Local World Refugee Day Celebration
By Elizabeth Waickman
As one of Pittsburgh’s four resettlement agencies, and the only one based in Squirrel Hill, Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS) is the first point of contact for more than 200 refugees out of several hundred arriving to Pittsburgh annually.
But each year, approximately 43 million refugees around the world are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. To honor and recognize their journeys and raise awareness of the refugee experience, World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations and is held in countries around the world every year on June 20th. Locally, the observance of World Refugee Day in Pittsburgh is a collaborative effort of the major refugee resettlement agencies and service providers in the local community. The annual event debuted in Pittsburgh in 2012.
This year, Pittsburgh’s World Refugee Day will be celebrated on Friday, June 19th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Market Square, Downtown Pittsburgh. JF&CS, Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMSC), Acculturation for Justice, Access & Peace Outreach (AJAPO), Red Cross of Southwest Pennsylvania, AmeriCorps, Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, CISV Pittsburgh and the Change a Heart Sanfranciscan volunteer program will collaboratively host the celebration. The event is funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Vibrant Pittsburgh.
“The Pittsburgh celebration of World Refugee Day recognizes the refugee experience and honors their contributions to our community,” said Leslie Aizenman, director of refugee and immigrant services at JF&CS. “Refugees in Pittsburgh have a tremendous impact on our region’s economy and diversity; they have gone on to raise their families, buy homes and open their own businesses in their new neighborhoods. This is a great way for community members to get to know their new neighbors, and a wonderful educational opportunity to learn about who refugees are and why they are here.”
The family-friendly event is free and open to the public. World Refugee Day will feature local refugee groups performing traditional musical and dance numbers, cultural crafts and activities for kids. Traditional cuisine representing countries around the world, including Nepal, Zambia, Kenya and several other ethnicities, will be available for purchase from local restaurants and vendors.
“Pittsburgh’s World Refugee Day is about bringing local refugees and community members together to connect with one another and celebrate their cultures,” said Kheir Mugwaneza, Director of Community Assistance and Refugee Resettlement at NAMSC. “We have put together an exciting and diverse event with people all across the world.”
Through their extensive work in refugee resettlement, the hosting organizations have helped thousands of refugees, including most recently Bhutanese, Burmese, Africans/Somalis and Iraqis, successfully resettle in communities throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area, as well as providing additional services including career services, social and human services and support.
Through partnership and collaboration between local agencies, community members and regional business owners and employers, Aizenman said there is much potential to expand on these efforts. She encourages community members to volunteer or donate household goods, clothing or furniture for refugees to JF&CS and other resettlement agencies like NAMSC, and encourages business owners to contact JF&CS to find out how they may be able to employ refugees, who arrive fully authorized to work in the U.S.
“Our hope is that World Refugee Day encourages our community members to become more involved in welcoming refugees and supporting the resettlement and acculturation efforts of JF&CS and our partner agencies,” Aizenman said.