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A Hand Up — Local group BRIDGES works to connect with and assist refugees in Twin Falls

March 2, 2017 GMT

POCATELLO — Before a local group convened with the intent to aid refugees settling in Twin Falls, the original goal was to help those refugees establish food wagons where they could sell cuisine traditional to their culture.

The members quickly realized, however, their ability and desire to make a much bigger impact.

Thus, BRIDGES was formed, and since its inception back in August, the nonprofit organization has strived to welcome, assist and connect with the foreign men, women and children who are still getting used to calling the United States their home.

“Some of us were thinking, ‘They need some assistance and friendship,’” said Brenda Pollard, BRIDGES vice president. “Everyone has a very noble purpose and moves forward with that, but as you can imagine there’s a huge learning curve. … We have to refine and figure out where does the resettlement boundary end and where does our space start — how do we not take over and become the givers instead of working with folks and helping them? All of this has been like a fine line. We’re always fine-tuning this machine of assistance.”

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Refugees come to Twin Falls from Afghanistan, the Republic of Congo, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Bhutan, Burma and Eritrea. They’re forced from their homes due to events such as war, natural disasters and persecution.

After spending years in refugee tent camps and after going through an extensive, multi-agency vetting process, some refugees are sent to the U.S. A week after they’re told they’re leaving, families arrive in a foreign land.

So far, the most substantial thing BRIDGES has done is donating essential items such as clothing and kitchenware. Refugees arrive in Twin Falls from warm-weather climates and are often not prepared for the colder weather in Idaho. Also, when they arrive, they’re given very little in terms of kitchen items. Each person, for example, is given just one cup, one plate, one bowl and one of each utensil. BRIDGES has organized the donation of these kinds of items.

“In the process, people have been much more generous,” Pollard said. “They’ve donated wall-hangings and furniture. That’s the most concrete thing, and it’s the easiest thing to do.”

While donations have gone well for BRIDGES, the group has much higher aspirations of how to impact the refugees. From helping those who in their former homelands were doctors, lawyers and engineers get back into their respective fields to helping the youth get college education, there are plenty of ways BRIDGES is trying to help integrate the refugees into the Twin Falls society.

Right now, however, one priority is cellphones. Because cellphones don’t need to be attached to a carrier to dial 911, they are an invaluable asset.

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“If you can charge the battery, (Twin Falls director Zeze Rwasama) can hand those cellphones to the people and say, ‘If you have any emergencies, … dial 911 and help will come,’” Pollard said. “So that’s an identified need, and that’s something we’re working at gathering up.”

Pollard said one of the biggest misconceptions about refugees is that they are poor and need handouts to survive. While it’s true that refugees often need assistance to adapt to their new homes, the broad generalization that all are poor, Pollard says, doesn’t help anyone.

“Just heating one label on a person and assuming, ‘Oh, you’re a refugee. You need help,’” Pollard said. “Yeah they do need some assistance, but they have plenty to give, too.”

Rwasama will speak at the Pocatello Rotary Club meeting Thursday at noon at the Clarion Inn in Pocatello.