Neighbors meeting neighbors

Jun. 28, 2014 @ 05:26 PM

Every year, about 250 refugees are placed into new homes around Durham. On Saturday, dozens of them came together to celebrate a day that honors them.
Uniting NC and Church World Service teamed up to host an international soccer game in honor of World Refugee Day.
Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski, a community resource coordinator with CWS, said that since 2009 it has been able to help relocate 1,000 refugees to the area – many staying in Durham.
Amthal Marid, 24, is one of those 1,000. The 24-year-old has been in the United States for five months. Prior to coming to the U.S., Marid lived in Iraq.
“(Coming to Durham has) changed my life for the best,” she said. Marid couldn’t finish her education in Iraq, and now she’s working on taking classes at Durham Tech. She wants to continue her education and eventually go into engineering or nursing.
Cohen-Mazurowski said coming together for World Refugee Day is about celebrating the successes of those that have relocated to the states.
“As an agency we spend a lot of time helping people find jobs, lean English, navigate social services,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of time to just celebrate and have fun.”
It also helps that many of the refugees that settle in Durham come from areas of the world where soccer is popular, Cohen-Mazurowski said.
Many of the refugees living in Durham come from Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The soccer game not only allows for refugees to connect with each other, but for Durham residents to connect with them as well.
“A lot of community members come out and play as well,” she said. “It’s like a chance for them to meet their new neighbors.”
Cohen-Mazurowski said it’s also a great chance to see the progress many of the refugees have made since they worked with CWS. She said seeing the growth of the people she works with is wonderful.
“I see people here that are speaking fluent English now,” she said. “A lot of these guys are working full time, they’ve got cars, you know they’re really living the American Dream.”
Uniting NC, a Raleigh-based non-profit group joined forces with CWS to help celebrate World Refugee Day.
Uniting NC works with not only refugees, but also immigrants to help them thrive in the community.
Dan Rearick, executive director and one of the founders of Uniting NC, said the organization works to make North Carolina a more welcoming and supportive place for immigrants and refuges.
“We want to try to make North Carolina a place where people can land on their feet and become part of their communities,” Rearick said. 
Both CWS and Uniting NC started in 2009, but Rearick said the two organizations started working together a few years ago.
Rearick said Uniting NC also works to engage immigrants and refugees in the community.
“(Uniting NC) helps people really become part of their community,” he said. “We bring together refugees and immigrants with longtime residents.”
That helps create a bond and a basis of similarities in the community.
“Once people realize how alike they really are, they tend to be more supportive of each other,” he said.
Luckily, for refugees like Abass Bher, 28, and Marid the transition to life in Durham has been easy thanks to groups like CWS and Uniting NC.
Bher was able to take an English class for the first four months he was in the U.S., and now he’s taking more classes through Durham Tech.
For Marid, it’s been a dream come true to be able to come to the U.S. and continue her education.
“It’s easy and comfortable (to be in Durham),” she said. Marid had moved around before coming to Durham.
“I’m so excited to be here,” she said.
For Bher, the people and community he’s been welcomed into in Durham has made him want to stay.
“I like the people, I like the organizations that help the people,” he said.
“I want to stay here.”