World Refugee Day: How Refugees Help the Red Cross

Friday, June 24, 2011-World Refugee Day is tomorrow. In honor of this day learn about how Dorothy Sewe, a refugee from Kenya, is paying it forward and helping the American Red Cross in great ways. Be sure to stop by Garfield Park tomorrow between 11AM-4PM to participate in World Refugee Day! Visit our facebook page for more information:

Article on Student Dorothy Sewe’s work with refugees Published September 4, 2008

Dorothy Sewe, a student in SIT’s Sustainable Development degree, was recently featured in an article in the Grand Rapids Press. In celebration of a new PIM class at SIT and the work they have conducted so far, the PIM Admissions blog wanted to bring this article to you. Woman who specializes in reuniting refugees hands off work to Red Cross by Pat Shellenbarger | The Grand Rapids Press Monday August 18, 2008, 8:44 AM Einstein Was a Refugee. Dorothy Sewe, left, teaches Red Cross volunteer Barbara Rosales how to locate refugees separated by war. Sewe, a refugee from Kenya, wears a shirt that reads: Einstein Was a Refugee.

GRAND RAPIDS — During a church service in a refugee camp, Dorothy Sewe heard a little girl sing, her voice clear and joyous, despite her ragged clothes. Although penniless herself after fleeing her native Kenya, Sewe gave the little girl clothing and resolved that, if ever she got out of the camp, she would be a voice for refugees disconnected from their families. “You are really vulnerable when you’re separated, because you are running to save your life,” she said. Finding long-lost family members is “like you are born again.” Since 2005, through a program Sewe created as a volunteer for the Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids, she has reunited dozens of refugees with families scattered around the world. She received a degree in international relations from Grand Valley State University last spring and will leave soon for Brattleboro, Vt., where she plans to study sustainable development in the School for International Training. Rather than let the refugee program die, the Red Cross last week trained 15 volunteers to continue the work Sewe did alone. “Dorothy was kind of a one-person show on this for a long time,” said Chip Kragt, interim readiness and response director for the local Red Cross. After she, her husband and their eight children settled in Grand Rapids in 2001, Sewe remembered a Red Cross worker in the refugee camp helped find her brother in Nairobi and sister in Iceland. She offered to do the same here through the International Family Tracing Services, a joint program of the American Red Cross and the International Red Cross. As requests poured in from refugees around the world, Sewe built a network of contacts among immigrant groups, stopping by their restaurants and churches, tracking down refugees from Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Eritrea, Somalia, Latvia, Uganda, Sudan and other countries. Last year, 52 requests came in from refugees looking for family members believed to be in the Grand Rapids area. Less often, they came from refugees living here and seeking relatives elsewhere. Sewe tried to recruit college students to help her, but most were afraid to go into some neighborhoods, so she continued alone. “I’m not scared of any community,” she said. “And that’s why I succeed. I’ll go anywhere.” Nothing in Grand Rapids compares to the violence she saw in Kenya. Her sister and brother-in-law were murdered in 1992, and Sewe raised their seven children. When it became too dangerous to stay, they fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania in 2000 and applied for asylum in the United States. In December 2001, they arrived in Grand Rapids, leaving two nephews. In 2006, her nephew, Alvin, died in the refugee camp. Her other nephew, Joseph, is waiting for a visa. In Kenya, she and her husband, Willis Oteto, were affluent. She ran her own business. He had a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and worked for the government. Here, he works on a production line for an auto parts maker, and they live in an apartment for low-income residents in northeast Grand Rapids. Last year, they and their children became U.S. citizens. Between her schooling and volunteer work, Sewe has little time for material pursuits. She taught classes in international human rights law and eventually hopes to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Sometimes, I sit down and say, ‘Why am I doing all this?’” she said, then answered: “God saw my heart. That’s why he brought me here. I have to do it. “It’s better than just building a big house. Maybe when I die, I think I’ll be happy. Even when I’m dead, I’ll be happy knowing some people out there are living happily.”


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