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Refugees learn new laws, public safety rules


Akalu Mamo from Ethiopia accepts a bicycle helmet from workshop facilitator Aaron T. Olson at a recent IRCO workshop while Brett Bolstad signs up other clients.
Approximately 60 refugees from countries including Nepal, Ethiopia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Barundi and Cuba recently attended a workshop at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization on public safety, basic laws and emergency services.

In the countries where many of the attendees formerly lived, people in uniform were not seen as friends or advocates. In fact, many saw police officers as figures of fear, if not terror. The IRCO workshop is designed to begin changing those perceptions while informing the new Americans about how to avoid trouble with the law, how to respond if stopped by police and when to call police for protection.

Specific topics at the Nov. 16 workshop included traffic and criminal laws, domestic violence laws, identity theft, using 9-1-1 for emergencies, making non-emergency calls to police and what to do if stopped by a police officer. It also included a section on bicycle safety.

The facilitator of the workshop, Aaron T. Olson, is a retired supervisor with the Oregon State Police. Most participants heard his words through an interpreter, as most had been in the United States for just one to three months.

Following the completion of the workshop, 11 bicycle helmets were given to participants. Olson organized the helmet program when he recognized the participants could not afford to buy helmets but that they and their children were using bicycles on the streets. He purchases the helmets from manufacturers at a special nonprofit price of just $2.50 each, and he solicits donations from various groups for the purchases.

IRCO and Olson have been partnering to present this workshop quarterly to newly arrived refugees since May 2002. Anyone interested in contributing to the bicycle safety program’s helmet distribution or interested in more information about future workshops contact Rowanne Haley at 503-234-1541.

Editor’s note: Rowanne Haley is the manager of Community and Donor Relations at IRCO.
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