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Making Buffalo Home
A Refugee's First Year | WNED PBS

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Making Buffalo HomeMaking Buffalo Home - A Refugee's First Year

Making Buffalo Home

A Refugee's First Year

Premiered January 20



Friday, April 24 at 9:30pm

Saturday, April 25 at 5:30pm

Sunday, April 26 at 5pm

Wednesday, April 29 at 4am

The Mulumba family (originally from Democratic Republic of Congo) are reunited in Buffalo, NY after having been separated for more than 3 years due to a lengthy immigration process.

Imagine fleeing your home because of war or natural disaster. Imagine experiencing persecution because of your religious or political beliefs, and fearing for your safety as a result. Imagine spending years seeking refuge in a foreign land and having to start your whole life over by traveling halfway around the world to a place where you do not speak the language or understand the culture. This is the refugee experience.

Since 2002, Buffalo has welcomed more than 16,000 refugees. They come from around the world, with large groups from Middle Eastern, Asian, and African countries. Most face challenges in the first year like learning English, finding a job, and feeling a sense of community as they work to make Buffalo their new home.

In this program, we interview experts from agencies who resettle new arrivals. We gain insight from former refugees who remember their early days here in Buffalo.

Here are two takeaways:

Language is the # 1 Barrier

Caption: Students from Houghton College work with a family, originally from Eritrea, in their home as part of the Journey’s End Tutoring (or JET) program.

We communicate every single day to co-workers, supervisors, doctors, teachers, neighbors, and others. Imagine not being able to speak to any of them in a language they understand. The ability to assimilate into a new environment requires the ability to communicate with people around you.

The way it works when resettling a refugee is two-fold. Children enroll in school, and can expect to learn English as a part of their education. Adults need to develop those skills elsewhere. For this reason, resettlement agencies are required to assess language skills right away. If needed, they must enroll the refugee in English language classes. This can be difficult if someone is older, homebound, or has issues with transportation. Below, there are links to the resettlement agencies in Buffalo, where you can find out what programs they have available for new arrivals and ways current communities can engage in assisting with this work.

The Key to Self-Sufficiency is Gaining Employment

One of International Institute of Buffalo’s Job Club Instructors, Lizzy Bruins, fields questions from her class about the work culture in Buffalo.

One of the first goals a refugee has is self-sufficiency. Often, in their host countries, refugees are denied the right to work. Not only does this prohibit the ability to earn an income, it has a negative impact on a person’s sense of self. This is why many refugees are anxious to enter the workforce, even though they might have language or transportation barriers to overcome. They desire independence, and employment is a step in that direction. When they seek out employment, some refugees face another barrier that has more to do with the level of employment they are able to find. The inability to transfer skills and education can hinder a refugee’s employment prospects and in the end, has an economic impact on their earning potential.

While every refugee story is unique, the ability to work through the challenges of language and employment are important parts of a successful transition to life in America and feeling like Buffalo is becoming their new home. Learn more with the links provided below.



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Making Buffalo Home is a two-year, in-depth Buffalo Toronto Public Media engagement initiative to inform and raise awareness of immigration for our entire community. The project aims to help the region develop a better understanding of the shared opportunities and challenges we face together as long-time residents and new immigrants and refugees.

Making Buffalo Home is funded by Rich Products Corporation and Rich Family Foundation.