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Breaking Barriers: Refugee Dream Center begins classes to train refugees to access vital resources

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The Refugee Dream Center, with a grant from the Department of Public Safety Grant Administration Office, has developed a program called Breaking Barriers, which will train refugees living in various communities within Rhode island to help deliver access to vital services, including mental health services, to vulnerable refugee communities.

“It’s a combination of two ideas,” said Refugee Dream Center Executive Director Omar Bah. “Survival leaders, [refugees] who survived the violence one way or another, and now they are supporting their own communities.

“At the Refugee Dream Center we model that, because most of us are former refugees, but on the weekends and at odd hours we are not home,” continued Bah. “But it is very likely that Achmed or Kamal will be living in the same apartment building as other families, and those families can be seeking help at any time.

“So that’s the grassroots approach were are modeling here.”

Omar Bah

Breaking Barriers is about helping refugees access basic public services, including health care, jobs, housing, domestic violence intervention and education.


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“We see ourselves as a vulnerable and hard to reach population,” said Bah. “It is difficult to reach refugees and support them at every level.”

iBy training individuals within the various refugee communities n Rhode Island, Bah hopes to provide needed access. The eight people in the first class will be empowered through resources and skills building to continue the work of the Refugee Dream Center after hours and in places where the Center cannot easily reach.

The refugees being trained in this program will collaborate across cultures, to best deliver needed services. “Somebody from Somalia or somebody from Syria can help each other,” said Bah. This will help build bridges between communities.

In some communities, said Bah, “there’s an inability to access health services, or all the services, because people don’t know where to get it, don’t know what it is. Some people don’t know that mental health is health care. Some of our communities don’t know that. They think mental health is something that demons are doing to you or spirits are doing to you. So just being able to have someone from the same community, someone who looks like you talking to you about these things makes a lot of difference.”

Mike Hogan

The grant money is being dispersed from the Victim’s Compensation Fund said Mike Hogan, who manages the fund, “It’s financed from monies from penalties and fines that are assessed from federal courts… It’s not tax money.”

The money is to be used to enhance programs that already exist, said Hogan, organizations that have found a need that is not being met. “That’s where the Refugee Dream Center comes in. Because with all of these other grants we’re funding organizations and the referrals come from law enforcement or they come from the emergency room and they’re from immediate emergency problems, not underlying trauma, and people [suffering due to] issues that happened a long time ago, but are still crimes that have been committed, crimes that affected people before they came into this country, may well be why they are in this country.”

“We are more important that the emergency paramedics, the medical doctors, the therapists, the psychologists,” said Bah, addressing the class. “We are more important than them in this process here, because at night or on weekends when no one is reachable, you are the ones who are overseeing… So when 911 is called or someone is driven to the hospital, you are the one who does it.”

“We are breaking barriers here because this is a population that is hard to reach, and of course vulnerable because of that.”

Darlene Piva will be teaching the class

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com