Peddling their way to self-sufficiency

Peddling their way to self-sufficiency
Refugees try out bicycles they received from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden. The program, made possible through a grant from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, will give 50 bicycles, complete with helmets and locks, to refugees who have no easy or economical access to transportation. Photo by Joanna Gardner

Refugees try out bicycles they received from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden. The program, made possible through a grant from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, will give 50 bicycles, complete with helmets and locks, to refugees who have no easy or economical access to transportation.
Photo by Joanna Gardner

Barbara Maria Ramirez came to the U.S. in February, a political refugee from Cuba. Three weeks ago, she landed a job at a car wash, but without a car or even a driver’s license, she walked to work, a half hour commute one way.

That all changed last week when Ramirez became the first of a group of refugees resettled by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden to receive a “Self-Sufficiency Cycle.” The program, made possible through a grant from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, will give 50 bicycles, complete with helmets and locks, to refugees served by Catholic Charities.

Ramirez says the bike will cut her commute time in half, in addition to being a safer way to travel.

“This is the only transportation we have in Cuba,” she jokes in Spanish. “It reminds me of home. I’m very grateful and happy. I believe I’m indebted to Catholic Charities and I don’t know how to say thank you for all of your kindness.”

She received her bicycle in a group with other refugees resettled by the agency from Cuba, Syria and Burma. They listened to a bike safety presentation given by Catholic Charities’ staff that was simultaneously interpreted into Spanish, Burmese and Arabic.

“It’s just another day in the life of our program,” said Kaitlyn Muller, director of Refugee and Immigration Services for Catholic Charities, as she participated in the multi-lingual training.

“Our clients come from all over the world, but they want the same things: safety, stability, the ability to become self-sufficient and independent so that they can provide for their families and contribute to their communities,” Muller said. “It’s wonderful when we can provide unique programs, like these bikes, that help bring them closer to those goals.”

Achek Alkhlef came to the U.S. from Syria in April with his family, the first family from that country, which faces a refugee crisis, to be resettled by Catholic Charities.

As a new arrival, Alkhlef is still seeking employment and will need to wait at least six months before he can apply for a driver’s license, and longer before he can afford a car. In Syria, he drove trucks, but he often used a bike to get around.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said he would use the bike to go shopping, for exercise, and to get to appointments. He wants to apply for a driver’s license and buy a car in the future, but for now this is a great solution for him, he says.

“I’m very happy and excited,” Alkhlef says. “This means I will not stay at home. I will be able to go places and explore my new town.”

Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program resettles approximately 100 refugees each year from all over the world and is the only refugee resettlement service provider in Southern New Jersey. To learn more, visit CatholicCharitiesCamden.org/Refugee-Immigration.

Allegany Franciscan Ministries, located in Palm Harbor, Fla., is a foundation established in the vision and tradition of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany.

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