Somali Bantu to Arrive in Seattle
Toward the end of this year, IRC Seattle will welcome a new refugee ethnic group to the United States, the Somali Bantu. Approximately 12,000 Bantu will be resettled throughout the United States over the next year, the single largest group of African refugees ever considered for U.S. resettlement in America's history. Here at Seattle, the IRC is preparing to help 70 Bantu start a brand new life.
Often called Africa's Lost Tribe, the Somali Bantu have a tragic history of slavery, discrimination, and displacement. Their ancestors were slaves sold into Somalia in the 18th century and then freed in the 19th century. After emancipation, the Bantu's ethnic and cultural differences kept them a persecuted minority. During Somalia's civil war in 1991, the Bantu had no allegiance to other Somali clans and thus no means of protection. Warring factions looted their farms, took over whole communities, and raped and killed tribal members.
The Bantu fled on foot, many walking for fifteen days before reaching camps in Kenya. There, for ten years, they languished with over 115,000 other refugees. Of the various groups in the camp, the Bantu were the most harshly treated. In 1999, the U.S. pledged to accept members of this fiercely persecuted group. Many delays later, the first Bantu arrived on American soil in a few other states in May of this year.
At the bottom rung of the social and political hierarchy, the Somali Bantu had little access to education and no prior exposure to English. However, many already speak up to four languages, and with tutoring will no doubt be as effective at learning English. The Bantu also have a strong work ethic. While living in the refugee camps, they stayed active constructing the mud and manure huts in which they lived, and worked at whatever odd jobs they could find around the camps. They bring with them to America a desire to continue working hard and to adapt to their new surroundings.
The Bantu's introduction to America will start with a series of volunteer-led acculturation workshops. These refugees have never experienced conveniences such as electricity, running water, telephones, or toilets. Grasping such commonplace facets of modern life can be a complicated feat. IRC's Bantu Acculturation Workshops will help ease this transition into American life by explaining life-skills such as how to use a flush toilet, cook on a stove, utilize public transportation, open a checking account, and access community resources.
In addition to attending workshops, IRC staff and volunteers will work one-on-one with the Bantu to address individual needs. IRC is beginning to organize a special Bantu Mentorship Program, where IRC-trained volunteers will be paired with individual Bantu or family units for in-depth orientation to life in America. Mentors will work with the Bantu on various activities integral to adjustment, including how to read a bus schedule, how to shop effectively at the grocery store, and how to manage a check book. ESL (English as a Second Language) volunteer tutors will help the Bantu learn how to speak, read, and write in English. Job search mentors will support the refugees in their efforts to find employment by teaching them basic aspects of job search, including assisting them with filling out job applications, writing resumes, and practicing interviewing skills and job-related vocabulary.
If you would like to volunteer for the Bantu Mentorship Program, or as a Job Search Mentor or ESL tutor, or if you would like to make a cash or in-kind donation, please contact Ashley Marcus or Gillian Apfel at (206) 623-2105 or at @sea.www.theirc.org.