About 40 refugees joined more than 20 volunteers a couple weeks ago to learn more about potential jobs and build relationships as they look for work in Durham. The John O’Daniel Exchange building was a busy place on Saturday, as World Relief Durham hosted our first Employment Skills Workshop.

Volunteers from the community shared their knowledge, skills and resources with refugees anxious to find employment.The refugees separated into groups based on language and rotated through five different sections. David Benfield, owner of Brightside Bamboo, a company he started over a year ago, showed refugees a slideshow of what working for his company entails. Hillary Winter helped lead a session on working in the restaurant industry, drawing on her experiences as a server and hostess. The other three workshops offered the refugees information about how to find and keep a job in housekeeping, sewing, and landscaping and construction. The volunteers also made a point to emphasize employment basics.

Professional attire, strong work ethic and English speaking skills apply to all areas of work, they pointed out. “We are ready to do any type of job,” one Somali refugee said. Most refugees come to the U.S. willing to work as soon as possible, and it’s easy to get discouraged when language barriers and the job market make the search difficult. Taking English classes and developing job skills are necessary, but often frustrating, steps that refugees have to take.

Around 40 refugees came out to the event on Saturday, all highly motivated and ready to learn. Many took notes during the sessions, and enjoyed standing up to introduce themselves in English. The Karen women enjoyed making bags in the sewing workshop, and many refugees were able get contact information from volunteers to help their job search. David Benfield recognized that refugees are hard workers, and exclusively hires Burmese refugees at Brightside Bamboo. He said he initially saw it as a good idea, and then it became his mission. He found that bamboo is an underutilized resource, useful as food as well as timber. One bamboo plant can be harvested hundreds of times, compared with about thirty for other hardwood. It is also protein-rich and can aid in weight-loss. Bamboo is mostly imported from China, although the Southeastern U.S. has a similar temperate climate, which can grow up to 400 varieties of bamboo.

David found a way to combine business with missions, and was able to speak to a group of Burmese men seeking employment at Saturday’s event. As an employer, David is looking for refugees with strong English skills. Alyssa, a Ph.D. student at Duke who is learning Arabic, met a refugee from Iraq who reads and writes English very well, but needs help with professional conversational English. Alyssa and the refugee decided to begin a language exchange in Arabic and English. Partnering up with refugees not only builds relationships, but can help them acquire important job skills through something as simple as practicing their English. Come meet refugees at our next event, Portrait Day on February 4th! Thanks so much to all the volunteers who made this day possible!