Tucson Refugee Fest is a Downtown Celebration of a New Life

June 8, 2015

Elhom Abdukarim is one of the refugees who is contributing to the beautification of the patio at Refugee Focus. His colorful rock garden welcomes staff and visitors.

Elhom Abdukarim is one of the refugees who is contributing to the beautification of the patio at Refugee Focus. His colorful rock garden welcomes staff and visitors.

By Cristina Manos

Refugee Focus just moved into Downtown a year ago, into a very discrete spot at the back of 120 N Stone in suite 220R. Entering through the alley off Alameda, just east of Stone, between the Wells Fargo building and the parking garage, you will find signs directing you up a stairwell to a quaint patio. This is where Refugee Focus resides.

The organization is a division of the Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, and the Downtown location is just one of three refugee resettling agencies in Tucson. Every year, 800 to 900 refugees from around the world enter Tucson, and must immediately adapt and integrate to foreign surroundings. They are people who went through an assessment by the United Nations High Commission and were deemed unable to return to their homelands due to extreme danger. The refugees are usually in refugee camps for an average of 10 years, and 1% of the over 16 million registered refugees get accepted into safe countries to be resettled. About half of that 1% come to the United States, around 70,000 a year.

RefugeeRockGarden

The new rock garden graces the spacious patio of Refugee Focus.

Most refugees know absolutely no one in Tucson when they arrive. Members of Refugee Focus greet them at the airport, and then they’re shown to their apartment, which was secured by the organization two weeks prior to arrival. After that, the refugees engage in daily education via Refugee Focus so they can learn how get a social security card, use the bus system, learn English, get groceries and supplies, engage with the community, and integrate smoothly. This is the reason why Downtown is the perfect place for Refugee Focus to reside. Downtown folks have provided a warm welcome and the accepting vibe that helps encourage refugees who may otherwise feel lost.

This quarter, Refugee Focus in Tucson had 100% employment rates for each family unit within six months. If you’re not floored right now, read that sentence again. It’s been an amazing year for Refugee Focus, and their past employment percentage has been at 88% per quarter. Something’s working.

The patio will be transformed into a festive space for World Refugee Day.

The patio will be transformed into a festive space for World Refugee Day.

“It’s really about understanding that people need to heal,” Program DirectorNicolle Trudeau says. “They need to feel a part of a community, they’ve been isolated for a long time, and that was part of why we moved Downtown.”

Trudeau says activities like the Tucson Refugee Fest, being held on June 16, from 4pm to 9pm, are what really touch people’s lives. It helps refugees feel that they belong, that they are wanted, and are appreciated for the joys and strengths they share with the community.

The Tucson Refugee Fest has much to offer for both refugees and the Tucson community. The event is being held in honor of World Refugee Day, which started in Africa in 2001. It’s a time of celebrating and honoring the challenging path of one brave enough to escape worlds of terror and torture in search for peace.

On June 16th the patio at Refugee Focus will turn into party. There will be music from 8 different countries, dancing, and the opportunity to learn some new dance moves. There will be henna, kids games, face painting, and a gigantic mural for everyone to paint. Of course, you must paint between the lines, but the mural is a community project that will be featured at Refugee Focus, and also be transported to other events for display.

The old pool at the Pioneer building will be repurposed into a vegetable garden and sitting area for all to enjoy.

The old pool at the Pioneer building will be repurposed into a vegetable garden and sitting area for all to enjoy.

The patio at Refugee Focus is in the process of being embellished with garden art, design, and a peaceful, green sitting area. Elhom Abdukarin has jump started the patio renovation by completing a colorful rock garden for visitors and staff to enjoy as soon as they enter the patio on the way into the Refugee Focus building.

Currently, Refugee Focus is working together with community helpers from the Downtown Tucson Partnership, Ironwood Tree Experience, which is a youth group, along with Rob Bass from SBBL Architecture & Planning in order to repurpose an old swimming pool, which is now filled with dirt, and transform it into a keyhole garden and sitting area. The partners will get a good start on the transformation this week to have it presentable by the 16th for the Tucson Refugee Fest.

Join the festivities and celebration at Refugee Focus on June 16th for the Tucson Refugee Fest and share in the joy and celebration of our Tucson refugees. Stand side by side with refugees, who will also be honoring those who were left in camps and did not get the opportunity to resettle. They will write names of those who are remembered on Baja-style colorful cloth to create a cloth memorial for loved ones. Indoor and outdoor activities along with food, dance, and world music is a great example for all of us for how to enjoy life as part of the warm, welcoming community that is Tucson.

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