International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005: A refugee helps America's displaced

Elhamija Kadic fled war and persecution in Bosnia in 1992 and came to the United States with the help of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Today she is a U.S. citizen and works for the IRC in Atlanta helping other refugees from war-torn countries. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, she helped coordinate the IRC's response.  She spoke with me last week about that experience:

How did you feel when you heard that victims of Hurricane Katrina were going to be relocated to Atlanta?

I never imagined that one day I would be helping people displaced inside the U.S. I knew they were in great need. I wanted to help and to pay back because, really, so many generous people had helped me, my family and other refugees.

Was the Atlanta community welcoming?

Yes, they were helping out even before the families started to come.

Tell us about some of the people you helped. What did you do for them?

I met a family from Louisiana at the bus station, the Parker family. It was very crowded. I didn't know what they looked like, and I started to call their name. And then I saw a really smiling face. It was Temika Parker with her children - four very, very beautiful girls. We greeted each other and I told her that I was there to welcome them and to take them to their apartment.

The apartment was set up with donated furniture and rent was paid for six months. IRC volunteers and mentors helped with food, clothing and other resources for the family. Later on we helped with immunizations and registering the children for school.

We also worked on finding a job for Temika or her boyfriend. After several months, her boyfriend got a landscaping job through one of our volunteers and started to support the family.

Elhamija Kadic (left) and Temika Parker with Temika's four daughters and some of their new neighbors -- young refugees whose families were resettled in the U.S. with the IRC's help.  Photo: Louisa Assibi/The IRC
Elhamija Kadic (left) and Temika Parker with Temika's four daughters
and some of their new neighbors -- young refugees whose families were
resettled in the U.S. with the IRC's help. Photo: Louisa Assibi/The IRC.


Are you in touch with Temika and her family today?

Yes. Things were up and down for the family for a while. They came to the IRC several times for help. They were thinking about going back to New Orleans -- but when I was with Temika a few months ago, she had a good job and housing, and her children were in school. They really had become part of the community -- so she is settling in Atlanta.

What did you learn from responding to the Katrina disaster?

I learned that everybody might be in need in some way -- and that everybody needs to be prepared to ask for help. We definitely don't know what the future will bring us.

What does someone need to succeed when they start over in a new community?

I think that it's very important to be open-minded and to be open to learn. That is somehow a key for success. And to look forward, not to look back.

People working together can succeed at whatever they want to accomplish. The IRC in Atlanta has a great, supportive team. Everybody's on the same mission: creating opportunities for refugees to thrive in the U.S. And we are willing to really help people and lead by our example.

Atlanta was among the U.S. cities most affected by the arrival of evacuees from the Gulf Coast. During 18 months of operation, the IRC's Atlanta program distributed $350,000 in direct assistance to 1,300 evacuees and matched volunteer mentors with over 200 affected families. 

This interview was first published by Associated Content from Yahoo

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