“Empowerment is key,” says Claudette Nshimiyimana, a former refugee from Rwanda who now helps refugees adjust to life in America. In this interview, Claudette shares the struggles that refugees face and how she works to overcome them. A graduate of LIRS’s 2014 Academy, Claudette is lending her support towards the 2015 Academy. To apply for the 2015 Academy, visit www.lirs.org/2015academy.
This interview was conducted by LIRS Outreach Program Intern, Juliet Sohns.
Juliet Sohns (JS): You are one of the 49 graduates from the 2014 Academy, what is your reflection of the Academy and how has it helped your advocacy for refugee rights in your community?
Claudette Nshimiyimana (CN): As a leader in my native community in the state of Rhode Island, I found the 2014 LIRS Academy a profound opportunity to learn and share experiences about the ongoing needs of refugees in our various communities. Topics such as streamlining an action and generating movements through grassroots efforts were uniquely helpful. I learned how to organize at the community level, engage constituents, and keep people committed by engaging partners at all levels, including community, municipal, and state partners.
Furthermore, the training on lobbying with elected officials was tremendously educational. Such skills will help me throughout my life. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet with my Rhode Island senators and other elected officials during our LIRS congressional visits to Washington D.C. I shared my refugee story with my senators, and discussed the ongoing needs and challenges that confront refugees as they try to be self-sufficient in the United States. The leadership academy was also an opportunity for me to meet colleagues and refugee leaders from various states with whom I continue to share thoughts and opinions on issues surrounding refugee resettlement.
JS: What suggestions do you have for the 2015 Academy participants to make the most of their experience? What ideas do you have for trainings and workshops that would be beneficial for former refugee leaders to learn from and take back to their communities?
CN: Participants in the 2015 Academy will most likely find it very useful if they use the occasion to do serious networking. I believe that getting to meet new people from different states, countries, and walks of life is an important component of the Academy. Furthermore, an added benefit would be for participants to be given the opportunity, just like the trainers, to come forward and share their stories and experiences. A lot of refugees are greatly resilient and have done tremendous things in their various communities. Through this, refugees stand to learn a lot from each other, and of course teach others about the good work they are already doing.
JS: What advice do you have for people who want to be an advocate for raising awareness on refugee issues?
CN: I think empowerment is the key here. It is common practice that people come to refugee communities and create projects out of them. I would rather see an increase in efforts in empowering refugees to speak for themselves and do things on their own with the support of partners. I think that will be more profitable than otherwise. The Academy can help refugees enhance their skills in leadership and grassroots organizing so that they can continue the great work they are doing as community leaders.
Check back to the blog in a few weeks for part II of this interview, where Claudette talks about CenRAS, an organization she co-founded with 2013 Academy graduate Omar Bah, which gives critical support to refugees.