A Gap, A Window, Pistachio Cardamom, Why Refugees part2


First things first: March is here, and along with it Pistachio Cardamom, which is already on its way to granola-of-the-month customers.

I really love this recipe. I pan-toasted, hand peeled, and ground the cardamom myself. We used dates, toasted pistachios, pistachio oil, a few drops of rose water, and no cranberries, raisins, or almonds. (Don’t let the rose water scare you. Americans steer clear of flowery smells in their food, but this is nothing like Crabtree and Evelyn. Think of it as summer arriving; a whiff of Newport’s wild roses on a warm breeze. Check the bottom of this post for the full ingredients.

Evon Nano, an Iraqi refugee and one of our first employees, and now our shift manager, collaborated with me to invent this recipe. Last year, when Evon discovered an Egyptian pyramid on the label, I had a bit of explaining to do. Geoff and I had intended a little shout out to the heroes of Tahrir Square. Evon, thankfully, is understanding.

This time we’ve tipped our hats to Evon’s Assyrian ancestry with a rendition of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. For those that don’t know, Assyrians are a largely Christian and historically persecuted minority group who speak a form of Aramaic, the language of first century Palestine. They account for about 5% of Iraq’s population, yet make up nearly forty percent of Iraqi refugees (according to some UN statistics). And they have a long history of suffering persecution—and not just from Saddam Hussein’s regime. By some counts, up to 750 thousand were killed in a genocide by the armies of the Ottoman Empire. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/assyrian-christians-most-vulnerable-population-in-iraq-23863/)

Secondly: Part 2 of “Why Refugees?” (skip down an entry for part 1)… in which I try to maintain that we are not as crazy as we might seem.

Sure, the granola part is a little nuts (har, har), but there are some serious strategic reason for creating a business whose primary goal is to function as an “on-ramp” to employment.

A GAP IN RESOURCES: One encouraging thing about Providence is the comprehensive network of services being built for refugees. This includes, among other things, job-readiness classes and job development/placement services. But the gap in these services, as I see it, is paid, on-the-job training.

That this gap exists shouldn’t be a surprise. Most resettlement agencies don’t have a mission to start or run businesses. Likewise, few businesses can make it their mission to help refugees.

So refugees can easily get stuck in a classroom for too long, which can feel terribly abstract (or frightening or purposeless) to them in a way that inhibits genuine learning. Or they might get stuck without the tools to figure out a next step in the kind of entry-level job that creates no opportunity for ongoing education or upward mobility.

I am even more convinced now than when I started, that paid on-the-job training is the way to fill the gap—which means that a double bottom-line business (such as a small granola company, or a restaurant like Abyssinia on Wickendon) can be among the most effective, efficient, smoothest, and quickest ways to help refugees enter the employment system. It sounds simple. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t cost much. Yet where else do the concerns of resettlement agencies, social programs, local consumers, and, most importantly, the immediate needs and long-term goals of refugees all align? And it provides refugees a chance to fulfill their dream of integrated and becoming self-sufficient, contributing Americans.

A WINDOW IN TIME: Time matters. Refugees have had to focus almost single-mindedly, sometimes for decades, on getting to a safe place. Now that they’re here, most are completely blindsided by how unprepared they are to enter the job market.

A thought experiment—to put ourselves in refugees’ shoes: suppose our lives and society split apart, (maybe a bit like Homs, Syria these days) leaving us jobless, exposed, hiding our children in basements, pooling our money, plotting our escape to, let’s say, the Lost Republic of Hollywood, where, rumor has it, everything is wonderful. And escape we do—and it takes everything we've got—only to find that we can’t speak the language, and everyone uses gadgets we don’t understand, and people act in strange, perplexing ways, and shout at us when we don’t understand and everything costs more than we seem able to make, and our kids are terribly disoriented… you get the idea. How long would we be happy in a Republic classroom? Or doing a job that takes all our time and still doesn’t pay our bills?

I am constantly blown away by the resiliency of refugees. But resilience has its limits. Hope and motivation fade when met with a sense of being “stuck” as individuals, families, and communities at the bottom. Refugee children (particularly older children with no first-language literacy) who have already been exposed to war and violence need to see their parents making progress to resist the pull of apathy or gangs. The costs of doing nothing can be far-reaching.

The good news, and flip side, of course, is that even a minimal investment in filling the gap and providing a path to meaningful employment for refugees could impact entire communities for multiple generations. A big win for all of us.

I'm not quite done. There’s another reason why refugees are a uniquely strategic community to assist… but already this is too long. It will have to wait until Part 3.

Thanks for reading. As always, your comments and feedback are deeply appreciated.


Ingredients: oats (org), honey (pesticide-free from Aquidneck Island), dates, granulated cane juice, coconut (org), sesame seeds (org), sunflower seeds (org), wheat germ, oat bran (org), barley (org), pistachio oil, canola oil (org), walnuts, pistachios, pecan meal, flax seeds (org), oat fiber, vanilla, sea salt, cardamom, rose water, nutmeg, almond extract.