Finding a Place
RAA president and founder Kristen Bloom knows a thing or two about adjusting to a new life. As a young mother in a military family, Bloom moved from Washington, D.C. to San Antonio to Peru to Oklahoma to Japan, back to San Antonio, then to Mississippi and Miami… all since 2005. After arriving in Miami in 2016, she attended what was then called the “Syrian Supper Club,” and felt an immediate connection to the refugees who acted as chefs for the evening. “Although I was among strangers, I immediately felt at home, and so inspired,” she says. “People from all different backgrounds had come together to learn how we could collectively and individually help these refugee families make South Florida their home.” Channeling her own background in International Education, Bloom began to not only work with refugee families, but to learn more about the resettlement process. In 2017 she formalized the RAA as a nonprofit. “We currently have more than 40 volunteers working with nearly 70 refugees throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties,” she says.
RAA works with families from Ethiopia, Iraq and Russia, but Bloom says the majority of the families are Syrian. “We hear so much on the news about refugees and the war in Syria, but I think most South Floridians are surprised to hear there are Syrian refugees living in our area,” she says. Bloom and her dedicated team work closely with the families to help them learn English and adjust to life in their new home. Though they do rely on Arabic-speaking translators for important documents and appointments, most of the RAA volunteers don’t speak Arabic or have any formal teaching training, they just want to help. ”Our volunteers and families rely heavily on gestures, pictures, and translation apps. Our volunteers and families bond through their desire to connect and be understood,” says Bloom. “Sometimes it takes many attempts (and a lot of laughter) before we are able to be understood, but we find a way to communicate.”
Food is Love
The roots of the RAA program are in A Taste of Syria, a program designed to empower and initiate cooking opportunities for Syrian refugee women in South Florida. Attendees buy a ticket to the lunch or dinner and get a chance to experience an incredible meal along with a better understanding of the lives and backgrounds of the refugee families. “These meals foster cross-cultural understanding and build peace between communities,” says Bloom.“ Regardless of race, religion, language, or culture, food is a universal language that unites us all.” Proceeds from the ticket sales go to the Syrian chefs as well as to further RAA initiatives and programs.
Families in Need
Bloom says RAA is currently in the process of building up their programming and is looking for help with everything from funding to practical assistance such as grant writing and program development. Though the community can support RAA financially via its website and Facebook pages, they also need volunteers to help on site with families as they encounter challenges with work, school, transportation, medical needs, public assistance, and more. They are also working on establishing a “one-stop shop” referral system to meet all of the ongoing needs. And, of course, Bloom says the lunch and dinner events will continue to be a way to reach the South Florida community. “RAA helps ease the struggles faced by refugee families in learning English and offers practical assistance with everyday living,” says Bloom. “But ultimately, we hope this program promotes peace and understanding among the people of South Florida and ushers our families toward self-sufficiency.”