My husband and I have worked cross culturally for over 31 years now. We have worked among refugees for 20 of those years. I have to admit though that I personally entered a whole new world when I started a business with my daughter called “Threads by Nomad.” We intentionally hire refugees here in the United States to craft our clothing, clutch bags, dolls and a few home décor items. Our desire is to build a business that will provide meaningful fulfilling jobs to refugees at a sustainable wage. There have been challenges obviously. Finding the people with the right skills for the various tasks or finding a way to train people even as they need to be able to work full time to earn a living are just a couple of examples. I can say that the past year has been one of delight and satisfaction as we have watched people rise up to the task.
We set out with few requirements. Speaking English was not a requirement, though we knew it would require patience. Minimum education was not a requirement, as long as they had the necessary skills. There would be no consideration of ethnicity or religion, even though we knew it would mean mixing various groups in a small studio that normally would have no affiliation with each other. Our only requirement is that they had come to the United States as refugees. That decision has begged questions from many corners. Let me put out there five myths about refugees that I can personally testify to.
1. Myth: Refugees left their country because they wanted to. I have not met a refugee yet that WANTED to leave. They HAD to leave. There was little choice whether it was due to threats against their person, the inability to survive in the current economic or political situation, or imminent danger due to war, etc.
2. Myth: Refugees resent the United States. On the contrary, every refugee I know is very grateful to have found a place where their children can have an education, they are safe from violence, or they have personal freedoms they had not previously known.
3. Myth: Refugees are lazy and just want to sponge off the system. I can tell you story after story after story of refugees
desperate for work. I know doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, tailors, engineers, accountants etc working at car washes, or Walmart, or McDonalds because they are willing to work. Yet, because their education is not accepted here, or their language skills are not up to par they work at unfulfilling jobs to put meals on the table.
4. Myth: Refugees don’t want to acclimate to American culture and life. That is not at all my experience. Our refugee friends are curious and excited to learn about things like hamburgers, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Christmas decorations, flea markets, fried chicken, etc. To be sure there is much about their culture they do not want to let go of. Twenty years of living overseas, I understand that. There was a LOT about being American I did not want to let go of.
5. Myth: Refugees are here illegally. This is one of the biggest myths. Refugees are here through the work of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They did not get a choice about where they would go. After thorough vetting they were granted refugee status and eventually assigned a place where they would be sent. They are given social security numbers and a work permit. They apply for green cards and after a few years can apply for citizenship. They are 100% employable legally.
I write this about these myths because of my experience this past year with Threads by Nomad. My role previously with refugees was one of pure ministry. I helped with English, helped fill out employment applications, looked for needed items to be donated, etc. Threads by Nomad was me “putting my money where my mouth is” as the expression go. If they were employable, wanted to work, had gifts and talents, etc then why didn’t I hire them? Threads by Nomad has done just that and we wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. As World Refugee Day approaches we celebrate and are grateful for the refugees who are helping us make Threads by Nomad a success. Thank you for supporting us!