode Island School of Design, which led to him finding a job as a refugee resettlement case manager at Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island.
Currently, he works with Afghan, Syrian, and Cambodian refugees. As a case manager, Bibee works with families as soon as they depart the plane. He picks families up at the airport with an interpreter, collects their luggage and brings them to their apartment which volunteers furnish. The refrigerator is already stocked with food and there will be a warm, culturally appropriate meal waiting for them.
During the next 90 days, Bibee helps families enroll kids and adults in school, while assisting them in finding employment. Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island’s goal is to support clients and make sure they are self-sufficient. Bibee said a lot of refugees find jobs right away and end up with high paying jobs.
Bibee said there is a misconception that all refugees are poor, uneducated people; however, many of these individuals are bright people and leave because it’s a matter of life or death.
“What really impresses me is their resilience,” Bibee said.
He said you may not know their story until later on and it’s amazing how they keep smiling through it all.
He said a stigma he’d like to see go away is people getting upset when refugees end up with high paying jobs. He said there are people who would give that all up just to be with their family again.
“This person might be making six figures but is crying himself to sleep at night,” Bibee said. “He would give it all up in one second to be with family.”
Bibee’s favorite aspect of the job is seeing kids excited on their first day of school. While it varies by country, some of these kids were not able to go to school or the buildings were closed due to conflict. A volunteer one time said how nervous and overwhelmed the kids must feel, but Bibee said he has seen children nothing but excited.
More recently, Bibee has worked with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Governor Daniel McKee to sign World Refugee Day proclamations that officially proclaimed June 20 as World Refugee Day throughout Rhode Island. The proclamation raises awareness about how refugees add to the state’s economic strength and cultural richness while also encouraging Rhode Island residents to participate in activities related to World Refugee Day.
Bibee said after spending nine years traveling the world on human rights missions, it’s nice being close to my family and friends again. Moving forward, Bibee sees himself continuing to focus on refugee issues.
Bibee said he was excited when he found out Providence Business News named him in their 40 Under 40 statewide contest; this is not the first time he has been recognized for his work. Bibee was a finalist in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 which was a national competition. Bibee will receive his 40 Under 40 award at the Aldrich Mansion in Warwick on July 21.