Program Report: Ellen Andrews – Church World Services Refugee Program

Durham native Ellen Andrews is the Director of Church World Service’s (CWS) Immigration and Refugee Program, one of two organizations of its kind in Durham. During the past eight years, she and her colleagues have assisted over 2,500 individuals from more than 20 countries to resettle into new homes, new jobs, and new lifestyles in the Triangle area. Club President B.C. Dash commended Ellen on her work in the community, noting that many Rotarians’ lives have been touched as we welcome these newcomers to our country, allowing them to reclaim their dignity and build new lives marked by hope and opportunity.

CWS-Durham (cwsrdu.org) opened its doors in 2009, and works to welcome refugees and immigrants from around the world. As a faith-based global humanitarian organization, CWS is also known for managing CROP fundraising walks. Staff and volunteers base their resettlement work on an empowerment-focused declining model of support designed to enable new arrivals to embark on a path toward self-sufficiency, and ultimately, become completely in control of the direction of their new lives. CWS staff ensure refugees immediate access to food, shelter, and medical care, in addition to providing legal counseling, employment services, and links to community partnerships.

Ellen outlined the thought process that refugees go through before deciding to abandon their home country. “Most of them want, and plan, to return home someday, but unfortunately that is often not the case,” she explained. “While some families, usually those with greater financial resources, have time to plan their escape, many are forced to make a very emotional decision in a short window of time.” Families must decide what, and whom, to take: will elderly family members or small children slow them down? Will travelling be dangerous? How long will the journey take? Do we have financial resources? If so, how long will they last, and how will we access them?

When refugees reach neighboring countries, they often find drastically overcrowded camps with grossly insufficient health care, sanitation, shelter, food, or potable water. Host countries may be hostile toward the newcomers as they compete with native residents for resources and job opportunities.

When refugees arrive a neighboring host country, they register with the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United Nations’ Refugee Agency provides lifesaving assistance for those displaced by violence, conflict, and persecution. Headquartered in Washington, DC, UNHCR was founded after World War II to assist the millions of Europeans who had lost or fled their homes.

The resettlement process can take over a decade, with the average time span being 2.5 years from start to finish. Organizations interview the refugees extensively to determine the validity of their “story,” and thorough background checks and health screenings are conducted. The state department provides a one-time stipend ranging from $925 – $1,125 for resettlement agencies to provide for refugees’ basic needs upon arrival. Ellen asserts that she finds the newcomers eager to resettle, get to work, and hopefully reunite with their families. “The foundation of our program is that the refugees will seek and secure employment in order to support themselves and their loved ones,” she says.

Fewer than one percent of those who flee actually have the opportunity to resettle in another country; the United States resettles more refugees than any other country in the world. Since 2011, the number of refugees worldwide has grown by 40 percent, from 42.5 million to 65.3 million. More than 50 percent come from three countries: Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan. Tragically, more than half of those are children.

Ms. Andrews was introduced by Rory Gillis.

It’s hard to imagine the terror and violence that would cause people to abandon their homes, their assets, sometimes even family members to start over sometimes thousands of miles away. I am certain that my fellow Rotarians agree that we are grateful to Ellen and her colleagues, and to the partnerships and collaborations that make an organization such as Church World Service possible in our community.

Submitted by Carver Weaver

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