We are thrilled to be joined by Meg Erskine, Co-founder and Executive Director of Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) and 2015 Philanthropitch finalist. Last year alone, Austin resettled more than 1,500 refugees from 25 countries. MRC is helping these families build a life of self-sustainability and successfully integrate into the Austin community. The nonprofit social enterprise branch of MRC, Open Arms, offers sustainable apparel and sewn goods made by women refugees through living wage employment. Open Arms has partnered with IKEA and currently has pillows made by Central Texas refugee women in the Houston, Round Rock and Frisco IKEA stores. We highly recommend these products, especially for anyone who needs to do some last minute holiday shopping! Check out a video about the partnership here and look for the HÅLLNING collection in IKEA stores!
Guest Blog Post, Written by Meg Erskine
About 9 years ago when I co-founded Multicultural Refugee Coalition and would speak about my excitement about this work–many people didn’t know what a refugee was. If you used the term “political refugee” or aiding those fleeing violence and genocide- some people were afraid I was getting involved in something that was dangerous or something that I shouldn’t since these were words that we don’t often have much experience with in the United States. That all changed when folks would meet or hear more of the individual stories of refugees that were fleeing these kinds of situations and could understand clearly the commonality and heart that unites all of us.
Here we are, 9 years later, and now the topic of refugees is very top of mind for many, for which I am oddly grateful, but worry deeply about in the same sense. I believe to my core that Love is always greater than Fear and that the best way to overcome fear is actual experience. Many people haven’t had the chance to engage with refugees, and without this experience their mind, often fueled by commentary of the media and politicians, is left only to fear. My attempt here is to share a little bit about the refugee situation and why I am inspired and compelled to help this population resettled to our community.
First and foremost – refugees are the most vetted people trying to enter our country, taking at least two years of intensive processing and screening that proves they are fleeing the violence and persecution themselves that we are so fearful of. Many refugees have only known life in a refugee camp- some 20 plus years- waiting, hoping for a chance of a peaceful new start for their families. Our work at Multicultural Refugee Coalition is to provide a warm welcome and connection for refugee families to the opportunities for success in their new community. We do this by helping them to gain access to growing opportunities for their families through our Agriculture Program, learn a new skill such as sewing that can lead to employment at our social enterprise- Open Arms, or provide support through our weekly community center programs.
The unifying theme of all refugee families I have come to know and love is HOPE. They live with such fierce determination and hope for their family’s future and I am amazed by the love they show, even with such unjust experiences they have lived. I will never forget meeting a refugee child from the Congo who was resettled with her family of 8 here to Austin. She was only in the 5th grade but wanted someone to hear her stories of the country that she loved and the violence that she had witnessed, and to help provide her some hope for life here in Austin. She was determined and hopeful and has become an incredible writer and is now a freshman at a major university here in Texas. She is one of the most inspiring people I know.
I treasure my relationships with other refugee women- mothers who taught me how to become a mother myself. These mothers held baby showers for me, helped me to learn to carry my baby on my back, and so much more. We are connected by the love we share as mothers and the hope we have for our children.
I adore our dear friends from Iraq that served as interpreters for the US Military, who we have celebrated birthdays and marriages with, and who never miss the chance to acknowledge every major holiday with a warm phone call of gratitude for our friendship.
I am always amazed by the sense of hospitality- always ready for a visit over tea and snacks and open and ready for dialogue. These experiences teach me how to slow down and engage in real dialog, prompting me to do the same for guests in my own home.
I love having refugees in our community which provide the opportunity for rich cross cultural experiences, opportunities to learn about the world around us and make our communities so much stronger.
If you would like more opportunities for engaging with the refugee community, please contact us and we will share the various ways to get involved here at Multicultural Refugee Coalition. Donations are always welcome as well, as we continue to provide a warm welcome and show the refugee population and the world that love is always greater than fear.