Nourou Tall fled Mauritania, his northwest Africa homeland, earlier this year to escape oppression and racism that kept him from realizing his dreams.
After an arduous journey that took him from Turkey to Mexico and then by foot to the U.S. border, Nourou, 31, arrived five months ago in Denver, where he has an uncle.
He arrived penniless and jobless, and filed an application for political asylum. It could take years for that application to be processed, and in the meantime he hopes to work, improve his English, and begin building a life for himself. He studied computer science and electrical engineering back home, and would like to finish his education here.
While much of the news coverage about the crisis at the southern border has focused on refugees from Latin America, African refugees have been using the route through Mexico to arrive here as well. The Denver metro area has experienced a significant influx of new immigrants and refugees from Africa this year, and it shows no signs of letting up.
When the African Leadership Group held a resource fair October 27 at its Aurora headquarters, it had serving people like Nourou in mind. Thanks to generous donations from individuals and businesses, the resource fair provided 300 recent arrivals with clothing, food and other staples to help them prepare for their new life here, and for the looming winter.
Nourou, who has never lived in a cold climate, was thankful for the winter clothing he was able to acquire at the resource fair. “I had no clothing or shoes for winter, and I was really impressed that ALG was able to help me with that,” Nourou said.
As a follow-up to the resource fair, ALG will begin offering English classes and life-skills classes to recent arrivals. As soon as the English classes were announced, the organization was flooded with applications – more than 80, all told.
This creates challenges ALG is working to address. The first is simply meeting the demand. The second is designing at least a couple of different programs. Some refugees, like Nourou, arrive here with some education and literacy skills. Others have had little or no formal schooling, and are not literate in their native languages, let alone English.
ALG will also begin offering life skills classes for new arrivals. Many ALG members remember what it was like when they first arrived in the U.S., and had to learn how to navigate systems and structures that were alien to them.
The life skills classes, which are still in the planning stages, will focus on everything from how to conform to U.S. laws to how to write a resume and dress for a job interview. “That’s the whole objective and vision of ALG, to try and integrate people in their life here in the U.S., considering that the life they lived back home is completely different,” said Babayel Diallo, a caseworker.
“Life skills can include how to build credit, how do you budget? But are they ready for that yet, since many of them at this point are just focused on survival, and getting their feet on the ground,” Babayel said.