When: Wednesday, January 19th,2022 @12pm
Where: Online via zoom
Speakers: Zalmay Niazy (Afghanistan), Elizabeth Bernal (Mexico), Ines Pecuvcic-Jasarovic (Bosnia),
Rex Mwamba (DRC)
Moving to a new country involves many changes and new sets of priorities, challenges, and rewards. The realities of building a life—finding a home, securing employment, and developing relationships, to name just a few—vary for each person, for each family. Some carry with them traumas from the circumstances which led to their displacement from their home countries. Most are motivated by the promise of new opportunities for their own careers or the educational aspirations of their children. Many are confronted with the need to learn English as a primary language and the challenges that come with navigating complex legal, social, and service systems in that new language. And, of course, new Iowans must engage with neighbors and community members unfamiliar with their lived experiences and often long journeys to the US—not to mention their daily habits, religious practices, accents, and their hopes, fears, and desires. In this session, the panel will discuss how the experience of moving to Iowa differs for people from different walks of life—refugee, immigrant, documented, undocumented, with familial ties in the area, without familial ties. They will share how local nonprofits, especially ethnic community-based organizations (ECBOs), support new Iowans. And they will offer insights into what Iowans, born and raised in the state or elsewhere in the US, should know about their neighbors who have just arrived, those who have been here a longer period, and how we can be welcoming and supportive of both groups.
Ines Pecuvcic-Jasarovic is a Refugee Specialist for the Bureau of Refugee Services in Des Moines, where she has worked for 26 years. Before that, she worked for Interchurch Refugee and Immigration Services in Chicago. She provides various services targeted to prepare clients for employment and education goals. She was born and raised in Sibenik, Croatia and graduated from the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1988 with a degree in teaching. There she met Semsudin James, a young Bosnian mathematician/computer programmer. Coming from two different backgrounds (Ines as Croatian Catholic and Semsudin as Bosnian Muslim) was not a highly accepted relationship. They married anyway and had a daughter, Suncica. Due to the conflict in former Yugoslavia, Ines and Suncica had to flee Bosnia in early 1992 and started a refugee journey through different locations in Croatia and resettled in Chicago in December of 1993. James reunited with them on Valentine’s Day in 1995.
Elizabeth Bernal lives in Iowa City, where she is involved with multiple community organizations that promote inclusion and wellbeing for immigrant communities. She is co-founder of Open Heartland, a nonprofit serving families in five mobile home communities in Johnson County whose residents are mainly Hispanic immigrants. Elizabeth is also a founding member of the board of directors of the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project, a local community organization that pays immigration bond for incarcerated Iowa immigrants who cannot afford their immigration bond. Elizabeth also serves on the board of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, and last October she was awarded the Rick Graf award from the Iowa City Human Rights Commission.
Rex Mwamba (DRC), Employment Services Case Manager, Catherine McAuley Center, Cedar Rapids. Born in and originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rex Mwamba arrived in the United States in the state of Iowa in August 2013. Rex has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Telecommunication and Network Administration from the DRC. After he completed the English program at Kirkwood Community College for 2 years, Rex obtained an IT certificate and an associate degree in Network and System Administration at the same institution. Today, Rex works as an Employment Services Case Manager at Catherine McAuley Center, where he attends daily work to settle and integrate refugees from all over the world into the Cedar Rapids community in Iowa.
Zalmay Niazy was born in a rural village in the Urozgan province of Afghanistan. He learned to speak fluent English at the age of thirteen and later worked as an interpreter for several branches of the United States armed forces upon graduating from high school. Mr. Niazy has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Kardan University in Kabul and he has worked for different national and international organizations, including Titan Linguists, Red Orange International, and Qabaiel General Supplies. He moved to Iowa in the United States in 2015 and, based on the community desire, decided to establish a small business, Zee’s Handyman Services, LLC, which he now owns and operates in Iowa Falls.