Refugee and Immigration Services



Refugee’s Hard Work Pays Off

A beautiful story from UNCHR about the success of an African refugee. Click here to read the article.

Joel Tshite and his proud parents show off his scholarship certificate from the US Student Achievers Program awards ceremony held recently in Harare, Zimbabwe UNHCR/M.Mutuli

Joel Tshite and his proud parents show off his scholarship certificate from the US Student Achievers Program awards ceremony held recently in Harare, Zimbabwe UNHCR/M.Mutuli

Donate Today!

Refugee and Immigration Services is running low on furniture, kitchenware and bicycle donations. We use these donated supplies to prepare homes for incoming refugees. Upon arrival in the United States, our local refugees are almost completely dependent on donated goods and services for lodging, transportation and direction. To get back on their feet, refugees need the help of organizations like RIS and the considerate people who donate to us.


A recent arrival appreciating his new car, donated by a Columbia community member. The car will help him and other refugees get to and from work.

Right now, RIS is running very low on beds. If you have access to a twin, bunk, full or queen size bed and are able to donate it, you could become an integral part of establishing a refugee family in their new mid-Missouri home. We also need to restock our supply of coffee tables, dining room tables, pots and pans. We would gladly accept any household donations you are able to make, however, the preceding materials are disappearing from our supply the quickest.

We are also in need of bikes. Refugees depend on bicycle donations to help them get to work, school, the grocery store, etc. We have handymen at the ready to fix any bikes that are in need of repairs.

These materials are essential to a refugee’s journey to self-sufficiency in the United States. Please do what you can to help your newest neighbors as they resettle and reinvent their lives in the heart of America.

A refugee enjoying his donated bike helmet.

A refugee enjoying his donated bike helmet.

Get Gardening! Columbia Organizations Make Earning A Green Thumb Easy

It’s garden enrollment time again! Several of Columbia’s local gardening organizations invite all residents to get growing, and offer many opportunities for breaking ground.


Image from MU Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security

One option is the Opportunity Gardens program through the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. Open to all low-income residents, the program provides free mentoring services and garden supplies to empower people to grow their own fresh food and sharing with others. Clients that live in public housing or in a home may apply for the program and are expected to care for their plots for many years, with the help of CCUA garden gurus. Participants graduate at the end of three years with enough skills to continue growing independently. Download and fill out an application from the Opportunity Gardens website, or call for an application at (573) 514-4174.

The Community Garden Coalition of Columbia organizes 11 Neighborhood Garden plots for anyone in the community to get involved with (see map). Depending on where one lives, there are several close-by plots; however, the Refugee and Immigration Services office has a special relationship with the Broadway Christian Church plot, home of the Columbia Refugee Garden. The garden is coordinated by Don Day, who claims one proof of his gardening skills – he chuckles, pulling out a rubber green thumb he carries in his pocket. Last year, between 20 and 30 refugee families participated in the garden, from whom Day loves to hear stories and with whom he loves to work. Many diverse plants cover the grounds, resulting from various tastes of refugees from many different countries. Day hopes to expand the plots and get gardeners involved with the Master Gardener Program in the coming season.wrd12-080

For some extra help, the Missouri Master Gardener Program through MU Extension provides hotlines for questions, workshops, garden show booths and demonstration projects to spread gardening information to thousands of Missourians each year. Master Gardeners invite those with questions about vegetable gardening to stop by The Learning Garden at the Broadway Christian Church plots Mondays at 9 a.m. and Thursdays at 5:15 p.m. The Program will also be providing “Third Thursdays” trainings at 6:30 p.m. at the Learning garden beginning April 16. “We should be a model for best practice, especially for those from different climates and cultures,” Ellen Condron, a Master Gardner of Columbia, said.

For more information and applications, visit the front desk at the RIS office or the websites of each program.

First Annual RIS Charity Gala Inspires

The Charity Gala did go on! Many of us came into the evening having battled a long day with troublesome weather – but then something extraordinary happened that has driven the Refugee and Immigration Services work for the last 40 years. A combination of appreciation sharing and fellowship, as well as spicy curried chicken, cleared bleary eyes and awakened hearts to an incredible story unfolding in little Columbia, Missouri.

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In their speeches, Katie Freehling and Senad Music joked that for our refugees arriving at Columbia Regional Airport, the scene does not match up to the grand picture of America they may have been carrying on their journeys. It’s a lot of field with a highway cutting through it. The RIS office then strives to correct the first impression. Senad Music, manager of the Columbia office and refugee from Bosnia himself, said his experience as a “newborn” in the US was a dive into diverse community. Still, he “didn’t see difference,” but “just a lot of people helping each other.”

The scene at the Gala reflected this as attendees mingled between tables and were served Thai cuisine by volunteers from the MU African Youth Initiative. Glittering centerpieces and candlelight sparked conversation under festive tissue-paper flower hangings. The simple gathering hall was carefully transformed into classic elegance in shades of purple, black and gold.

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This first annual RIS Charity Gala was a celebration of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual help within Columbia. It was a ceremony of past victory and an encouragement toward growth. Just over 25 countries are represented in the office, with more on the way. RIS looks forward to enhancing its services in classes, managing language barriers, and connecting clients to more opportunities in their new surroundings.

“Tonight is about the story within us all, and what we choose to do with what is left to be written,” Katie Freehling said.

A special thank you goes out to our sponsors: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church for hosting and Thip Thai Cuisine for providing dinner. Also, we would like to thank The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Pampered Chef, Amie B. & The Orchid Emporium, Kent’s on Broadway, Glik’s, Linda Haus, Mustard Seed Fair Trade and Gunter Hans for our great silent auction items.

Learning how to navigate Columbia, transportation class added to services

Broadway, 9th, and Old 63; Wabash Station, the Gold route, and COMO connect are all gibberish until a Columbia resident learns this important directional terms. The Refugee and Immigration Services office has recently added two transportation classes to help its clients navigate their new environment. Refugees that have attended so far have made incredible progress and have already begun to get around Columbia independently.
One class covers the bus system. Cultural Orientation instructors Bailey Everhart and Kelsey Hutton go over how to buy tickets, ride the bus, and highlight important stops on relevant bus routes. The program is tailored to clients’ specific needs, for example helping them find the nearest bus stops in relation to their homes and other frequent locations. For those who learn by doing, a guided bus ride and Wabash Station class is available as well.
The second class covers the layout of Columbia and emphasizes pedestrian safety. It involves practicing reading maps of Columbia, memorizing street names, and going over a few traffic signs. To enhance communication skills, Bailey and Kelsey go over giving and following directions to and from locations.
RIS urges refugees to take advantage of this course, despite potential learning barriers such as language differences and issues getting to the office. Kelsey has made herself available before class to pick up students and bring them to class. She and Bailey  also hope to increase circulation of informational flyers in various languages, and intend to have class materials translated for learners who have not been exposed to much English.
If found a consistent success, the transportation classes may lead to new classes pertaining to housing, health, budgeting, and so on. The RIS office is continuing brainstorming ways to cater to Columbia refugees who are overwhelmed by so much information and change all at once.

Inspired by a TED Talk: In 6 drawings, how we can help refugees thrive

What inspirational thoughts that we can all learn from!

TED Blog

melissa-flemming-title1Clarice Holt, a 26-year-old illustrator living in London, was looking for a way to give back. Last month, as she watched Melissa Fleming’s talk, “Let’s help refugees thrive, not just survive,” she realized she could help people living in refugee camps thousands of miles away — by creating beautiful, shareable images of the main ideas in Fleming’s talk.

“An illustration can be like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar,” she says. “If someone is captivated by an image, they can absorb so many things along with it.”

Holt—who learned how to take sketchnotes while working for the company Scriberia—began the sketch in pencil, then used a brush pen to draw the images. She cleaned it all up using a Wacom tablet and her laptop. “I am really into pattern, and the fact that the talk centred on Syria, which has a rich history of decorative art, inspired…

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Going to the Airport: A Volunteer’s Story

Walking into the Columbia Regional Airport that night, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As the Multimedia and Communications Intern at Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS), I don’t get a lot of “hands-on” experience working with refugees. Whenever there is a new refugee arrival in Columbia, I am the one to post about it on Facebook, but I had never gone to the airport to pick up a family of refugees, or even met them after they arrived. On Tuesday, October 14, I had a relatively free night. I knew that a family of 11 was scheduled to arrive from Congo, so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to experience a refugee arrival and help out a family. I met Solomon, the African Case Manager for RIS, and two other volunteers, Tina and Patrick, at the office. Because we were picking up such a large family at the airport, we decided to take two separate vehicles. Patrick and I took a car while Solomon and Tina brought a van.

We arrived at the airport about twenty minutes before the plane was scheduled to arrive, which allowed us some time to sit, chat, and get to know one another.  My office space at RIS is at the complete opposite end of the hall than the Case Managers, so I did not know Solomon very well beforehand, and enjoyed learning about all of the languages he could speak! I had also never worked with Patrick or Tina before, and even though I had put their bios together for the RIS – Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri website, I still had lots more to learn about the two of them. Tina can speak way more languages than I can even fathom (I struggle with Spanish), and Patrick has had the opportunity to travel to some really cool places. While we learned a lot about each other, our main hot topic of conversation turned to which TV shows were the best right now (both of them agreeing that I just HAD to watch the show Scandal).

When the plane arrived, we were waiting to greet the entire family – and boy was it a large family! Mom and Dad walked in with their 9 children, some of them with carry-on bags, looking exhausted from their long travels. Not being able to speak their language myself, I mainly greeted everyone with huge smiles and handshakes all around. Tina welcomed them all to Columbia, and asked how many bags they had checked. I know that many refugees travel to the United States with little to nothing, but to learn that this eleven-person family only had one checked bag between them was still hard for me to wrap my mind around! We got them loaded up in the vans, along with their belongings, and drove the family to their new home(s). I say “homes” with a plural, because they are such a large family that we had to get two apartment units, side-by-side, so that they would have plenty of space.

After arriving at the apartments, we took the family inside to show them around. It never occurred to me that we would have to show them how to safely use kitchen appliances like the stove, oven, and refrigerator. I also never realized how much work went in to setting up the apartments and homes for incoming refugees. Solomon and a few other volunteers had been at the house working all day to set things up. The apartment was cleaned and set up for the family, beds made and everything. The kitchen was full of boxes of kitchen and other household items that RIS was giving the family to get them started. We had also brought with us fresh fruit, chicken, and a large container of rice for the family’s first meal in the country. After such a long flight, I imagined they were starving, but they did not say a word about wanting food.

The first thing they asked to do after arriving to the house was pray. The family gathered in the living room, with Solomon and all of the volunteers with them, and then the family began singing a song together in their language. I did not understand the words they were singing, but all of their voices together sounded beautiful. Once the song ended, each member of the family started praying out loud, each their own prayer of thanks and gratitude for the new opportunity they were being given. Although I did not speak the language, I could feel the spirit of love and gratitude that surrounded them and their prayers. Sharing in this moment was probably my favorite and most memorable and touching experience of the night. All of the hard work that had gone into preparing for the arrival by RIS, all of the days, months and even years that the family had waited to be granted this refugee status in the United States, and the long flight over to the US was all worth it as shown by the thanks this family was feeling.

Not wanting to make them wait any longer for food, Patrick, Tina, and I took it upon ourselves to get the dinner ready for the family. All of the dishes donated for the family were still in boxes, so we started by taking them all out and washing them. Then we realized that the chickens and rice had become cold from sitting in the vans for a while, so we had to find some place to heat it all up. The oven in the house wasn’t working yet, and there was not a microwave, so we decided to take the food to Tina’s house, which was nearby. Patrick and I spent almost an hour trying to heat up the chicken in the microwave and the rice in the oven. By the time the food was ready and we had it back at their apartments, it was about 1 o’clock in the morning, and I was exhausted! Waking up the next morning to be back at the RIS office at 8am was going to be rough, but I was excited about the new experience I had to share with the other RIS volunteers and workers! This experience allowed me to see the impact Refugee and Immigration Services is having on the lives of refugees, and how none of this would be possible without donations from the community and the work of volunteers. I am so proud to be a part of this great work.

A New Normal in Adjumani

What a great organization that not only gives refugees a place to stay, but also helps them develop life skills that will lead to “a prosperous and peaceful life”.

Voices from the Field

When Canadian Lutheran World Relief made a decision to renew its program emphasis on refugees it was resolved to go beyond the mere warehousing of people fleeing war, famine or economic calamity. CLWR is determined that under its watch, refugees will have the opportunity to develop skills and assets so whether they return to their homeland or emigrate to another country, they would have the skills to live a prosperous and peaceful life.

I saw this strategy in action while visiting the Adjumani settlement for South Sudanese in Uganda. Rather than one large “camp” the population is spread among eight smaller settlements in which the Lutheran World Federation staff cares for more than 93,000 people.

60% of this population is under the age of sixteen. School construction is taking place everywhere and in a variety of ways using locally produced red brick, lumber and metal buildings and even schools in a…

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How live interpreters will bring TEDYouth into Spanish and Arabic, in real time

Translating is a lot more difficult than many people think! When talking with English speakers, many refugees go through a similar process as explained in this blog: listen, think, translate and speak all at the same time. Read more about how language barriers are being broken down!

TED Blog

Spanish interpreter Kelly Kelly A.K. in the booth at TEDYouth 2012. She and four others will interpret Saturday's TEDYouth in Spanish and Arabic in real time. Photo: Mike Femia/TED Spanish interpreter Kelly A.K. in the booth at TEDYouth 2012. She and four others will interpret Saturday’s TEDYouth into Spanish and Arabic in real time. Photo: Mike Femia/TED

TEDYouth will be livestreamed on Saturday, November 15, for free — and not just in English. This event, meant for students and, well, anyone sparked by general curiosity, will be translated on the spot into both Spanish and Arabic, to make it watchable by more people around the world.

Five intrepid live interpreters will make this happen. They’ll sit in soundproof booths, watching on monitors and listening through headphones as the event proceeds in English. In real time, they’ll transpose the words into their target language by speaking into a microphone. It’s a task that takes intense concentration, so they’ll trade off every 20 to 30 minutes for a rest. Each team has an electronic dictionary at the ready. 

Live interpreters prepare…

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A Global Perspective

Walking into Columbia Independent School, I immediately noticed the cultural respect and understanding this school is instilling in their students. I was sent to pick up what I thought would be a small load of winter clothes that the students at CIS had collected for Refugee and Immigration Services’ Winter Clothing Drive. After speaking with the secretary at the front desk, she led me to a giant box, about 4 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide, filled to the top with winter clothing. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that my jaw dropped. I wasn’t sure if my car was even big enough to take all of these donated clothes with me!

Ellen Jorgenson is the teacher at CIS who sparked the flame and inspired her students to participate in the Winter Clothing Drive for RIS. Ms. Jorgenson is a middle school Social Studies teacher at CIS and has also taken on the responsibility of Global Perspectives Program Coordinator for the school. I met with Ms. Jorgenson to learn more about her interest in global perspectives, tour the school, and learn why she chose to have the school participate in a clothing drive for refugees. This is Ms. Jorgenson’s first year teaching, as she recently returned from the Peace Corps in South Africa. She can even speak some Swahili, and likes to share these skills with her students.

Ms. Jorgenson told me that the Global Perspectives Program had recently set up a Cardboard Challenge Day of Play. The school building was covered with various cardboard structures, designs, and arcade games that students and their families came in and set up for everyone to play and look at. This took place in accordance with their annual Trunk-or-Treat event on October 26. The Cardboard Challenge helped the students understand the impact they have on the environment, and their responsibility to take care of the planet. Ms. Jorgenson decided to kick-off the clothing drive during the event, and had a box set up for students and families to drop off winter clothing.

Columbia Independent School also put information about the Winter Clothing Drive in the school newsletter that went home to parents. In addition, the school hosted assemblies where students learned about who refugees are, the difference between a refugee and an immigrant, where refugees in the Columbia area are from, and why they need winter clothes. Ms. Jorgenson says that the response from parents was amazing.

Ms. Jorgenson is a supporter of project-based learning, and likes when students are able to do projects to gain a better global perspective. Recently, the 8th grade class took a trip to Heifer International, where they stayed the night in a re-creation of a refugee camp. The students were able to learn about and experience firsthand the lives of refugees who live in similar camps around the world.

Aiding Ms. Jorgenson in this endeavor were High School Global Issues teacher, Jennifer Anderson, and Morched Ben-Ayed, the middle school math teacher. In the past, the Global Perspectives Program has hosted drives for the Food Bank and the Salvation Army, so the teachers were excited to be able to share a new and unique opportunity with the school. Ms. Jorgenson says that she wants the students to consider the diversity in our community and realize the different populations that are part of our community. In the future, Ms. Jorgenson says she hopes to have more speakers come in and talk with the students. After the Winter Clothing Drive, she would like to have a refugee come in and share the story of their journey to the US.

Refugee and Immigration Services is volunteer supported, and would never be able to support refugees the way we do without the aid of people in the community like Ms. Jorgenson and the students at Columbia Independent School. Learning to have a better global perspective is a huge step to an inclusive society and community, and these students are well on their way! Overall, RIS received about 30+ children’s coats and other winter clothing items from the students and families at Columbia Independent School, and we are so grateful for their generosity!

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