As MIRA’s new Executive Director, I am launching a biweekly blog to begin to share my experiences and reflections with MIRA’s many stakeholders.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit with MIRA member and partner Immigrant Family Services Institute, or IFSI. IFSI serves the Haitian community in Boston and has rapidly scaled their services to respond to the needs of the new refugee community.
While Haiti has long suffered from political and economic instability, the situation significantly worsened in 2021. Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise was assassinated in early July and a massive earthquake killed 2,200 and injured 12,000 in August. Since then, large numbers of Haitians have fled to the US – particularly to the Boston area – seeking safety for themselves and their families.
Under the leadership of Dr. Geralde Gabeau, IFSI has grown services to respond and provide holistic services to these new refugees. Many of them arrive at IFSI directly from the border regions, often after traumatic journeys that often include time in immigration detention. They arrive with very little, but IFSI is able to connect them with much. This includes a new apartment with basic furnishings, legal assistance in immigration court, and services to meet other basic needs.
One of the most unique ways IFSI has helped Haitian refugees adapt to life in America is through the organization’s music program. Music is incredibly important in Haitian culture, so IFSI gives new arrivals musical instruments and connects them to music lessons and other programming. While I have visited many refugee agencies, I have never seen an approach as creative as this. It struck me as a powerful way to help refugees heal from trauma and find joy in their new home.
What would other programs look like if they were designed by people from the same culture as those individuals receiving the services? I reflected on this as I observed the huge section of IFSI’s donation basement that is dedicated to musical instruments.
Much of IFSI’s current work is possible because the Massachusetts legislature allocated critical funds to respond to these emergency refugee needs late in 2021. IFSI has now received the first installment of state funding and – with its many community partners – will be better positioned to ensure that services continue.
One of many things that impressed me about IFSI’s work is that it is so powerful to see a community helping its own people. Because IFSI is led by and staffed by Haitian Americans, services are provided in Haitian Creole, and are culturally appropriate. While many refugee agencies do a wonderful job of serving diverse populations, often hiring case managers from the community they are serving, it was powerful to see an organization where the majority of the staff working there are from the same community as those who are receiving the services.
Many of us saw the disturbing images of treatment of Haitian refugees at the border last year. I would imagine that for many refugees who have been through difficult journeys, to be welcomed by someone who can speak their language and looks like them is deeply reassuring.
I am grateful to have had this opportunity to see the work being done by our partner, IFSI. We are lucky here in Boston to have an organization providing services to these new arrivals and setting them on the road to inclusion in our community.