When Kathleen Chavoor-Bergen learned there were Syrians in Fresno, she immediately volunteered to help out. She’s Armenian-American, so she understands something about war and displacement. Her own grandparents survived the Armenian genocide by fleeing to Aleppo, Syria.
“If it wasn’t for Aleppo, I wouldn’t be here today,” says Chavoor-Bergen.
She’s translated that gratitude into befriending several Syrian refugee families in Fresno. “It’s really the least I can do. They [Syrians in Aleppo] opened their arms to my family, and now I’m opening my arms to theirs.”
Chavoor-Bergen is also educating the community. She educates public school counselors about the recent migration of Syrian refugees to Fresno. She wants the counselors to understand that more than half of displaced Syrians are children, most under the age of 12. Many of them are now enrolled in Fresno schools — some have been wounded, burned or have witnessed violence.
“They’ve endured the destruction of their homes and communities, survived forced displacement. Part of the complexity of their trauma is that it went from their home maybe in Aleppo to the [refugee] camps and the extreme vetting process,” Chavoor-Bergen says.
And on to resettlement areas like San Diego, Sacramento and Turlock. Now, some of those families are deciding on their own to move to Fresno. Housing is cheaper here, and there’s a large and welcoming Arab-American community.
But Fresno is not a resettlement city — meaning it receives no federal funding to help refugees start over — so volunteers and advocacy groups are scrambling to keep up.
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