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Refugee & Immigrant Peer Support Groups

refugee immigrant peer support groups

During the pandemic, our Refugee & Immigrant Peer Support Groups (RISG) have provided a welcoming space for many foreign born in our community, helping to lessen isolation and also disseminate information and share resources. 

Currently, JFCS is running RISG in several communities, including Bhutanese, Congolese, Iraqi, Uzbek, Ugandan, Venezuelan, and more, including a Bhutanese ASL learners group and a parenting group for Spanish-speakers. 

All groups are meeting virtually, but they’ve adapted well to an online platform, continuing to invite guest speakers, offer presentations, and practice yoga and other activities. 

bhutanese senior group

Group Updates

The Bhutanese ASL group, led by Til Gurung, has been able to connect some members to online classes, helping them formally learn to communicate in American Sign Language. Another Bhutanese group has focused on yoga and meditation. The members value that time and feel it helps both their emotional and physical health.

Til also leads a Bhutanese Seniors group in partnership with his own nonprofit organization, the Himalayan Foundation. They recently hosted a former United Nations refugee program employee to speak at a meeting. Til said, “The guest from Nepal was an ex-UNHCR supervisor who worked in the refugee camp for a long time. Many participants knew him well. He was impressed to see how the Bhutanese refugees continued to remain united supporting each other even in the USA. He was impressed how the Bhutanese in America are trying to preserve language, culture and tradition.” One of the ways the group preserves their culture is by singing traditional Nepali songs together, which is especially nostalgic and nice for the elder members who remember those songs from when they were young. 

bhutanese asl groupThe Venezuelan group has a guest speaker every other week covering topics such as financial literacy, home buying, health insurance, and more. Afterwards, they often have a “coffee break” where they play games and just socialize together. 

The Ugandan group is one of the newest groups, starting up after the pandemic. The group has only ever met virtually. Through their sessions, several members have been inspired to create their own community group to help fellow Ugandans in Pittsburgh adjust to life here, access resources, and just feel connected. The group leader wants the community to feel welcomed, saying, “We are in America, a land of opportunity and resources. You don’t have to feel alone here and we can help you.” She hopes that the group will help each other like a family.

For the Turkish women’s group, this time has allowed them to hone their creativity and crafting skills. They’ve been working with the Fiber Arts Guild to learn new skills and make items for their Etsy shop, Kardelens Fiber Arts. They also made beautiful embroidered pieces as part of JFCS’s CREATE HOPE initiative to commemorate 10/27 this year. They also had an art therapy session with JFCS therapist Kelly Moore.

turkish group hopeLeader Trainings

One of the biggest advantages to a virtual format is that the support group leaders have been able to receive more training and access additional resources for their groups. These trainings have also given the group leaders more opportunities to interact with one another, learn from each other, and give each other tips and advice. Some of the meetings include leader-sharing sessions where leaders break up into breakout rooms and talk about the successes and challenges of their groups. 

At the start of the pandemic, several group leaders trained as Community Health Deputies through the Neighborhood Resilience Project, distributing information about COVID-19 to help keep their communities safe and healthy. Other trainings have included music therapy, Mental Health First Aid, recognizing and managing signs of stress, art therapy; an upcoming training will focus on online safety, especially for teens. 

If you’re an immigrant and interested in finding out if there is a group available for you, or if you would be interested in presenting to one of these groups, please contact Program Coordinator Yesmina Salib at ysalib@jfcspgh.org.