Heath Ray: Reaching out to refugees in south-central Kentucky
On Saturday, March 4, Heath Ray, Refugee Program Coordinator with Community Action of Southern Kentucky, spoke at the March meeting of the United Methodist Women at the Morgantown First United Methodist Church in Morgantown. Heath spent two years in Tanzania-South East Africa as a U.S. Peace Corp volunteer after college graduation. He learned Swahili, but doubted he would be able to find a use for it back home. As fate would have it, he overheard some people speaking Swahili in a store in Bowling Green, obviously confused. He was able to help them and although he already worked for Community Action he was able to begin coordinating with others to set up the Refugee Program five years ago.
.First, he clarified the U.S. definition of a refugee. While many immigrants may choose to leave their country for a variety of reasons, a refugee is forced to leave by war, famine, or genocide. Refugees do not have a choice of where they can go. They go to whatever country accepts them. Heath told us that for the last five years people from Burma are the largest group of refugees coming through The International Center in Warren County, although the general resettlement numbers are still small compared to the need worldwide. Syria is the country with the biggest need right now, although no Syrian refugees have resettled in Bowling Green yet.
Ray showed slides of refugees who are not so very different from us. Everyone wants to raise families in safe neighborhoods, to live in warm homes, to have jobs and provide for their families, to have access to food, schools, and churches. In Bowling Green St. James and Faith United Methodist Churches hosts African services and Living Hope has Burmese services; Holy Spirit Catholic Church also has a Burmese congregation.
Some refugees speak English already while others are still learning. Some families need help understanding confusing mail and medical bills, and finding jobs. Many employers in the area (Morgantown included) are very appreciative of refugee employees because they are hard working, conscientious workers, on time and honest. They are not taking these jobs away from anyone; the employment opportunities are abundant in our growing economy and available to anyone who qualifies.
To get involved or to learn more contact The International Center of Kentucky or Heath Ray at Community Action of Southern Kentucky: [email protected].
Story and photos by Christine Bratcher, Beech Tree News