By Judy Abelman, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer
On Sunday, May 6 the smells of popcorn, gyros and strawberry snow cones joined the sounds of languages from across the globe, laughing kids and shouting teammates at Givens Park in east Austin. Welcome to the third-annual Austin Refugee Day Festival.
Since 1975, the U.S. government has welcomed over 3 million refugees for resettlement from all over the world and these refugees have built new lives and homes in all 50 states. Including Texas of course. Austin has about 12,000 refugees, primarily from Bosnia, Burma, Cuba, Sudan and Vietnam.
Red Cross staffers Reihaneh Hajibeigi and Ivana Krejci joined volunteer Izadora Martinez to make this a day to remember for refugees and their families. They partnered with eight other organizations including Amaanah Refugee Services, Caritas, Catholic Charities Central Texas, GirlForward, Interfaith Action of Central Texas, Multicultural Refugee Coalition, Austin Soccer Foundation and Cece’s Veggie Noodle Company on the thousands of details that needed to be considered to pull off a successful event.
And successful it was. While the kids jumped on bouncy castles, played games and had their faces painted, a heated competition played out on the soccer field as ten teams kicked their way toward one of two money prizes! According to Reihaneh, “Soccer is the sport that unites everyone across the world.”
Snacks were supplied by the partners, and the presence of a Gyro truck run by Syrian refugee Ahmed Alzahoori ensured that there would be Halal options for any Muslims at the event. And the entire event was free to the community.
Tables from participating organizations described the resources available to Austin refugees and migrants. And attendees could “experience” what it feels like to be a refugee from Latin America – with a simulation that took you from the beginning of the journey in your country of origin, through detention centers, bus stations and finally to hosting families.
Reihaneh added, “Hosting this event is parallel with our Austin identity. We celebrate what makes us unique. This event is especially important today so that we can demonstrate that we stand with refugees in our community.”
Want to get involved with the Austin Refugee community? Reach out to reihaneh.hajibeigi2@redcrossorg or firstname.lastname@example.org. There are great volunteer opportunities in the community such as be an advocate, teach English/tutor, resume writing and job search, provide transportation and help reconnect families.