Dallas Nonprofit Seek the Peace Not Only Welcomes Immigrants, But Teaches Them How To Thrive In America During The Age of Trump.
Our country scored a temporary victory when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Donald Trump’s travel ban shouldn’t be enforced.
For refugees and immigrants — and their families and friends — it was a big win, even if it seems destined to be a short-lived one.
One local organization that’s overjoyed by the decision is Seek the Peace, a nonprofit that works closely with refugees after they resettle in Dallas, which is one of the five biggest U.S. cities for refugee resettlement. Started in 2008 by Jason Clarke, the group has expanded and learned many lessons in its nine years of operations.
The group works both with recently resettled refugees to meet their needs and with advocacy groups (including the ACLU) to lobby state and national leaders to shape immigration policy.
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The biggest issue Clarke saw among resettled refugees in Dallas was that they were having their basic needs met, but not fully integrating into American society.
They were surviving, but not thriving.
“Refugees have gone through a large degree of trauma,” Clarke says. “The refugee high school graduation rate is 33 percent. It’s not a matter of access. It’s a complex issue, and part of it is refugees have a lot of trauma that has gone unhealed.”
Through counseling and building relationships with the refugees, Seek the Peace hopes to heal those wounds. But by far the biggest program they offer is a literacy program for kids. It’s not an ESL class; rather, it augments what the children are already learning in school. Since refugee applications can take years, children often don’t get consistent schooling. The reading circle’s goal is to help the refugee kids get back up to the reading level they should be at, and hopefully take them beyond that as well.
Seek the Peace also works closely with older youth. One of their newest efforts is Project Shine, which specifically helps teen and preteen girls whose home countries and even their own families haven’t shown them their inherent value.
“Identity and purpose and value and worth — these things, or the lack thereof, can shape people,” Clarke says. “This can shape their future, their opinions and attitudes of themselves and others.”
While Seek the Peace does get most of its donations and volunteers from churches and other faith groups, it doesn’t brand itself as explicitly faith-based. Even so, they have to exert substantial effort simply dispelling the myth that refugees are dangerous. Per the group’s own literature, no refugee has killed an American in any terror-related acts since 1980. In the age of “alternative facts,” that has been hard for some to accept. But by answering questions, and by encouraging people to volunteer and spend time with refugees, they hope doubters can see the needs for themselves.
In 2017, the group hopes to get more involved with advocacy than they have before, and continue to correct what Clarke calls their biggest mistake to date.
“Our worst mistake is focusing on programs that we think we’re good at, rather than working alongside people and allowing them to share their needs and desires,” he says. “That’s the most important lesson.”