The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 86

a bus or walked through the pouring rain
or found a friend to watch young children.
Not to mention the long odds of escaping
their war-torn countries. In 2017, the
United Nations identified 19.9 million
refugees around the world; less than one
percent of those were resettled that year.
At least in this class, no one speaks so
quickly that the refugees cannot hope to
keep up. Here, they can ask questions,
practice their speaking and listening and
writing. Here, they get phone numbers for
services they might need. Twice a week
when they settle under the fluorescent
lights, surrounded by shelves of workbooks,
they are a few steps closer to their dreams
- meaningful work, better lives for their
children, a feeling that they belong.
This day, English language learners
hail from Afghanistan, Pakistan, The
Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal
and Iran. In the 34 years that Blue Ridge
Literacy has been teaching, immigrants
from more than 80 nations have tested
English's strange syllables in their mouths
and in their minds.
Nzikobanyanka and Nsengiyumva
both prepared to become US citizens and
studied for GED exams at these white
plastic tables and black folding chairs.
Nzikobanyanka has worked as an on-call
resource for Blue Ridge Literacy, translating
when needed, teaching a community class
on Swahili a few summers ago. In 2018, she
joined BRL's board of directors.
"She has been just a great advocate
for Blue Ridge Literacy," says executive
director Stephanie Holladay. "She's been
wonderful in terms of her advice and her
connections." And despite keeping up with
her children, a work schedule in constant
flux, and a husband who attends Virginia

86

MAY/JUNE 2019

Western Community College by day and
works as a Clinical Associate at Carilion
overnight, Nzikobanyanka has never
missed a board meeting, Holladay says.
"She has perfect attendance," Holladay
declares with a warm smile.
Back in the classroom, Lowder speaks
slowly, enunciating every word. "Please turn
to page 47, four-seven. Who wants to read?"
Her students are quick to volunteer,
eager to learn.
"Does anyone know this word: 'stress,'"
Lowder asks. She holds up photos of
people in difficult moments.
"Now, we're going to make a sentence,"
she explains. "The patient is stressed because
she is sick." Lowder takes a break from her
lesson plan and engages her students.
"It's stressful when you're at the doctor
and you don't speak English and you don't
have an interpreter, isn't it?" she asks.
"Like me," calls out a woman in the
front row.
Recognition flashes across Lowder's
face. "Yes! Your daughter was very sick!
How is she feeling now?"

W E L C O M I N G refugees
This is how refugees arrive in Roanoke:
Their journeys begin in a corner of the
globe where violence has forced them to
leave their countries and seek shelter in
neighboring lands. Representatives of the
United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees meet with residents in refugee
camps. Refugees must prove they cannot

return home for fear of persecution.
Today, refugees are most likely to have
fled The Democratic Republic of Congo,
Myanmar, Ukraine and Bhutan, according
to UNHCR data.
The UNHCR then forwards names and
files to one of the 37 countries who have
agreed to resettle refugees. Until 2017, the
United States resettled more refugees than
all other nations, combined. But in the last
two years, the US has slashed the number
of refugees it is admitting. In 2016, the US
resettled 84,994 refugees. In 2018, only
22,491, the lowest number in modern history.
Once assigned to the US, refugees are
interviewed and screened multiple times
by multiple agencies.
" Refugees are the most vetted
population that enters this country,"
explains Amar Bhattarai, director of
resettlement services in Roanoke's office
of Commonwealth Catholic Charities.
Cases are then distributed among
nine agencies who represent thousands
of communities across the countr y.
Commonwealth Catholic Charities
resettles all refugees in Roanoke; they have
been doing this work since 1975.
Based on Roanoke's population, its
number of service providers, the level
of available jobs and the population of
existing refugees, the local CCC office has
determined that the region can successfully
resettle roughly 200 refugees a year.
In 2016, the Roanoke Valley welcomed
its largest refugee population ever - 282
people. In 2018, just 77 arrived, reflecting
the dramatic drop at the national level.
Refugees are met at the airport, assigned
a case manager and taken to a furnished
apartment. For one month, they are
immersed in language, life skills, financial

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The Roanoker - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - May/June 2019

The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Intro
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover1
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover2
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 3
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover3
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover4
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