Refugees Find Success as Dairy Farmers
Searching for a place to call home and secure a job can be a difficult process for many resettled refugees. It takes many members of the IRC staff and volunteers to gather the right resources and opportunities for clients factoring in their skills, background and individual needs. The IRC Employment Team has created partnerships with businesses in key sectors of the Arizona economy and began to partner with local dairies in 2011. Thanks to this partnership, Soe Min, a refugee from Burma, has made a name for himself as a dairy worker.
Back in Burma, Soe Min worked in the hills, weeding and carrying rice, gardening vegetables and raising pigs and chickens. “This is a very common background for refugees from Burma,” said Stephen Allen, Employment Supervisor. ”Soe Min’s face would light up when he talked about his old job,” said Allen.
IRC’s Employment staff helped Soe Min connect with Stotz Farm, a dairy in Buckeye. According to Stephen, the partnership with the Stotz Farms was based on the success of refugee clients being placed in the dairy industry in other IRC sites in Idaho and Oregon. The program started with the placement of five refugee farmers from Burma in November 2011 and grew to 34 placements by March 2012. Stotz is now serving as a training site for other local dairies who are interested in hiring refugees. In March 2012, Caballero Dairy hired their first refugees, and T& K Red River Dairy followed suit in April. To date, 52 refugees have gained employment as milkers and in calf barns in local dairies.
Min started working on the farm in December after struggling with the urban job environment. Once at the dairy, Min quickly stood out as a star employee and lead milker. He works five days a week now. “He is a hard worker, speaks English better than the other Burmese refugees and is now looking to transition to another faster-paced farm,” Allen said.
Min said that he likes his work because of his friendly manager and good supervisor. He hopes that after one to two years he will be a supervisor at the dairy, learn more English and be able to drive.
Along with efforts of IRC’s Employment staff, the Pre-employment Logistics Intern, Katie Davis, played a critical role in building the dairy project. "Over the past year, Kate has worked with local community stakeholders, secured appropriate housing and in-kind donations, maintained relationships with employers and helped refugees access community resources. She has assisted in coordinating all logistical aspects of a bold and challenging project,” said Emily Taylor, Volunteer Coordinator.
Because of the growth of the Burmese refugee community at Stotz Farms, they will live in four rented houses in Buckeye to continue their work and their families will join them over the summer. The houses are all near key services such as schools and clinics. The Welcome to America Project has donated furniture to furnish the houses and the employers at Stotz Farms have even put down deposits for the houses. This is an excellent example of an entire community coming together: IRC staff, interns, employers, community partners and the local Buckeye community.
“Trying to get jobs in the hospitality industry and certain sectors for clients coming from an agriculture background is becoming increasingly difficult, but this seems to fit everyone perfectly,” Allen said. “When I went to see Soe Min at the farm, I saw another side of him… happiness and a sense of relief.”
Many refugees arrive in the United States with advanced skills in agriculture and animal-husbandry. The IRC in Phoenix is committed to finding opportunities for clients in this sector and recently launched the New Roots program. New Roots assists independent agricultural start-ups as well as job searching in the larger agricultural sector. The IRC is eager to continue the initial success in local dairies by providing work-ready applicants who are documented and dedicated to their employer.
For more information on hiring refugees contact Stephen Allen at Stephen.Allen@Rescue.org.
Story: Nesima Aberra, Communications Intern & Stephen Allen, Employment Supervisor
Pictures: Stephen Allen