International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The IRC in Silver Spring & Baltimore in Thailand!

The International Rescue Committee program in Thailand is not new – we’ve been serving the large refugee population in Thailand since 1976 and currently provide a variety of services to nearly 70,000 refugees from Burma living in camps along the Thai-Burma border. And, since 2005 we have also provided resettlement processing services to refugees in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia, through the IRC-run Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) based in Bangkok. The IRC in Thailand office is one of the organization’s most robust, and is the longest running country program in the IRC’s network.


What is new, however, is the IRC in Thailand’s coordination with two of our US Programs (USP) offices to host USP staff for an exchange of information and ideas relating to one of these longstanding programs. This March, Sara Bedford and I (Katherine Rehberg) – caseworkers from IRC in Baltimore and Silver Spring respectively – will be seconded to the Overseas Processing Entity in Bangkok to work with its Cultural Orientation Program.The OPE’s Cultural Orientation (CO) Program has been run by the IRC since 2009, and prepares refugees destined for resettlement in the US through a multi-day cultural orientation training prior to their departure.


Through our work with refugees upon their arrival in the US, we know the importance of thoroughly orienting and training clients to their new lives in the United States as quickly and effectively as possible. Clients’ lack of information about basic technology and services, employment, education, financial services, health and US cultural norms is one of the most significant barriers to their independence and well-being in America.


Our living and working in Thailand will hopefully help to improve the orientation clients receive throughout the resettlement process, from pre-departure CO sessions to orientation stateside. More specific objectives of the exchange include:
- Observing cultural orientation sessions and spending time in several of the camps from which refugees are being resettled in order to gain insight into the resettlement process and be able to better anticipate and understand the needs of clients coming to Silver Spring and Baltimore.
- Sharing relevant information about US resettlement to OPE CO staff and trainers, making sure that CO messages are accurate and in line with US realities.
- Learning from OPE CO staff and curriculum to improve upon client orientation provided in our offices.
- Documenting lessons learned and progress made and sharing it across the USP network of resettlement offices, to help IRC’s resettlement efforts across the country.


Upon our return Sara and I will assume newly created “Cultural Orientation Coordinator” positions in Baltimore and Silver Spring, which we also hope will enable our offices to provide more thorough, timely and effective cultural orientation to clients. We are looking forward to keeping everyone up to date through periodic blog posts during the secondment. We will try to include information and reflections about the work we are observing and completing, and hope that our readers would feel free to email or reply with any questions or suggestions. We are excited to be a part of such a unique exchange and look forward to the integration of the IRC’s international and US-based programs for the purpose of better serving our clients.


Stay tuned here to find out how you can get involved and to keep up with this exciting new initiative for IRC US and International Programs!