NewsLocal News


Wisconsin groups stand by to help arriving Afghan refugees: 'We're ready to receive them with open arms'

Posted at 6:53 PM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 19:53:51-04

The images showing thousands of Afghan refugees forced to uproot their lives have compelled Wisconsinites to help.

Many of the refugees will come through Fort McCoy. Information on how people will be resettled is still unclear, but organizations partnering with the state say they are ready to assist.

"The two largest barriers facing our new arrivals are language and isolation," said Cynthia Zarazua, a manager with the Neighborhood House of Milwaukee's International Learning Program.

The International Learning Program works with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to help refugees learn English, work training skills, digital literacy, and citizenship.

Zarazua said they have worked with refugees for more than 40 years. She added currently they are looking for volunteers, school supplies, and small household items like lamps and kitchen tools. She added that one of the most important ways people can chip in is by being kind and understanding.

"It goes an enormously long way for people like you and I to speak to them, to greet them while you're sitting at the bus stop, if you're in the grocery store to say hello and engage in conversation," Zarazua said.

Psychologist Dr. Sebastian Ssempijja, known as Dr. Sebastian, also works with the state to provide mental health services to refugees and related agencies. Dr. Sebastian said whether it is at work or school, welcoming refugees and treating them as the individual they are can make a huge difference for newcomers.

"Even after their arrival, they will experience incredible psychological pressure and stress. This is going to manifest in not only feeling homesick, but worrying about those that they have left behind, worrying about the trajectory of their country is going to take," said Dr. Sebastian. "Even as we may welcome them and shelter them and support them their emotional, mental, psychological well-being is going to require incredible support."

Poster image - 2021-08-27T184500.848.jpg

"We're ready to receive them with open arms," said Lorena Gueny, the director of the Department of Bilingual and Multicultural Education at Milwaukee Public Schools.

As MPS gets ready to help families continue their education, district leaders said they could use volunteers who have a background in language to assist. Gueny said so far they have had four people reach out to get that process rolling.

"It means that if the children or the families do not speak the language when they see somebody that understands them, when they see somebody that speaks their language, it opens a whole world for them. They don't feel so lonely," Gueny said.

Gueny added that they will distribute materials across the district to help people understand what refugees are going through, as well as school supplies for Afghan students.

Some of the organizations that are standing ready to help in this effort are waiting for more guidance on what they are going to need.

A few of those groups have said monetary donations are welcome. You can check out a list of state partners here.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip