MEMO BLOG Memo Calendar Memo Pad Business Memos Loaves & Fishes Letters Home
IRCO: Doorway to assimilation
Bus restaurant riles Argay neighborhood
Paul Butterfield honored at Gateway Little Chapel of the Chimes
Middle Eastern festival showcases cuisine and culture
Mid-county gets fenced off-leash dog park
122nd Avenue Project approved
Parkrose Colts: Transition from boys to little men

About the MEMO
MEMO Archives
MEMO Advertising
MEMO Country (Map)
MEMO Web Neighbors
MEMO Staff

© 2006 Mid-county MEMO
Terms & Conditions
IRCO: Doorway to assimilation


Santo Yare arrived as a refugee from Somalia, where she had never seen traffic, television or running water. IRCO helped her with English literacy and employment skills training; she now works as a housekeeper at the Avalon Hotel.
Oregon is the 11th largest refugee recipient state in the nation, taking in approximately 1,200 refugees every year. Virtually all adult refugees in Oregon rely on Mid-Multnomah County’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization to help them navigate the waters of their new adopted country.

A refugee is defined in the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 as a person unable or unwilling to return to his or her homeland due to “persecution or well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” Many have fled their countries due to war or genocide, have experienced or witnessed unimaginable horrors, and have lived in camps in a neighboring country prior to arriving here.

It is IRCO’s purpose to do whatever it takes to assist refugees and legal immigrants in becoming self-sufficient. Fifty-six percent of IRCO’s clients in 2005 achieved self-sufficiency — defined as receiving no governmental assistance — within eight months.

IRCO’s roots began in response to the influx of refugees from Southeast Asia that followed the collapse of the American presence there in the mid 1970s. The Indo-Chinese Cultural and Service Center, founded in 1976, and the Southeast Asian Refugee Federation, founded in 1980, merged in 1984 to form the International Refugee Center of Oregon. Primarily funded by the Oregon State Refugee Office, its focus was to help refugees obtain employment.

As the refugee population acclimatized itself in its adopted homeland, its needs changed. In response to those needs, IRCO has added programs for youth, seniors, health education and advocacy, and victims of domestic violence. Some services were expanded to include legal immigrants who were non-native English speakers. In 2000, IRCO modified its name so the acronym stands for Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, better reflecting the scope of its mission.

IRCO’s work is best illustrated by following an actual family — Noor and Sadia Hussein and their four children. The Husseins are Bantu originally from Somalia. The Bantus were brought to Somalia in the early 19th century as slaves and have had few economic or social opportunities since. When the Somali civil war broke out in the early 90s, the Bantus, as people without status, had no protection and were victims of both sides.

Noor and Sadia managed to get their family to Kenya, where they lived in a refugee camp until being sent to the United States.

They landed in Portland in April 2004, and Noor was at IRCO the following day.

During IRCO’s intake procedures, the family demonstrated many risk factors common to the Bantu population: large family size, lack of formal education, low or no literacy in their native language or in English, and a lack of knowledge of American parenting practices and support for education.

For the next four months, Noor spent his days at IRCO going to literacy classes, receiving weekly private tutoring. Because life in America requires both parents to work, refugees must confront the issue of a stranger caring for their children and learn how that functions. So, Noor took classes in childcare. He also took American culture workshops designed to help new arrivals understand how Americans value time and punctuality, expectations of daily bathing and frequent washing of clothes by machine. Noor also was in a hands-on class on communication styles, on domestic laws in the United States, and how to use public transportation.

In four months, Noor’s IRCO job developer helped him get a job as a dishwasher at Terwilliger Plaza, a senior retirement facility. IRCO staff provided translation and interpretation services to get him started then called his supervisor on his 5th, 10th, 30th, 60th and 90th days of employment to ensure that he was progressing well. The feedback was always excellent — Noor was appreciated for his punctuality and hard work.

When a new manager took over the department at Terwilliger Plaza and wanted to expand Noor’s position to include taking inventory and setting tables, IRCO sent a staff member to make a list of the products to be inventoried. Another IRCO staff member translated each item into Somali and made bilingual stickers to put up at each item’s location. The Somali-speaking staff also did on-site training, showing Noor how to properly set tables.

After nearly two years, Noor continues to work at Terwilliger Plaza. He enjoys his job, and his employer continues to be happy with his work.

Meanwhile, Sadia had their fifth baby and came to IRCO in May 2005, wanting help in obtaining employment. She was also put in literacy classes and worked with an individual tutor.

Memo Calendar | Memo Pad | Business Memos | Loaves & Fishes | Letters | About the MEMO
MEMO Advertising | MEMO Archives | MEMO Web Neighbors | MEMO Staff | Home