Refugees in “The Time of Trump”: RPCV Support Groups Linking RPCVs to Local Resettlement Agencies (United States)

The five RPCVs named here were PCVs in the ’60s, ’70s, and 2000s.  Tino Calabia (Peru, 1963-65) spoke to them and had meetings with the State Department-funded national organizations called Volags. If you have questions or interest in helping out please contact Tino at: fcalabia36@gmail.com

Tino Calabia Writes:

Tino Calabia

Tino Calabia

As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees posts new stats on refugees — 65 million and climbing — some TV viewers change channels, and newspaper readers turn the page.  Others vent their rage against those they fear as including hordes of terrorists disguised as refugees or others whom they damn as “illegals.”

But show photos of a Syrian toddler bleeding, covered with dust from rubble caused by bombings or of a three-year-old tike lying facedown dead like the flotsam littering the rest of the seashore.  These photos shock and awaken Americans to the plight of desperate asylum seekers.  Many Americans ask what can be done.

Almost as if in response, in September, President Obama announces a boost in the numbers of refugees to be admitted into the U.S. from all over including 10,000 fleeing Syria’s conflicts.  Then, weeks later, Trump becomes President-elect, having campaigned on a pledge to bar new Muslims from admittance and to deport 11 mllion undocumented migrants already here.

The future of America’s refugee program now finds itself up in the air.  Still, several Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Metro Washington DC plod ahead.  They look for ways to help a sympathetic RPCV somewhere in the U.S. assist an agency resettling refugees in the RPCV’s home community.

Most of the surviving 225,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who completed their service abroad are back in the U.S.  Many cherish the cross-cultural experiences that led them to understand how best to work among the people in their assigned foreign countries.

Some speak Spanish and can speak with migrants who cross the southwest borders.  Or French, and can speak with refugees from parts of Africa.  A few know other languages well enough to help refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.  Even RPCVs who taught ESL can teach English to refugees whose languages those RPCVs may not know.

RPCVs who worked in health and health education, in schools, or in development can help refugees negotiate American health institutions, educational systems, or other public or private service systems.  Yet one should note that a few RPCVs in cities and towns across America are already assisting refugee resettlement agencies in their communities.

Alan Kurdi Lifeless Body

Alan Kurdi

Anthony Agnello, (Afghanistan, 1972-75), is President of the Friends of Afghanistan and Secretary of Western New York RPCVs.  He is a liaison between the two RPCV organizations and Orchard Park High School students in support of refugee-related projects throughout Greater Buffalo.  Projects include assisting a full-service resettlement program and also engaging high schoolers in helping with the RPCV annual Thanksgiving Dinner given for the 150 refugees at Buffalo’s Vive Center, one of the largest shelters in the U.S.

Laura deGrush, (Paraguay, 2007-09), is President of the Heart of Texas RPCVs.  She has led job readiness and workforce classes for refugees and now assists the Caritas of Austin agency in meeting the broad spectrum of needs of arriving refugees in terms of food, housing, and security.

Susan Robinson, (India, 1969-72), is active with Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers (CARV).  With other members, she has assisted Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio by providing refugees transportation and household items and also worked with Bhutanese farmers in a community service project at a demonstration farm.  CARV mentors a Syrian family of six and currently seeks RPCVs able to help the children with their schoolwork.

Valerie Kurka, (Tanzania, 2006-08), formerly President of the Milwaukee Peace Corps Association while working in the State of Wisconsin Refugee Office, now resides in MetroDC.  For the National Peace Corps Association’s refugee support group, Valerie is setting up a network of individual RPCVs and affililated RPCV groups interested in seeing how they might assist local agencies.  Some 350 RPCVs and 30 country of service- or other kinds of affiliated RPCV groups are already in the pool soon to be uploaded onto an NPCA webpage.

To complement what Valerie does, mapping a national network listing each RPCV considering helping an agency to resettle refugees in his/her home community, Colleen Conroy, (Brazil 1964-67, later on staff in Africa and HQ) is establishing links with the State Department-funded national organizations (Volags) and their hundreds of local resettlement agencies.  The aim is to inform service providers of the pool of talent in the growing RPCV network.

Thus, a local agency can contact an RPCV, or an interested RPCV can contact the resettlement agency in his/her community.  How the RPCV subsequently assists that agency would be up to both parties to arrange with each other.

Volags point to practices such as:  their local agencies generally require a background check of an RPCV and possibly a commitment of time, perhaps, 3 to 6 months, possibly longer.  Vetted RPCVs can work solo or in teams such as the Cincinnati RPCVs mentoring a Syrian family.

For an RPCV unable to offer a fixed commitment period, one-time tasks or occasional contributions are useful:  transporting refugees from the airport to their new home, providing starter household goods, clothes, or cash donations.  Or an RPCV helps arrange for refugees to attend Thanksgiving Dinner, as in Buffalo, or social gatherings on other special occasions.

In short, resettlement agencies have myriad ways of availing themselves of the talent bank that NPCA’s support group is building.  Depending on the time an RPCV has to help, there are various ways he/she can help a family long-term, or by just making a new refugee or refugee family feel welcome in the community where the RPCV lives.

Another goal of NPCA’s support group is to encourage RPCVs who wish to aid refugees stalled in shelters or camps in Africa, Asia, or Europe.  However, for the foreseeable future, individual RPCVs aspiring to do so must fund their own travel and living arrangements.

More information on the U.S.-based program or working abroad will soon be posted on NPCA’s website.

Tino Calabia (Peru, 1963-65) ran a Bronx antipoverty agency, and later in DC, authored federal studies ranging from the rights of female offenders to discrimination on college campuses. He served on national Asian American boards and led seminars in former Eastern-bloc countries for exchange students he mentored while they studied in the U.S.  Calabia earned a Georgetown B.A., a Columbia M.A. and a fellowship to attend the University of Munich.  Contributor to the 2016 history of the United Nations Association-USA, he lives near Washington with his wife, who, like one son, is a Council on Foreign Relations member. 

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  • I’m glad the people of the Marshall Islands where I served (Micronesia 3) entered into a treaty with the US government that gave them the right to travel and even live in this country without documentation. This was in return for our continued use of Kwajalein Atoll as a down range missile test site and for partial reparations for us having blown up the atolls of Bikini and Enewetok for nuclear testing.

    As the “Chinese hoax” of global warming and the resultant rising of sea levels swallows the low lying islands of the Marshalls, more and more of them are moving here. At least five members of my Marshallese adoptive family are already living here and I expect more to come.

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