Helping Refugee Families Resettle with Strong Community Resources | The Center for Victims of Torture

Helping Refugee Families Resettle with Strong Community Resources

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Relaxation beads help refugee survivors with deep breathing exercises.

While news reports focus on refugees desperately seeking safety and stability in Europe, other refugees, who have been resettled, are working to integrate into new communities like St. Cloud, Minnesota. 

Earlier this winter, Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) facilitated a 10-week parenting class in St. Cloud for Somali-American moms who recently arrived in the U.S.

The region, just an hour northwest of Minneapolis, is now home to a large Somali population that fled war, torture and persecution. It’s a whole new world for them, an unfamiliar culture that can be challenging, especially for parents navigating a strange system while their children also try to acclimate.

“Training and networking is very important for the St. Cloud influx of newly-arrived refugees and immigrant communities,” says Amal Hassan, CVT’s Somali community liaison. “The refugees in St. Cloud are dealing with racism and Islamophobia and it makes them fearful of seeking services for their children or for themselves. The training and networking helps strengthen this community’s ability to advocate for themselves. These sessions also help professionals such as the public health nurses have more culturally appropriate responses to the Somali population they serve.”

Somali parents engaged in a discussion of parenting topics and issues, like unfamiliar societal expectations they’re learning to understand and opportunities they might not know about to help their families settle into the community and feel comfortable. Parents’ misconceptions about not being allowed to discipline their children or exercise parental authority in the U.S. were actively addressed, with a focus on providing tools for communicating effectively with children who are navigating two cultures.

“Parents’ rights and empowerment was a big topic in a class where parents routinely express fears of losing their children to Child Protective Services,” said Andrea Northwood, Ph.D., LP, CVT director of client services.

Stress management was also a frequent topic, particularly in terms of its direct effect on parenting. Participants each made a string of relaxation beads to take with them and carry as a reminder to do ten relaxation breaths when they’re feeling overwhelmed.  Dr. Northwood spoke about the health benefits of taking slow, deep breaths. Anxious or fearful breathing, in which we never empty our lungs completely and only use the top half of our chests to breathe—which becomes a habit in traumatized persons—inhibits the ability to relax and restore oneself, she explained.

The class was a big hit with the women and has now been requested in four community locations in Central Minnesota. One woman remarked, “The highlight of the class for me was to see how open and comfortable we have become with one another.” Another participant remarked, “Since this class started, I see a great improvement in myself. I breathe better and I feel better physically too.” Refugee communities like those in St. Cloud are stronger when resettling families have knowledgeable resources to help them and CVT was honored to play a part.


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