Refugees, Employment, & a Front Row Seat to Resilience

Written by Dan Peterson //

A collection of things occur both internally and externally when a person is forced to flee in order to secure the safety of both their own life and that of their family. The journey and traumas along the way often lead a person to deeply question their self-efficacy. A primary goal of World Relief is to restore this trust in oneself; we operate from a firm belief that we exist as a guide and a partner. We are not the primary player in this story of resilience; we simply have a front row seat.

World Relief has an extensive network of services that address many needs of those who have undergone one form of forced migration or another. In the World Relief office that serves those in Chicagoland Suburbs, we focus on the many areas that help a person integrate after they have gone through the trauma of forced migration.

We understand that those experiencing forced migration have been through enormous stressors and therefore need their load to be lightened for a period of time. Instead of questioning the resiliency of the clients we serve, we desire to provide the resources to correct the injustice of a life torn away. We assist them as they begin the long road of rebuilding a life that will never truly be the same.

My specific role as an employment specialist targets the self-doubt that at times is palpable. Acts of injustice have an insidious power to embed themselves deep within an individual. When choice and control over a person’s life are violently stolen, injustice plants its evil roots, eventually manifesting itself in the form of self-doubt. We desire to restore an individual’s awareness of the strength that they possess — a strength clearly evident from our viewpoint if not always from their own.

Often this work of justice amounts to re-establishing opportunity. It’s not as much a matter of what we are doing for our clients, but how we can provide them with the opportunity to harness their own strength to succeed. Frequently, there exists a misconception that the work of justice is a story of us serving them; us being privileged and them being vulnerable. In employment services, we adamantly refuse to establish vulnerabilities as a primary focus, instead we highlight the strengths within the clients. The mentality of vulnerability doesn’t frame our work because it simply does not reflect the entire picture. The full picture reveals people of strength in need of opportunity, we simply open the door while they stride through.

Upon arrival, we help enroll the clients in English training and work preparation. They are enrolled into a community orientated class to learn English and US workplace culture alongside others who hold similar migration experiences. This is class offers a support system for those overcoming injustice through the intentional establishment of community. We see friendships formed between people from countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal and Sudan among many others. This “culture of belongingness” is particularly crucial, preparing a person to adjust to a new home. We are privileged to see resilient people band together as they take on the rigorous acquisition of a foreign language and grapple with the many nuances of a new culture.

Securing a job becomes a true benchmark on the road to independence. We stand with them as they interview in this new language, fill out applications, and head to their first day of work. We firmly believe that employment has the power to restore dignity and fulfilment in the heart of individuals and we operate on this basis; insistent this restoration helps to beat back the strong forces of injustice in the lives of our partners on this path of restoration.

Our office also offers wrap around assistance in many ways. We stand by these individuals by helping to arrange appropriate housing for their arrival. We beat back the cycle of a stolen education by enrolling children in school, often for the first time. Individuals dealing with trauma have access to a center highly trained of trauma counselors who help them process and grieve in a safe place. Our services coordinate to bring the clients access to appropriate medical care. Each of these aspects is specifically tooled to address crucial effects of oppression made present by injustice. Each of these services done to simply open the door to the awareness of a client’s own self-efficacy.

World Relief DuPage/Aurora fights to beat back the forces of injustice that linger in the lives of the individuals we serve. We refuse to believe that injustice will always have a powerful grip on these individuals’ lives. We are compelled to reverse the effects that attempt to sabotage the potential for fullness of life that is available to the individuals that have been brought to us.


Dan Peterson currently works as an Early Employment Specialist for World Relief Dupage/Aurora. He has been in this role since January 2016. Before working for World Relief, Dan graduated from Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies in Tasmania, Australia, where he received a B.A. of Cross-Cultural Studies. Dan is currently a comments columnist for Christian Today Australia as well as a peer advisor for Higher. In his free time Dan enjoys reading a variety of genres, discovering good coffee, and dreaming of the future.

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