08/15/2008 10:42 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Refugees In America Re-Build "Home" on Hope and Prayer

Terror and persecution force refugees to flee their homelands and of the more than two million Iraqi's whose homes and livelihoods have been lost since the Occupation, the US accepted less than 700, during the first three years. This February, that number changed to 7000, of which 2000 were to be resettled in Michigan. These Iraqi's either have family in the US, or have worked for the Americans while in Iraq. A smaller number of families have also been placed in Chicago's suburbs. "August through October see the largest numbers of incoming refugees," says Jenna Liao, Volunteer Mobilization Coordinator, World Relief , in Wheaton, one of the organizations re-settling them.

The Iraqi's, however, aren't the only refugees making their way to Chicago and other cities in the U.S. Africa and Burma, too, have seen steady streams of refugees fleeing murder and mayhem. Up to 250 families from these regions live in Suburban Wheaton, Carol Stream and Glen Ellyn.


"Our greatest needs right now include "Replanting Lives" Kits (or sub-kits like all the necessities for the bathroom, kitchen, etc.). We have a brochure that we'd be happy to email to anyone or mail out. We are especially in dire need of diapers and wipes and other baby products," says Jenna.

While the initial months are hardest, the lessons to be learned in getting acclimated to life in America go on much longer. Refugee Assistance Programs (RAP) , which is part of the Islamic Foundation, Villa Park has also been helping in the re-settlement of the refugees, over the past four years. "We help refugees of all faiths, but for Muslim refugees, having a place of worship and ties with a community that shares the same faith, is vital to their emotional and long term well-being," says Aliya Hussain, Co-Chair, Refugee Assistance Programs.

RAP recently partnered with ICN Girls Club at the Islamic Center of Naperville (ICN). Girls aged 8- 12 created 40 gift baskets containing personal care products and household cleaners, items which food pantries often do not carry. These were distributed to refugees in Wheaton, Glen Ellyn and Aurora. In previous months, RAP has organized field trips for refugee children, including trips to Lincoln Park Zoo, The Field Museum and a Chicago Fire soccer game. "It's not just about hand-outs but a hand-up, about teaching them life skills and we're willing to partner with any organization who wants to make a difference," says Hussain. Donations and interested volunteers are always welcome.

On the cards is a culturally-sensitive counseling program for refugees, in partnership with a Human Services Center, and a Maternal Health and Child Care Educational series of classes. RAP also partners with Helping Hands Inc. a Christian Organization in the area and ICNA Chicago, a Muslim Organization and is a much needed model of inter-faith cooperation.

A refugee resettlement agency, Exodus World Service in Bloomingdale recruits volunteers to receive the refugee families at the airport, along with a caseworker. Still others, can create 'Welcome to America Packs' comprising household goods, food staples, and the like and deliver them to the family, on their first day in the United States. For those interested in a long term relationship, there is the "New Neighbor" program, to help refugee families get acclimated to life in America. Again, as with the other two organizations, donations and interested volunteers are always welcome here.

Contact information
1) Refugee Assistance Program

2) Jenna Liaoa can be reached at
World Relief-DuPage
ph: 630.462.7566 ext. 46

3) Exodus World Service