Who are our neighbors?

By Jennifer McClain

“You must begin with the stories,” said the Rev. Isaac Seelam during a recent talk  at First Parish Malden. As a visiting guest at the First Parish Malden, Rev. Seelam was there to explain the mission of Refugee Immigration Ministry, which provides refugees and asylum seekers job preparation, case management and immigrant support.

“We had a woman who was kidnapped, taken from her family and friends and held for a period of time..she lost her humanity. Somehow she escaped,”  said Rev. Seelam, the Coordinator for Congregational Development at RIM and who works with the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts in partnership with RIM. The woman found out about an opportunity to go to America for a conference and was told for her own safety to “go and not come back.”

First Parish Malden will host a fundraiser for the Refugee Immigration Ministry on Thursday, May 10, at the parish, 2 Elm St., featuring several participating interfaith choirs: Tickets: $20, Students $10.

“These are people who can not go back to their own countries, said Rev. Seelam. The reasons are many: Some refugees are escaping war, other are fleeing persecution, and natural disasters that leave unsteady governments and unsavory conditions. RIM in Malden is a community, faith-based organization that offers services to those who have fled their own countries and are seeking asylum here in the United States. “Research has shown that when someone has lost everything, they hold on to their faith. RIM’s faith-based approach builds collaboration between community faith groups in order to provide support to each client from his or her own faith,” according to the RIM website. 

A decision to grant asylum from the United States government should take up to 6 months, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Some asylum seekers wait just 6 months but many wait more than that and in that time they are not allowed to be employed. That is when RIM is most valuable for asylum seekers and offers services tailored to those needs.

RIM was started in 1986 in Malden and offers several services. First, RIM helps with the basic needs of housing in a cluster model. The cluster is a community-based resettlement plan that is made up of collaborating groups that offer furnished housing, food, transportation, community support and friendship. These clusters serve an immediate need but also a community framework for a successful future.

This network also includes spiritual care givers, job preparation and case management. Job preparation includes getting all of the pieces in place for when they can find employment because there status as a citizen is granted. These are resume help, how to interview, volunteer work and referrals for job placement. Professional case management is another of RIM’s services based on a client-centered model. The case management is guided by professionals and volunteer based.

Rev. Seelam introduced himself as an immigrant from India where the traditional greeting is “Namaste.” He explained that the translation for that greeting is “I see the light of God in you.” He ended his talk by saying,  “What we do is taking the asylum seekers who have fled atrocities and things we do not even know” and for those “who think they have no value and tell them that they are someone of worth.”

Below is a video clip from last year’s concert to benefit the Refugee Immigration Ministry. It features the Malden High School Choral Society singing with Boston’s Jewish Community Chorus.

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  1. How the Refugee Immigration Ministry helps asylum seekers: An interview with Reverend Isaac Seelam – Neighborhood View

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