The Department of Homeland Security reports that, “A total of 56,384 persons were admitted to the United States in 2011. The leading countries of nationality for refugees were Burma, Bhutan and Iraq.” Western Massachusetts statistics closely follow the national data of arrivals by country of origin with the largest populations being from Bhutan, Burma and Iraq respectively, African arrivals are on the increase.
The majority of refugees resettling in Western Massachusetts are coming from patriarchal countries. Men are accustomed to providing for their families and making all decisions relative to the home. Women arriving here, for the most part, have not worked outside the home and are not accustomed to decision making and planning.
New American women are unaware of American laws that protect them from abuse and discrimination based upon their sex and nationality. Women arriving here from war torn countries and refugee camps bring with them many traumas that they are reluctant to speak about. Differences in specific traumas are closely tied to the country of origin. Those arriving from war torn countries often arrive here alone or with minor children as war widows or in the new role of head of household separated from their spouses by security/safety or other sequence of flight from their home countries. The physical and psychological effects of war are long lasting for these women. Refugee women arriving in the United States following years of imprisonment in camps bring with them similar psychological stigma often unaware of how to survive without programmatic government/institutional intervention.
Male refugees arriving in Western Massachusetts encounter their own very distinct barriers to success. As family leaders and primary providers new American males are immediately faced with language, cultural and employment challenges. Males arriving with nominal education and limited skills find themselves vying for jobs alongside Americans already living at or below the poverty level. A poor economic climate often escalates prejudice and animosity between the working poor and new arrivals. Male heads of households arriving with degrees and higher skill levels are challenged by language barriers, equivalency standards and high unemployment levels affecting U.S. citizens.
Bridges, Inc. finds a gap in services provided to new Americans following resettlement and prior to citizenship. Resettlement agencies provide immediate housing, medical /social services and basic employment training for new Americans in Western Massachusetts. Bridges, Inc. plans to enhance the services provided to new arrivals by adding: social services (mental health assistance), educational assistance (advocate for students and families), occupational training, conversational English environments, youth programs, women’s programs, elder programs, citizenship legal rights education and financial planning opportunities to these populations.
Strong programs and subsequent peer mentoring are incorporated in this planning strategy. It is the intention of Bridges, Inc. to provide the support and resources required to engage and encourage new Americans to succeed in their lives here. By providing these programs we expect to prevent generational poverty and reduce adverse short and long term resentment among the populations. It is our goal to create and implement programs that will provide the options necessary for new arrivals to evaluate and incorporate adequate planning strategies into their personal goals for achieving success in their new lives in the United States.