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New 'Guidebook' helps refugees resettle in SoCal

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It looks like a standard spiral-bound notebook. It's 118 pages long, thick cardstock, colorful pages and a TON of illustrations. But it's targeting a very specific audience: refugees coming to Southern California.

Monica Curca is one of the brains behind "The Refugees Welcome Guidebook: The Greater Los Angeles Area." Driven by her own experience, she helped come up with the idea for the project:

"We came to the United States from Romania as refugees in 1982 and my parents were political activists. They came to America and we resettled in Garden Grove. Garden Grove has been a historically very welcoming city. One neighbor brought a paper with different addresses and resources on it: where the post office was, where the social security office was, some congregations, thrift stores ... and for my parents, they found that to be the most precious gift because now they had something to be able to support them in integration. 

And so when we were thinking about the refugee guidebook I was always thinking back to this. What would it be to not just say, 'we welcome you, refugees' but actually have a physical document that shows refugees what life is like in Southern California."

We caught up with her yesterday in Glendale, outside a "World Refugee Day" event where she was showing off the book.

To pull it together, Monica said she worked with Rashad Al-Dabbagh, director of the Arab American Civic Council. 

"We really didn't know exactly what we were doing. We just did it step by step so we partnered with World Relief and other resettlement agencies and they really helped us with some sections. But we put this out on social media and that kind of got us going and so we held data parties."

The "data parties" hosted anywhere from five to 30 people. As a group, they'd cobble together all kinds of information.

Essentially, they crowdsourced it. 

"We basically asked the participants to just use Google docs and put down different addresses and resources for about 60 different categories like hospitals and doctors and parks and hiking areas."

That information, written out in English and Arabic, is categorized into three major sections:

"The first one is basic services. We really leaned into our refugee resettlement agencies like World Relief and they really helped us with what refugees need. 

The next section was Eat, Shop, Play. It has restaurants and Halal markets and then we also increased it and did cheaper affordable or free fun things for families.

The last section is resilient communities and for me, creating communities that are resilient, that can support each other, that can withstand crises is my life's passion and work and so the resilient community section gives a lot of information for refugees that are in a way things that are stigmatized in Arab or Muslim culture or even within refugee communities like domestic violence and PTSD and mental health, depression ... even suicide prevention. These kind of more difficult topics, we present them and we also offer them resources that they can go get support and help."

The last section is particularly close to Monica's heart. She wrote a lot of it based on personal experience:

"I was sitting and writing this and I was just starting to cry and to tear up because I realized how much we have to deconstruct and leave behind of our culture to be successful in America and that's the pain and the loss that many refugees face every day. It's not necessarily negative or positive, it's very different though."

For now, "The Refugees Welcome Guidebook" is only available in hardcopy, but a web and app version will be released soon. Further down the line, it's Monica's goal to translate the book into other languages and use it as a blueprint for other communities.

 The official launch party of the book is tonight in Anaheim. For more information, click here.

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.