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A New Home, A Warm Welcome
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Gina Guinta
May 2, 2008

Thousands travel to Fredericksburg, Virginia, each year to visit the area's Civil War battlefields. However, the town's newest residents have seen enough battlefields to last a lifetime.

Elena Grover teaches about restoring family links services to Carolina Carmargo, Theresa Fulcherino and Paula Shaver at the Rappahannock Area Chapter.
Elena Grover teaches about restoring family links services to Carolina Carmargo, Theresa Fulcherino and Paula Shaver at the Rappahannock Area Chapter.

One chilly night this past February, the Rappahannock Area Chapter of the American Red Cross welcomed 54 Burundi refugees to Fredericksburg with blankets made by the Red Cross knitters' group, the Hearts and Hands Guild, and comfort kits that were placed on the pillows of the beds of the arriving refugees.

With the help from the International Family Tracing Unit at the national headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., the Rappahannock Area Chapter's staff and volunteers received specialized training on the intricacies and cultural sensitivity involved with family linking casework.

"Working with refugees who may not speak English well, have the same beliefs or dress similarly requires compassion and patience," stressed Elena Grover, American Red Cross tracing caseworker for West Africa, Latin America and Asia. "Working with refugees who may have experienced atrocities we have only read about in the newspaper or seen on television requires comprehension and tremendous sensitivity."

The training taught staff and volunteers not only how to aid refugees, but also how to help the community understand the complex situation refugees faced in the past, as well as ones they may face in a new, unfamiliar community. Another element of the training was community outreach and how to provide up-to-date information and referrals of local services that are available to the new residents.

Fortunately, the chapter already had a headstart on this. The chapter used its existing relationship with the Fredericksburg Realtors Association to obtain donated secondhand furniture to help furnish the refugee's new homes, and the Greater Richmond Chapter's Language Bank for translation services. The Fredericksburg Refugee Center is another partner agency joining efforts to serve the new community members.

The chapter is also working with the James Farmer Multi-Cultural Center, Campus Ministries, Fredericksburg Baptist Church and Students Helping Honduras to bring Fredericksburg's annual Human Rights Film Festival to the University of Mary Washington this fall to build awareness and help the community understand the complexity of their new neighbors' past lives.

"We're aiming to educate the community and alleviate their concerns," said Luis Garcia, chapter executive of the Rappahannock Area Chapter and a participant in the training. "It's important to highlight that the refugees are here to lead a better life."

Rumor has it that a group of Bhutanese refugees are slated to arrive in Fredericksburg soon. Standing by will be the comfort kits and family linking services the American Red Cross will provide to help welcome the new group of refugees into their new homes.

As part of the world's largest humanitarian network, the American Red Cross alleviates the suffering of victims of war, disaster and other international crises, and works with other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to improve chronic, life-threatening conditions in developing nations. We reconnect families separated by emergencies and educate the American public about international humanitarian law. This assistance is made possible through the generosity of the American public.

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