By: Paul Suter Issue: Resource Management Section: Community
The Center for Immigrants & Immigration Services
Nine years ago, Augustin Niamkey came to Colorado from the Ivory Coast on a church mission. In the midst of his journey, word came that war had broken out in his homeland and that he would not be able to return to his country. It was devastating news, but Niamkey accepted the challenge and focused on making a new life in Colorado.
Niamkey’s story is not uncommon. In fact, every year scores of African immigrants—many of whom have survived torture, rape, war trauma, human trafficking, and other forms of human rights abuses—find asylum in Colorado. They come here with little more than the clothes on their backs and the hope of being able to establish a new life in the modern world. For some, that prospect can be as overwhelming and as frightening as the conditions they escaped in their native countries.
Fortunately, these African immigrants are not alone. A local organization, the Center for Immigrants and Immigration Services (CIIS), is helping to make the transition from third world conditions into the 21st century easier for these immigrants and is finding incredible support from the local community along the way. Individuals, companies and organizations have become familiar with the work of CIIS and have donated time, money and resources to CIIS’s important and life-saving work.
One of the more significant challenges for CIIS and the incredible survivors it supports is the ability to adapt to modern society and understand the technology that fills most of our daily lives. While searching the internet, finding friends on Facebook, enjoying YouTube videos, or getting LinkedIn is commonplace for many of us, the immigrants who come to CIIS sometimes don’t know the difference between a television screen and a computer monitor. They are decades behind the technology revolution.
According to Frederick Jayweh, an immigrant from Liberia who established CIIS in Colorado in 2009, it is critical for the immigrants to learn about modern technology for many reasons, including everything from finding a job to avoiding the scams that are rampant across the internet. “Many of the immigrants who come to CIIS don’t know how to turn on a computer, much less how to use technology to its full capacity,” said Jayweh, who was a practicing attorney in Liberia before coming to the United States. “They want to learn the very basics so they can complete job applications online and better adapt to modern society. Our greatest challenge was finding a person or group who could provide the essential technology training to the people who so desperately want to learn.”
In December 2010, Jayweh submitted a request for a grant from the Rose Community Foundation’s Roots & Branches Program. As part of the process, he and some of the staff of CIIS were interviewed by a review committee that was charged with the responsibility of awarding the available grants. One of the committee members was a gentleman named Yosh Eisbart, a technology expert and co-founder, along with his business partner Michael Pytel, of the fast growing, Denver-based tech company, NIMBL.
Jayweh continued, "Following the review process, we were awarded the grant, and a few days later, I received a call from Eisbart saying that he wanted to help us with our technology needs,” said Jayweh. “It was like the frosting on the cake to get that call!"
“Before I knew it, Pytel, Eisbart, and the NIMBL team had established a new database for us and had recruited the help of Evolution Marketing Group to create a new website for CIIS. They also committed their technology experts to come to CIIS twice a month and instruct computer classes. We feel very fortunate and are incredibly grateful.”
“We deal with very complex technology issues on a daily basis, so this is a great way to not only help people, but also return to, and appreciate the very basics of what technology can do for all people,” explains Eisbart, whose company helps small businesses, as well as Fortune 100 companies maximize their business operations via technology. “Our team includes some of the world’s brightest tech minds, and yet they all love the opportunity to teach these courses and explain how to double-click on an icon, attach a document or search Craig’s List. It’s somewhat of an escape for them, but they also appreciate being able to help these new students of technology.”
So far, Niamkey has attended about a dozen classes at CIIS. He started his own janitorial services business a few years ago, and wanted to learn more about technology and how he could apply it to his business. He also wanted to avoid internet scams, like the one he had previously fallen victim to.
“My countrymen were in need of automobiles to transport war refugees from the Ivory Coast border to refugee camps in Ghana,” Niamkey begins his story. “I was here in the United States, and worked to find cars that could be purchased and delivered to my friends in Ghana. We found three cars on the internet that were perfect for our needs and paid a total of $12,300 for all of them. They arrived safely in Ghana, but when my friends tried to start the cars, nothing happened. They opened the hoods, and there weren’t any engines!” Niamkey smiles about the mistake, but also points out that many people—immigrants and longtime U.S. citizens alike—still get taken by unscrupulous characters who victimize people via the internet.
“I want to learn about and better prepare myself for the dangers of the internet,” he says since he fell victim to a fraudulent check scam not too long ago. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can.”
The technology classes at CIIS began in early summer of 2011, and so far nearly three dozen immigrants have been attending on a regular basis. All of the individuals have experienced extreme hardship and welcome their new home in Colorado and the world of technology with open arms. One of the students who recently arrived from Libya has already learned how to use Skype. He made it a priority, as his wife and three young children are still in Libya and hope to soon join their father in Colorado. In the meantime, they can still enjoy an attachment to one another thanks to another amazing advancement in technology.
“The work that the NIMBL team is doing is highly essential to the integration and settlement process for the immigrants,” said Jayweh. “The immigrants have as few as nine months to prove that they have the skills necessary to find work in the United States, and computer skills are obviously high on that list. Because of these classes, they are learning how to create Word documents, network, develop resumes and generally become computer literate. Many of these people are the survivors of terrible atrocities and are thankful for the opportunities in the United States. The work of the CIIS and of NIMBL is helping them to discover an entirely new world for themselves and their families.”
Niamkey has already learned a great deal at the computer classes, and on a recent snowy day was settling in to better understand Excel. However, he freely admits he is not the most advanced computer student, even in his own family. His two children, Fidele (8) and Emmanuel (14), have been taking computer classes of their own at school, and like almost any parent, he is finding that his children are much more adept at computers than he is.
“They’re more advanced than me! I’m not sure I can keep up with them anymore!”
The Center for Immigrants and Immigration Services was established on October 1, 2009 to provide curative and rehabilitative services to all immigrants and their families in Colorado who are survivors of torture, asylum seekers, war trauma survivors, and victims of other forms of human rights abuses including human trafficking victims. CIIS works with those who have treatment options or recuperative centers to help them recover and heal from the wounds of torture. CIIS provides immigration and legal services, social support and community resources, health care, mental and counseling, and research and multicultural training services. Please visit the new CIIS website at www.ciisdenver.org.
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