Improvements to ‘Africa House’ revealed to community

Learn more about this unique resource center, which helps newcomers better adapt to their new home …

This newly-refurbished building is a resource center for those just-arrived in the country, or for those who have been otherwise under-served by community resources.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
You’re not alone, if you’ve driven past this outer East Portland “house” on NE 102nd Avenue, just north of NE Glisan Street – and wondered how this Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) Skill Center helps members of the community.

After we accepted an invitation to tour IRCO Africa House during their open house held on May 31, all became clear about its purpose and those it is intended to serve.

Welcoming guests and supporters to Africa House are Derartu Debo, Samrawit Dagne, and Mariam Noor.

“Africa House is a one-stop service center providing an array of social services for newly-arrived refugees and their families in Portland,” said Program Manager Djimet Dogo, who arrived here several years ago from Chad.

“When people come here, they’re struggling because of the language barrier, and because they don’t know how to use of the system here,” Dogo told East Portland News. “They need someone to guide them, educating them on how to navigate the system here.”

This assistance includes helping newcomers obtain official identification, get into a place to live, and get their children be matriculated in school.

Africa House Director Djimet Dogo spends a moment with IRCO Executive Director Sokhom Tauch and Africa House Board Chair Gerry Uba.

Many of the families they serve have lived in refugee camps for multiple generations – some as long as four decades, Dogo said “Some of the refugees were actually born in the camps and got raised up and got married in the refugee camp.

“They’ve never seen a doctor,” Dogo continued. “The American healthcare system is very complex, and they don’t understand. We have to help them and educate them, and explain to them how things work here.”

This mid-County center also helps families learn healthy eating, he added. “Since they don’t have this kind of infrastructure in the refugee camps, when they come here they need somebody to guide them, and to orient them in so many ways.”

Guests help themselves to a smorgasbord of Ethiopian dishes.

Africa House is one of IRCO’s five service branches, established October, 2006 specifically to help under-served African people.

“But, two years ago, we ‘opened up’ to other communities like the Bhutanese, the Nepalese, and the Iraqis,” explained Dogo. “With this ‘open policy’, if anyone needs help, we invite them to stop by Africa House. If we cannot serve them, we will refer them to other programs that can help.”

Africa House serves as many as 1,600 people a year. And, during the last six years, they’ve served an astonishing 7,000 refugee families, informed Dogo.

Serving as event DJ, Africa House staff member Emmanuel Bokuro keeps lively and culturally-appropriate tunes playing.

Originally, the program was started with seed money from the Federal Office of Resettlement. “They funded us for six years. Now we are getting funding from the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and United Way. We also accept donations from foundations and individuals.”

Dogo was also quick to thank the Portland Development Commission, which paid for the remodeling of the building in Gateway, including a new sign and a covered entryway.

Africa House Director Djimet Dogo thanks supporters for supporting the work of the unique organization.

During his brief remarks to the open house attendees, Dogo recalled how they’d started with a couple of staff members, a volunteer, and three desks. “Because of confidentiality, they had to ask other people to go out of the office when we’d talk to clients.”

They’d shared the structure with an IRCO Youth Center – and they are proud and happy that the entire building is now dedicated to the mission of Africa House.

To the group Dogo said, “This is all thanks to your efforts – volunteers, funders, staff and board.”

IRCO Africa House
631 NE 102nd Avenue
(503) 802-0082
Learn more from their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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