How Rotary Community Corps help refugee communities

By Tom Gump, organizer of The Rotary Community Corps (RCC) for the Afghan Community in Minnesota, USA, and a past district governor

If you want to create positive peace in the world, you do not need to go all the way to Afghanistan or Ukraine, you can, together with others, have an impact from your own backyard. Positive peace is not only the absence of violence, but also includes a state of collaboration and support between states, nations, or members of a society.

Rotary and The Rotary Foundation are invested in creating positive peace. But what can we do in our local area to contribute to positive peace?

Learn from missed opportunities

There are 57,000 residents in the State of Minnesota who are of Somali ancestry including 31,400 who were born in Somalia and migrated to Minnesota. Ethnic Somalis first immigrated to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in the 1980s and other Somalis arrived during the 1990s. Rotary failed to invite the Somali refugees into our clubs and missed an opportunity to serve them and better integrate them into the community.

Be inclusive and ready to take action

There are approximately 1,000 refugees from Kabul, Afghanistan, who have recently moved to Minneapolis and St. Paul with another approximately 500 expected to arrive in the next few months. As a result of two Afghan interpreters being members of our Rotary Club of Minnesota Veterans, we were much more aware of the needs of this new community. In December 2021, we formed the Rotary Community Corps (RCC) for the Afghan Community in Minnesota, USA. We brought together members of five local Rotary clubs to work on this effort, and interest is still growing.   

Identify needs and fill gaps

While immigrants receive basic support (for example, initial housing and funding for food), many necessary needs for integrating into US society are not provided. The Afghan interpreters have been invaluable in connecting these needs with Rotarians who can help people make this transition. The RCC has brought together Rotarians and the new arrivals from Afghanistan every other week to provide services and celebrate successes.

For instance, at a recent RCC meeting we learned about how difficult it is for Afghan refugees who do not speak English to pass a driver’s test (and secure a job) because the Minnesota driver’s manual has not yet been translated into the Dari or Pashto languages. Google Translate doesn’t cover these languages and hiring a translator would cost more than $20,000. From the conversation at the RCC, we were able to go back to our Rotary clubs and discuss this need. A local Rotarian’s company has a computer program that can translate text into these two languages; so, this club member translated the Minnesota Driver’s License Manual into both languages and the Afghan community contributed to the final edits.

At the next RCC meeting, we were able to celebrate five Afghan refugees receiving their driving permits.

The Rotary Community Corps of the Afghan Community in Minnesota.
The Rotary Community Corps for the Afghan Community in Minnesota.

Form an RCC

RCCs are excellent vehicles for engaging local Rotary members in service projects, while at the same time expanding Rotary’s reach into a community that is currently not being served by Rotary. Our new RCC is serving our Afghan community and will potentially grow Rotary in the future. When we submitted the paperwork for this group to RI a few months ago, we never thought it would grow as quickly as it has. We meet every other Saturday and typically have 60 individuals in attendance including Rotarians and Afghan families. Sometimes we share a traditional Afghan meal – usually chicken and rice – and sometimes pizza, balancing Afghan and American customs.

Our RCC’s impact and outcomes are growing daily. For example, we recently received a call from U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips’ office. The Congressman is selling his home and downsizing. He wants our RCC’s help to donate his furniture to Afghan refugees in Minnesota.

Refugees send resources home to family members in countries that have been devastated by political and economic upheaval. The work being done by Rotary clubs in Minnesota through our RCC contributes to positive peace in Afghanistan by providing stability and inclusion for the refugees that live here, and in so doing assisting them in supporting their families both here and across the world when they send funds home. 

Listen to select blog posts on our new Rotary Voices podcast

1 thought on “How Rotary Community Corps help refugee communities

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.