Somali Bantu Refugee Resettlement: From Kakuma to Atlanta (2003-2005)
Whether trying to get a little extra money to survive in the camp or needing a regular income to pay rent in the US, the job search is definitely a challenge for refugees and a focus for the agencies helping them.
The Somali Bantu were almost all entirely farmers and, having fled to refugee camps in a desert, had no outlet for this work. (Actually, few residents of a refugee camp find any kind of work due to the restrictive nature of the setting and hostility of the host commmunity.) In Kakuma, projects occasionally come up that are willing to hire a few refugees but the Somali Bantu as the newer of the groups without established connections did not have much access to these.
In the US resettlement program, refugees are expected to be self-sufficient within three to six months meaning that they not only have to quickly adjust to a new life but also have to understand enough of US work culture and expectations to hold an entry level job. Agencies usually have job orientation classes and employment services to help with this and most refugees are hard workers that do well in entry level work.
We knew that the much lower familiarity with job norms would be difficult for the Somali Bantu and thus they would need some extra time and attention to be ready for the work environment. A partnership with Goodwill Industries meant that several clients got not only a paid training in cleaning work but actual training on machines that were permanent skills they would be able to use in the future. One example of this can be seen a documentary called Rain in a Dry Land that follows one of the single moms from our office as she completes this training. (Photo by WR staff)