Refugee tales at Creative Alliance

The Baltimore Sun

Fleeing their homes and former lives to escape danger and persecution, refugees from countries including Burma, Iran, Somalia and Sudan settle in Southeast Baltimore seeking new lives and new opportunities, but not without facing hardships in the process.

The personal accounts of the difficulties and triumphs of area refugees can be heard at "Voices of Refuge," a celebration of the United Nation's World Refuge Day, which will be held at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Presented by the International Rescue Committee of Baltimore and Por la Avenida, the event provides area refugees the opportunity to gather, and others the opportunity to learn about the lives and cultures of their refugee neighbors.

"'The Voices of Refuge' is a wonderful opportunity to get to know our neighbors more in the city and to find out more about the experience of resettlement for the new refugees," said Luisa Bieri de Rios, outreach coordinator for the Creative Alliance and Open Society Institute Fellow for Por la Avenida.

"It is a way to find inspiration in the stories of these refugees' lives -- many of whom have overcome tremendous hardships to arrive in this country."

"The Voices of Refuge" will open with two short documentaries. In Rising Up: The Alams, a 2005 documentary by Konrad Aderer that speaks to immigration as a larger issue, the film follows a Bangladeshi family living in Brooklyn, N.Y., that fights victimization and deportation proceedings post-Sept. 11. A cut will also be shown from the coming documentary On One Field: Patterson Park by local Baltimore filmmaker Mauricio Osorio, which features a group of Baltimore refugees who gather weekly to play soccer.

Courtland Robinson, an associate professor at the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response of the Johns Hopkins University, and Bob Carey, the IRC's vice president of resettlement, will make up a panel that will field questions on resettlement and the process a family goes through once they leave their home country and go to a second or third country.

"We want to encourage dialogue in this event," said Rios, "and a panel discussion in question-and-answer format gives people the chance to have a real conversation with the experts as well as with people living in the city."

Traditional Iranian music by Ava and Ari Rasouli as well as a cappella by a group of Burundian siblings, Gospel Sound System, will follow the panel discussion, showcasing the talents and abilities of local refugee musical groups. The night will conclude with a wine and dessert reception where guests can meet the performers and filmmakers.

Since 1999, the IRC Baltimore, which is at the Baltimore Resettlement Center in Highlandtown, has worked to provide services including housing, English classes, school enrollment, job training and access to public benefits, to refugees resettling in the area.

Por la Avenida is an intergenerational, neighborhood art series where old and new generations of immigrants, refugees and residents of Highlandtown can integrate their culture, traditions and experiences into various forms of art.

"Overall we are trying to not only recognize the accomplishments of all refugees who have come here to live, but we are trying to reach out to the local neighborhood and city and give people the opportunity to hear more about the issue," said Emily Schrepf, volunteer coordinator and advocate for the IRC. "Our greatest hope is that people will take away awareness from this event. That they will leave knowing there is a good population of refugees in Baltimore, and that they are positive assets to the community."

Doors open at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The Creative Alliance at the Patterson is at 3134 Eastern Ave. Tickets are $6-$8. Call 410-276-1651 or go to

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