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In Ohio, New Initiatives Aim to Empower Refugees

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May 22, 2018

Blog Post

Gabe Cahn, HIAS.org

According to a March 2018 study released by Cleveland State University, 113,000 immigrants have moved to Ohio over the past six years. The report found that these new Americans “spur economic and community growth," and that supporting their integration will "brighten the future for all Ohioans."

In recognition of the value immigrants bring to the Buckeye State, Governor John Kasich held a press conference on Tuesday, May 15, to tout a new initiative designed to help refugees and immigrants successfully integrate.

Gathered in the statehouse with a diverse group of individuals dedicated to welcoming and empowering Ohio's newcomers, the governor said: “We gotta love people. And when I say love people, we gotta help people—help them to have a better life. That’s really what it’s all about.”  

Immediately to his right sat Nadia Kasvin, co-founder and director of US Together, HIAS’ local resettlement partner in Ohio, and someone who knows a thing or two about helping people have a better life.

“I came to this country as a refugee from Ukraine 24 years ago,” remarked Kasvin, who was also there representing the Ohio Welcoming Initiatives Network (OWIN).

“My goal is to make sure that we offer the same opportunities, and remove barriers to success, for refugees and immigrants coming after us.”

“We see all the barriers that people come with,” she added, “and we try to bring solutions to those barriers and guide people along the way.”

OWIN, which was launched by the state’s six largest regionsincluding the city of Columbusis an effort to create a welcoming environment in Ohio which supports the success of all residents.

Along with her colleagues at US Together, Kasvin is doing just that.

A group of Congolese refugees visit COSI, a science museum in Columbus.

(US Together)

Through the agency's Women's Empowerment Program, US Together staff bring women into the environment of growth and opportunity as they participate in classes, outings and supportive discussion about how to break oppressive gender norms.

In Toledo, for instance, an immersive five-week day camp enables dozens of refugee women and children to explore and engage in their local community. And in Columbus, trips to COSI, a science museum and research center, offer fun activities for children and stress relief for families with limited resources.

“Refugee women often carry an even harder burden because of powerful restrictive cultural norms, gender-based violence perpetrated against them and the loss of children and loved ones,” says Sorailla Duquerette, US Together’s women's empowerment program specialist.

In December, as part of its survivors of gender-based violence programming, which provides case management and support for women who have suffered violence overseas, the organization began holding self-defense workshops. The trainings equip clients with special tactics to protect themselves against attackers.

Beyond the self-defense skills, the Department of Justice-funded initiative also provides the women with a safe place to talk as well as resources to heal trauma and move forward with their lives.

After participating in support groups, receiving counseling and accessing new healthcare services, survivors like Amanda*, who was raped as a young girl and still carries the horrific trauma, have reported improved mental and physical health.

On May 11, a second cohort of 12 women participated in the self-defense training and received certificates of completion.

For Duquerette, the impact is undeniable: “we educate and transform the lives of these women and their families.”

To learn more about refugees and the communities that welcome them, follow HIAS on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.