While screens around the world depict a devastated Afghanistan, one Riverside non-profit sets its sights on the work yet to be done for refugee families in the Inland Empire and those who might soon arrive.
Dr. Selin Nielsen is the co-founder and president of Glocally Connected, an organization that builds communities by bridging tangible gaps between refugees and their new environment. It was at the height of an internationally-recognized crisis for Syrian refugees in 2015 when she found that no group or entity focused on reaching refugees in the Riverside area and decided to start one herself.
She recognizes the similarities between the year she established Glocally Connected and the one Afghans are in now. Throughout the Inland Empire, the organization serves around 40 refugee families or individuals, half of which are Afghan.
“There is a woman we serve who told us that had she not discovered Glocally Connected, she would have chosen to go back into Afghanistan, because at least she knew how to function there,” Nielsen said. “What people want when they come here is to just know how to contribute to society.”
Completely volunteer-run and without federal funding, Nielsen and her team utilize any resources at their disposal to offer a myriad of services.
From English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, employment and small-business mentorship, health education workshops, tutoring in any grade level to everyday childcare, Nielsen’s small group of volunteers lead it all.
“We’ve helped women start small businesses, mentored others as they obtained their U.S. citizenship, and we’ve really helped people be invested in their communities,” she said.
She went on to say that many refugees they work with have collaborated to serve like cooking meals for Riverside’s homeless or making hundreds of masks to be donated throughout Riverside.
“They’ve made so many blankets for other refugees we’re connected to in Turkey, a country who hosts the most refugees in the world– somewhere around four million,” she said.
From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, even when the organization could not meet in person, Glocally Connected worked to serve refugees in Riverside.
“Volunteer tutors would help refugee children over Zoom in the subjects they were falling behind in,” Nielsen said. “We maintained our ESL courses over Zoom so they could practice language, and we organized massive food donations and distributions for families stuck in their homes.”
Now, what the non-profit needs most is Riversiders’ time.
“We need volunteers,” Nielsen said. “We need childcare providers and drivers who can pick up moms that don’t have cars. We need conversation partners, tutors for the kids and basic accountants.”
By spreading out even the most basic of tasks, the founder said her job could be more productive. As of now, she carries the burdens of running administration as well as the organization.
“I want people here to be aware of refugees and their need for our help,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many volunteers have shared that they were enriched because they learned about these peoples’ lives, their struggles and their hope as they integrate into life here.”
Glocally Connected also recently devloped a phone application that connects refugees in the area to many services they may need. Ways Riversiders can get involved are best found by reaching out through their website or social accounts.