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Fellow African Refugees Seek Help From Iowa Couple

Parents say the tutoring helps their children learn subjects they cannot teach them.

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They live amid a recent U.S. political climate of suspicion toward immigrants or refugees and confusion over acclimating to America. VOA

Sam and Tricia Gabriel got off work on a dark January evening in Iowa. The temperature outside was -13 degrees Celsius (8 degrees Fahrenheit).

Instead of settling into their cozy suburban townhome with their children, ages 9 and 2, the Gabriels quickly returned to the roads, slick with ice. Tricia drove her car in one direction while Sam drove a 15-passenger van in another, and for the next 1½ hours they picked up 30 children of mostly African refugees from across the Des Moines, Iowa, metropolitan area.

The children, ages 4 to 14, were taken to a local elementary school, where they practiced schoolwork, soccer and dance. Two hours later, Sam and Tricia drove them all back home, returning to their townhome after 10 p.m.

They said they do this every weeknight to help the children adjust to America. They don’t consider it heroic. Not compared to what they endured.

“I see myself in them,” said Sam, 36.

Sam Gabriel founded Genesis Youth Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa, after he was helped as a child from war-torn Liberia. Photo taken Jan. 28, 2019.
Sam Gabriel founded Genesis Youth Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa, after he was helped as a child from war-torn Liberia. Photo taken Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

Childhood in Liberia

As a young boy, he walked all night through the Liberia countryside with his parents, afraid that rebels would kill them. One man was plucked from the crowd and shot before his eyes.

“It was the first time I saw a dead person,” he said. “If they took my father, I would have to pretend not to know him and keep walking.”

Meanwhile, Tricia and her family were of a tribe targeted by rebels and fled to a government military base.

Sam and Tricia’s lives unknowingly ran a parallel course.

Both had lived in Monrovia, Liberia, as young children while civil war raged. Both ended up in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast before coming to Des Moines. Both attended high schools there, until one day they met by accident in the most American of venues — Walmart.

Tricia said she could tell he was a Liberian, even in the crowded aisles of a huge superstore. They talked, fell in love and married in 2011. They had two children while finishing their education at Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines.

But they say they didn’t escape death to settle for the comfort of the American dream. In 2014, the couple launched the Genesis Youth Foundation, a nonprofit that mentors refugee children, who often don’t have the money to participate in youth programs.

The Gabriels use donations or their own money for gas to travel, snacks or soccer uniforms for the children. It’s a tiring mission the couple performs every day, after Sam finishes his work as an Uber driver and Tricia as a nurse at a local retirement community.

But it fills a vital need, said Nicholas Wuertz, director of refugee services at Lutheran Services in Iowa, because “most of the federally funded resources for resettled refugees are for employable adults.”

Refugees in Iowa

Iowa, a mostly rural Midwestern state, is more than 1,600 kilometers from either of the heavily populated U.S. coasts. With a population of more than 3 million people, it ranks 30th among the 50 U.S. states. The state’s economy is rooted in agriculture and manufacturing, but also has diversified to include the insurance and financial industries.

In 2017, there were 18,782 Iowans who had been born in Africa, six times the number from 2000, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In fiscal 2018, 99 of the 110 refugee arrivals to Iowa were from African countries, according to the U.S. Department of State.

They live amid a recent U.S. political climate of suspicion toward immigrants or refugees and confusion over acclimating to America.

Just as the Gabriels said they once did, the children try to adjust to a new country while their parents work long hours.

Sam’s mom worked as hotel housekeeper, his father as a janitor. Sam said he tried to fit in, joining the soccer team in school. But his parents didn’t have the money for travel or uniforms, or even transportation to practices.

Tricia Gabriel, co-founder of Genesis Youth Foundation, hands out snacks to children in the program, in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 28, 2019.
Tricia Gabriel, co-founder of Genesis Youth Foundation, hands out snacks to children in the program, in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

Tricia wore clothes that suited her well in Liberia, but not so much in America. She said she was bullied and mocked in school.

Sam said refugee children feel torn, trying to conform to more American ways at school to avoid being bullied, yet facing pressure at home to carry on their traditions. They are often left feeling they don’t belong anywhere, he adds.

Sam wanted to help. At one point in his childhood in Ivory Coast, he said he ran away from his parents and was wandering homeless when a man he encountered helped him by giving him a place to stay and offering encouragement.

“Because of that man, every time I see young boys going through struggles, I know they need someone like me to help them through the struggle,” he said.

He started in 2009 with what he knew: soccer. At first, he brought together boys, many of whom couldn’t afford to join soccer clubs, for practice. He saw children from several African nations blend over their love of the game. He said he held them accountable for their behavior and for schoolwork, and he saw attitudes change.

Inspired by Sam’s passion, Tricia, 29, got involved, becoming the arts director of programming and adding a choir and dance group. Their small grassroots effort grew into a nonprofit in 2014, and in the past few years they have received a grant as well as a van to pick up the kids.

Abu Bakar of Des Moines brings his own children to Genesis programs after it helped him feel like he belonged and learn to communicate more effectively.
Abu Bakar of Des Moines brings his own children to Genesis programs after it helped him feel like he belonged and learn to communicate more effectively.

‘Hope’ the children give back

“My hope is that the children become better individuals in the community and give back after seeing what we do for them,” Tricia said.

On this frigid night, the school buzzed with activity. Some children played soccer, others danced. Another group huddled over school lessons, helped by a handful of volunteers. The children were born in several different African countries: Liberia, Uganda, Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, Eritrea and Somalia.

Abu Bakar, who joined the group while he was in high school, said it helped him stay out of trouble and build his communication skills after his parents moved to Iowa from Sierra Leone in 2005. Now in his mid-20s, he brings two sons, ages 4 and 5, to play soccer, too.

Other parents say the tutoring helps their children learn subjects they cannot teach them.

Korto Klar, 14, whose parents moved to Iowa from Liberia in 2005, said it helps her to be around other people who make her feel like she belongs.

Also Read: Nigerian Woman Struggle To Become The Country’s First Female President

The dance she is practicing on this frigid night is one she said she will perform in March, during a fundraiser, where refugee parents using their limited incomes and food stamps plan to cook a meal to share with the capital city’s larger community.

Sam said he wants the children to learn from the event: “You can’t be a leader until you           are a servant.” (VOA)

 

Next Story

Experimental Vaccine for Swine Fever Virus Shows Promise

When they deleted this gene, ASFV-G was completely attenuated

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Pigs, Swine Fever, Asia
Almost 5 million pigs in Asia have now died or been culled because of the spread of African swine fever over the past year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Friday, warning Asian nations to keep strict control measures in place. Pixabay

Researchers have developed a vaccine against African swine fever that appears to be far more effective than previously developed vaccines.

Currently, there is no commercially available vaccine against African swine fever, which has been devastating the swine industry in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

African swine fever virus (ASFV) is highly contagious and often lethal to domestic and wild pigs, according to the the study, published in the Journal of Virology.

“This new experimental ASFV vaccine shows promise, and offers complete protection against the current strain currently producing outbreaks throughout Eastern Europe and Asia,” said study researcher Douglas P Gladue from Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture.

The research was motivated by the 2007 outbreak of African swine fever in the Republic of Georgia.

“This was the first outbreak in recent history outside of Africa and Sardinia–where swine fever is endemic–and this particular strain has been highly lethal and highly contagious, spreading quickly to neighboring countries,” Gladue said.

“This is also a new strain of the virus, now known as ASFV-G (the G stands for Georgia),” Gladue added.

chinese pork, african swine fever
Pigs stand in a barn at a pig farm in Jiangjiaqiao village in northern China’s Hebei province on May 8, 2019. Pork lovers worldwide are wincing at prices that have jumped by up to 40 percent as China’s struggle to stamp out African swine fever in its vast pig herds sends shockwaves through global meat markets. RFA

For the findings, researchers set out to develop a vaccine. Part of the process of developing whole virus vaccines involves deleting virulence genes from the virus.

But when the researchers deleted genes similar to those that had been deleted in older ASFV strains to attenuate them, “it became clear that ASFV-G was much more virulent” than the other, historical isolates, because it retained a higher level of virulence, said Gladue.

The researchers then realised they needed a different genetic target in order to attenuate ASFV-G.

They used a predictive methodology called a computational pipeline to predict the roles of proteins on the virus. The computational pipeline predicted that a protein called I177l could interfere with the immune system of the pig.

Also Read: Indoor Dust Bacteria Have Transferrable Antibiotic Resistance Genes, Says Study

When they deleted this gene, ASFV-G was completely attenuated.

In the study, both low and high doses of the vaccine were 100 per cent effective against the virus when the pigs were challenged 28 days post-inoculation, the researchers said. (IANS)