BACK ON THEIR FEET: IRC Helps Katrina Evacuees to Relocate
On a bright and sunny day, some two weeks after hurricane Katrina ravaged America’s Gulf Coast, a bus pulls into Atlanta’s Greyhound station carrying a Louisiana family in search of safety, stability and home.
After being evacuated from their devastated Orleans Parish community, Temika, Michael and their four little girls found immediate refuge in the crowded home of a relative in Baton Rouge that was also hosting another evacuee family. But the situation became quite untenable for all, as the host family could provide nothing more than a roof for their guests, and area shelters rebuffed Temika’s requests for basic supplies since the family was not registered at the sites.
It was outside one of these shelters that Temika met members of the International Rescue Committee’s emergency team, which was dispatched to Baton Rouge at the request of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, to lend insight and training to overwhelmed local groups unaccustomed to handling mass displacement. Temika asked for help in finding a more permanent solution and when the IRC offered relocation assistance to Atlanta, she readily accepted.
At the bus station, Elhamija Kadic holds a welcome sign. She knows all too well what it’s like to be uprooted from one’s home and lose everything that is familiar. Eight years ago Elhamija fled atrocities in Bosnia and came to America as a refugee with the IRC’s help. Ever since, she’s been working for the organization in Atlanta, helping other newly arrived refugees from war-torn countries adjust, settle in and integrate.
On this day, she is eager to extend the same warm hospitality that she does to the victims of the world’s man-made disasters to Temika, Michael and their girls.
“It feels great. It makes me feel satisfied. I’m so happy to help all of the displaced people,” she says, before hugging the new arrivals as they emerge from the bus.
The family gathers its few belongings and Elhamija takes them to a donated apartment that is furnished and stocked with food. Later she brings them to the IRC office and gives an orientation and an introduction to the kinds of social services available to them. Within days, Elhamija helps register the girls in school and Zeinab Afrah, a refugee from Somalia and now an IRC employment specialist, helps secure job interviews for the couple at an Atlanta hotel.
“I didn’t expect this – not all this,” Temika tells Elhamija.
Across the country, IRC resettlement offices, which have long helped refugees from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America rebuild their lives in the United States, are extending aid to families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“Agencies like the IRC have the capacity and expertise to bring order and stability back to people’s lives,” says Bob Carey, vice president resettlement, noting that many of those uprooted will be unable to return home for a long time.
“From our experience aiding people suffering from conflict and upheaval, we know that integration into a community and the opportunity to be independent and self-sufficient will be preferable to camp-like situations,” Carey adds.
Back in Atlanta, Elhamija and Zeinab continue to help Temika’s family get comfortable and start over. It was a tragedy that created this rather unlikely pairing of individuals. But lucky for Temika, Michael and their daughters that they are in such good hands.