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Conference lifts up needs, voices of refugees in Dayton

Conference lifts up needs, voices of refugees in Dayton

Published: December 7, 2012
Migwe Kimemia serves on the fair trade panel at a conference on refugees.

Migwe Kimemia, at right, facilitates the economic success and fair trade panel at a November 2012 Dayton conference on refugees.

Photo: AFSC / AFSC Dayton

Something good is brewing in Dayton.

A recent conference on refugees there asked, What strengths do refugees bring to our communities? What challenges do they face, and what is their vision for the future?

Migwe Kimemia, AFSC’s economic justice program director in Dayton and a member of Dayton’s Human Relations Council, pushed for the conference and facilitated its economic success and fair trade panel.

According to Migwe, refugees often experience substandard housing and health care, language hurdles, and roadblocks to economic sustainability. Yet they also have a keen desire to overcome these challenges and put their entrepreneurial skills to work for their community.

Drawing 160 people from Dayton’s civic, faith, and educational communities, the conference built on the Welcome Dayton Plan that the city adopted in 2011. AFSC has played a key role in developing and implementing the plan, through which Dayton strives to be an immigrant friendly city.

“This conference has enabled refugee leaders to lift up their voices and advocate for their concerns and contributions as envisioned by AFSC and the Welcome Dayton plan,” Migwe says. “I feel very inspired that the seeds of change that AFSC planted have borne some fruit through this first refugee conference in Dayton.”

For Jacques Kahindo, a professor of political science and a leader of the Congolese community in Dayton, part of that vision is empowering his community to advocate in the U.S. for their families at home in the Congo.  

“We lack training for leaders to do advocacy to speak up about the war in Congo,” he said. “My idea is to bring our community together now and focus on how we can resolve our problems in the future.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Jacques interned with AFSC, and that experience helped deepen his understanding of international trade, fair trade, and U.S. policy toward Africa. Now he advocates for international economic policies that would have positive impacts on the Congo.

“More open trade is better for democracy for African countries,” he says.

By the end of the conference, the general consensus was in favor of rethinking traditional ideas around access to markets and capital while stimulating small business development through education, loan assistance, microcredit, and city planning initiatives.

This recommendation is consistent with AFSC’s current exploration of a fair-trade, coffee-roasting cooperative in Dayton that would connect African refugees with coffee farmers in their home countries.

Something good really is brewing in Dayton.