The Children’s Crisis Treatment Center’s West African Refugee Assistance Program, or Tamaa, held its sixth annual community cleanup Wednesday in Southwest Philadelphia. Participants divvied up duties and shared meals, but organizers hope they exchanged much more.
"We've received a lot of feedback from African Americans and different cultural groups about the separation between what we're doing for West Africans versus what we're doing for them, and they kind of see it as different from them," CCTC director of community based services Edith Lopez said.
"That's part of the education we have to give – to help get out a message to respect differences in cultures, but also to recognize the similarities."
Tamaa was rolled out eight years ago after a young West African immigrant was bullied and brutally beaten in Southwest Philadelphia.
The initiative has since grown into a holistic program connecting child refugees and families with social services and community resources.
Tamaa also trains school employees to better recognize and address challenges faced by refugee students.
"The purpose for the family service provider is to get kids and their family acclimated, not only to services but just to the culture here," Lopez said.
"It addresses behavioral health, mental health and socioeconomics, locating and identifying resources, and also different workshops where we kind of work through some of those traumatic issues they experience."
Those include traumas stemming from war-related violence in refugees' home countries, as well as those related to the difficulty of assimilating into a whole new culture that struggles with what Lopez calls "a different type of violence," including street crime and biased-based bullying.
That's why community events like the one held Wednesday are so important, according to Lopez.
"With our cleanups, we try to integrate ourselves into the community, along with the West African population, make ourselves visible and say, 'We're here to help everybody,'" she said.
"We are limited by our program but are trying to help as may people as possible. Community events are open to everybody and cultural groups in the Southwest area come and get to mingle and talk to each other about what's going on."