Weaving Together the Lives of Refugee Women
Maria Beltran-Figueroa and Rey Ty
Addressing the problems in providing refugee...
Research Process
This participatory action research (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000) used the case study
analysis, literature re...
allowance, health services, cultural adjustment and acculturation, resume writing, interview
preparation, and employment. ...
existing weaving project that benefits Karen women who are part of the Karen Farm Project
(Beltran-Figueroa & Ty, 2011) th...
Implications of the Study for Practice
Lessons learned from the historical and social context reveal the importance of cul...
Freire, P. (1995). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. New York:
Freire, P. (2005) Pedagogy o...
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2011. Maria Beltran-Figueroa & Rey Ty. (2011). Weaving Together the Lives oif Refugee Women. Lindenwood University.


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2011. Maria Beltran-Figueroa & Rey Ty. (2011). Weaving Together the Lives oif Refugee Women. Lindenwood University.

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2011. Maria Beltran-Figueroa & Rey Ty. (2011). Weaving Together the Lives oif Refugee Women. Lindenwood University.

  1. 1. Weaving Together the Lives of Refugee Women Maria Beltran-Figueroa and Rey Ty Addressing the problems in providing refugee services, this paper discusses a case study of a participatory action research involving the weaving project of refugee women. Using feminist post-structuralist deconstructive analysis, this paper dissects the dominant binary views and practices prevailing in refugee service as well as describes alternative perspectives and practices. Data were gathered through participant observation, site visits, community dialogue, and document review. The findings reveal that the alternative human rights based and culturally sensitive approaches to refugee services promote the economic and political empowerment of women refugees. As policy implication, additional services must be made available, which are based upon and respectful of the prior knowledge, skills, and values of refugees, aside from the important standard services regularly offered to the refugees. Introduction Statement of the Problem and Assessment of the Need Based on the literature and actual practice, there are problems in refugee work. One, well-meaning refugee service providers offer services not appropriate to the needs of refugees. Two, refugees are treated as outsiders who need knowledge, skills, and values to be productive members of the new society in which they live, as a result of which, they become alienated in the host country. Alternative interventions are, therefore, needed to uplift the economic, political, social, cultural and psychological conditions of refugees. Faced with the challenges of family life obligations, limited or lack of language proficiency and non-transferable skills, refugee women need to have an opportunity to be gainfully employed aside from keeping in touch with their own cultures. Research Objective and Questions The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2011a) notes that refugees in the U.S.A. come from the four corners of the Earth. This research describes a weaving project in Indianapolis, Indiana, which empowers Karen women refugees from Southeast Asia. This research addresses the following questions: What are the services available to refugees in the U.S.A.? What lessons can be learned from the Weaving for Refugee Women Project as a viable alternative for refugee services? Definition Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of the United Nations (2002, p. 630) defines a refugee as a person who was allowing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his [or her] nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him [her]self of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his [or her] former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
  2. 2. Research Process This participatory action research (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000) used the case study analysis, literature review, document analysis, participant observation, and community dialogue to identify the various approaches in providing refugee service. Critical lens (Freire, 2005) was used to view human resource development (HRD). The co-authors, both of whom are HRD scholars and practitioners, frame refugee services within the broader historical and social context to advance practices that promote social justice and social responsibility. Reflections on practice promote critical thinking (Putnam, 1999) as well as generate knowledge and produce action (Park, 1999). This paper uses post-structural deconstruction (Derrida, 1987) as a tool to study the binary oppositions by which refugee work is conceived and implemented, the reason for which is to reveal their mutual interdependence, after which a third way is introduced. By using deconstruction, we dissect texts (plans) and contexts (practices) in search of contradictions as well as gaps (Calas & Smirchich, 1999). The mainstream approach to refugee services was deconstructed to reveal how the dominant culture is privileged, while the multiple cultures of the refugees—the “others”—are marginalized. Deconstruction dismantles dichotomies as false oppositions (Bradshaw, 1996). The co-authors of this paper have experience in working with refugees as well as with refugee service providers. Beltran-Figuroa is a full-time refugee service professional who is active in Indiana where she coordinates her efforts with several organizations. Ty, who is a professional working in the field of human resource development, organizes and leads groups for field visits to refugee service organizations in Illinois and Indiana. Perspectives Both Freire (2005) and Zinn (2003) proposed teaching and learning to be based upon historical, social, economic, political and cultural contexts, the purpose of which is to apply a pedagogy that is based upon the realities of the learners, in this case, women refugees. Both Freire (1995) and Zinn (2003) were in favor of teaching and learning that are sensitive to issues related to culture, ethnicity, gender, and class. By engaging in a dialogue, both (1) the adult learners and (2) the community and adult educators become co-learners in critically analyzing social realities and co-constructors of knowledge, which leads to the development of programs relevant to the learners. In this study, refugees themselves and service providers engage in a dialogue that led to the birth of the weaving project for refugee women. Findings Dominant Views and Practices of Refugee Services We are products of our personal biography, social history, contexts, and cultures. Refugees—the “others”—come from all over the world, while many refugee service workers— “us ”—are mostly Whites who carry with them a whole baggage of what is considered correct, proper, and good. Well-meaning refugee service providers transmit the dominant beliefs and practices vertically downwards to the refugees whom they serve, the purpose of which is to help refugees join the mainstream of society and to promote social harmony. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2011b) reveals that service providers offer invaluable services to refugees in the U.S.A., without which refugees will be overwhelmed with the prospect of settling down in a new land. They employ different approaches to help refugees resettle in the United States. The best practices in their services include, among others, housing, food and living
  3. 3. allowance, health services, cultural adjustment and acculturation, resume writing, interview preparation, and employment. Traditional “banking” teaching and learning techniques are used in which omniscient teachers impart new knowledge, skills, and values to learners who are empty vessels (Freire, 2005). Othering Reproducing the existing social relations in society, the dominant culture in the hidden curriculum (Apple, 1971) is legitimized and shapes the training that refugees receive from the service providers. Powerful refugee service providers help powerless refugees. Refugees do not have the knowledge, skills, and values to fit into society. Hence, refugees need to acquire knowledge, skills, and values so that they can be gainfully employed and be a part of the host country where they live. They are passive recipients of services. The cultures of the refugees are ignored, if not negated. Job training and job offers are mostly for factory-based labor. Training includes, among others, preparing résumés, dressing up for interviews, eye contact, and other related practices and values based on those of the dominant economic and political group. Through the categories of “us” and the “others,” the experiences and knowledge base of refugees are marginalized. Refugees are cultural outsiders who learn from refugee service providers who are cultural insiders. By privileging the cultural insiders, alternative beliefs and practices are made invisible. In a word, refugees are taught to assimilate into the mainstream of society. Alternative Views and Practices of Refugee Services Questioning the role of training within the broader context of social justice (Gilley & Associates, 2002) is part of critical reflection (Elliott & Turnbull, 2006). Some refugee service providers rethink the way by which refugee services are provided, such as the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights (2011) in Chicago, Illinois. This paper describes the alternative but complementary best practice in refugee service of the Weaving for Refugee Women Project of Refugee Resource and Research Institute of Indianapolis, which does not conform to but adds to the traditional services with which refugees are provided. Instead of a top-down implementation of services that benefit the refugees, this project relies on two related bottom-up approaches: (1) cultural sensitivity (Obaid, 2011) and (2) human rights-based approach (UNDP, 2006). The history, experiences, cultures, and prior knowledge of the adult refugee learners (Knowles, 1989) are inputs in the development and implementation of the weaving project. This paper presents the Weaving for Women Project in Indianapolis, Indiana. Refugees are not empty vessels but partners. Instead of assimilation, refugee services promote the integration of refugees who are partners in advocacy and development work, taking into account their prior knowledge, skills and values. Weaving for Women Project. Indianapolis is home to about 10,000 Burmese, Iraqi, African, Bhutanese, Meskhetian Turks and other refugees. Over 4,000 are women and girls. Although they come from varied cultures and backgrounds, they share a history of persecution and alienation and isolation upon arrival and during the resettlement process. As a central part of their culture, weaving for some of these women was the only source of comfort and income in the refugee camps. It is a way to reconnect to a pleasant past and their identity as a people and a creative way to help heal the trauma of displacement. A gender responsive approach to addressing poverty reduction, Weaving for Women also aims to address social and mental health issues that confront women refugees in their resettlement process. It is an expansion of an
  4. 4. existing weaving project that benefits Karen women who are part of the Karen Farm Project (Beltran-Figueroa & Ty, 2011) that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds. There are about eight hundred Karens in Indianapolis, of which ten Karen families are involved in the Karen Farm Project. With the positive feedback that includes a feeling of home, happiness and comfort from the current participants, other women from different refugee groups who come from a tradition of weaving would benefit from this project as well. Implementation of the Project. Ten Karen women who can not participate in the larger Karen farm project are involved in the weaving project. The women refugees have a bi-monthly meeting with the project manager to discuss progress and challenges. Refugee Resource promotes a participatory approach in its implementation of projects. The principles guiding this highly respectful approach are: taking responsibility and learning from decision; partnership; celebrate, appreciate and recognize each other’s strength, recognizing expertise, personal and group experience to transcend barriers leading to integration; accountability and taking charge of one’s life. Being a component of the Karen Farm Project, funds to purchase seven back-strap looms and thread and other weaving materials came from the Farmers Market Promotion Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to benefit women who can not work in the farm. The women keep the looms in their apartments where all the weaving is done. Conclusion Summary Explored in this paper is the weaving project for Karen refugees in Indianapolis. On the one hand, this paper uncovered the privileged views and practices of dominant approach to refugee services. Because many well-intentioned refugee service workers lack deep knowledge of the social history and cultures of refugees whom they serve, one-way transfer of knowledge, skills, and attitudes leads to inefficiency, mismatched employment, low overall satisfaction, and low quality of life of refugees. The knowledge base, skills and values of the refugees—the “others”—are rendered invisible. On the other hand, this paper presents alternatives. Contributions of the Study This research is important for three reasons. One, due to economic, social, political, and cultural crises taking place in different parts of the world today, many people flee their countries of origin to seek refuge in other countries, among which the U.S.A. Clearly, practitioners, such as service providers who are engaged in adult, continuing, extension, and community education, need to respond to the influx and needs of refugees. Two, mainstream refugee services, though necessary, are insufficient in responding to the needs of refugees. This paper contributes to the literature and practice, as it investigates a non-traditional project that benefits refugees. The co- authors of this paper assert that for efforts to help refugees to succeed, the rights and cultures of refugees must be central in the thinking, planning, implementation, and evaluation of projects that seek to help refugees in the first place. Three, while all refugees have common concerns, women refugees have specific concerns, which adult, continuing, extension, and community education needs to address, which is a central concern of this paper. In general, this paper provides new insights from which practitioners can learn lessons in planning for other refugee projects that benefit refugees who are community-based adult learners.
  5. 5. Implications of the Study for Practice Lessons learned from the historical and social context reveal the importance of culture in advancing the interest of refugees in their personal and professional life. This paper analyzed the weaving project in Indianapolis. At the minimum, it provided a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment for the project participants, as they are able to practice their tradition of weaving as well as produce useful cultural artifacts. Furthermore, for those who consider weaving as a full- time job, they treat weaving as an economic activity that gives them gainful employment and economic empowerment. Weaving for Women promotes economic independence and helps cut the cost of social aid, as they are not a burden to the host community and are capable of supporting themselves in a dignified and self-affirming manner. It also enhances the chances for a sustainable and durable solution to many challenges associated with resettlement and integration. The project provides lessons for culturally sensitive economic development within the framework of indigenous cultures and practices. Putting an economic value in their tradition also addresses the mental health challenges faced by refugees by engaging in an activity familiar, comforting, and therapeutic to them. They also get to interact with other women who share the same struggles and concerns. See Table 1 for the summary of the findings. Table 1: Deconstruction of Refugee Services Perspectives Issues Hegemony Othering Alternative or The Third Way 1. Views Us The others All of us 2. People White citizens International refugees Unity in Diversity 3. Roles Service Providers Beneficiaries Partners 4. Basis of Services Hidden curriculum in training No knowledge, skills and values Prior knowledge, skills and values 5. Immigration The Others’ Assimilation to the Hegemony Integration 6. Power & Privilege Powerful Powerless Empowerment of Refugees 7. Side Insiders Outsiders Together 8. Culture Dominant Culture Marginalized Culture Multiculturalism References Apple, M. W. (1971). The hidden curriculum and the nature of conflict, Interchange 2(4), 27-40. Beltran-Figueroa, M. & Ty, R. (2011). Critical HRD and culturally appropriate human rights- based projects for refugees. Proceedings of the Academy of Human Resource Development. Chicago: Academy of Human Resource Development. Bradshaw, P. (1996). Woman as constituent directors: Re-reading current texts using a feminist- postmodernist approach. In D. M. Boje, R. P. Gephart, R. P. & T. J. Thatchenkery, T. J. (Eds.), Postmodern management and organization theory (pp. 95-124). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Calas, M. B. & Smirchich, L. (1999). Post postmodernism? Reflections and tentative directions. Academy of Management Review, 24(4), 649-671. Derrida, J. (1987). The truth in painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  6. 6. Freire, P. (1995). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum. Freire, P. (2005) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum. Gilley, A. M. & Callahan, J. L., et al. (2002). Critical issues in HRD: A new agenda for the twenty-first century. New York: Basic Books. Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights. (2011). What we do. Retrieved August 9, 2011 from http://www.heartlandalliance.org/whatwedo/ Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (2000). Participatory action research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 567–605). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Knowles, M. S. (1989). The making of an adult educator. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Obaid, T. (2011). Culturally sensitive approaches: Tips for development practitioners. United Nations Population Fund. Retrieved March 15, 2011 from http://www.unfpa.org/culture/tips.htm. Park, P. (1999). People, knowledge, and change in participatory research. Management Learning, 30(2), 141-157. Putnam, R. (1999). Transforming social practice: An action science perspective. Management Learning, 30(2), 177-187. United Nations. (2002 [1951]). Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Vol. 1 second part) (pp. 629-642). Geneva and New York: United Nations. United Nations Development Programme. (UNDP). (2006). Indicators for human rights based approaches to development in UNDP programming: A users’ guide. New York: United Nations Development Programme. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2011a). Fiscal year 2009 refugee arrivals. Retrieved March 15, 2011 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/data/fy2009RA.htm U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2011b). Fiscal year 2009 refugee arrivals. Retrieved March 15, 2011 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/data/state_in_ffy09.htm Zinn, H. (2003). A people’s history of the United States: 1492 –present. New York: Harper Perennial. ________________________________________________________________________ Maria Beltran-Figueroa, Director, Refugee Resource and Research Institute. 2012 Beach Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46240-2764, 317-332-2658, figueroa2012@comcast.net Rey Ty, Ed.D., Training Coordinator, International Training Office, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, 815-753-1098, rty@niu.edu Presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education, Lindenwood University, St. Charles, MO, September 21-23, 2011.