From Refugee To Neighbor: Stories From the CLE

According to the most recent United Nations report, there are nearly 60 million displaced people in the world, a number that has quadrupled since 2011. This alarming growth is the result of  increased violence worldwide, particularly fueled by the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, the ongoing issues in the Middle East, and violence in parts of Africa and Asia.

In order to bring awareness to this issue, the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland (RSC) held an event on June 20th, World Refugee Day, featuring five short films chronicling refugees and organizations in the Cleveland area. The 14 organizations that make up the RSC were represented at The Beck Center, including Lakewood City Schools, Catholic Charities, Building Hope In The City, and Global Cleveland, among many others. Tom Mrosko of Catholic Charities opened the event, and was followed by Peter Schindler of the Community West Foundation, Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, Brian Upton (representing Frank Jackson), and creative director for the films, Jimmy Fallish. All of these people and others praised the work of the RSC and their commitment to making Cleveland great for refugees.

The first film was created by Chelsie Corso. It tells the story of Dee Salukambo, an aspiring Olympian from the Congo. The film follows his running career from Denison University, where his coaches greatly aided him, and continue to do so, to his current issues involving citizenship and competing for spots on various Olympic teams. Dee now lives in East Cleveland with his family, who were at the event.

Paul Sabota’s “Extended Family” introduced the crowd to Alida Struze, a Parma woman who was adopted as a baby. She now “adopts” people herself, especially ethnic Karen from Burma. Over 300 members of this ethnic group reside in the Cleveland area, and Struze acts as grandmother figure for the refugees. She is affectionately called “Kiki”, which means “grandmother”.

“Rangers United”, created by Chris Langer, focuses on the Ohio Rangers Football Club. The organization was created by Lakewood residents Bill Gregg, Eric Teets, and Ken Lipka in 2011. The teams allow for refugee kids to become active and have fun with their American peers, while assimilating to American culture through soccer. The organization currently serves around 80 kids and teenagers 4 to 18 years old.

Qussay “Q” Ali was an interpreter working and fighting with American troops during the Iraq War. “The Interpreter” by Kevin Kerwin shows Ali’s transition to life in Cleveland with his family. Ali now works with other refugees to help them get the services they need, from housing to education, and beyond. Ali’s belief that “Refugees are not here to hurt anyone” is backed up by many local and national reports and statistics showing the economic and cultural benefits of integrating refugees.

The final film of the event, “Ashmita Finds A Home” featured Ashmita Samal and her sister, two refugees who left their lives in Nepal for a chance at success in Cleveland Heights. While narrative focuses mainly on Ashmita, her sister is in the soundtrack, singing traditional Nepalese songs. This film was put together by Robert Banks.

The RSC wants to make Cleveland a national leader for refugee resettlement by responsibly increasing the amount of refugees and creating a welcoming community for those displaced by violence and other conflicts. The RSC wants to spread the message about their work with refugees and invites any group to contact them to have the short films shown. More information about the organization and their work is available at

Evan Harms

I'm a 17 year old from Bay Village who has an interest in journalism, and I plan on studying it in college. I am interested in cultural things, as well as music, but I can write about anything if I find it interesting.

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Volume 11, Issue 14, Posted 3:05 PM, 07.07.2015