Refugees from Burma bring challenges and opportunities to Iowa on a scale not previously witnessed in Iowa’s resettlement history. Due to the tremendous diversity in language and cultures, linguistic and culturally appropriate services are scarce and in some cases non-existent. On the other hand, there are refugees that have professional skills and experiences but were unable to find employment because of language barriers and limited opportunities. Communities were also fearful of losing their rich heritage, traditions, culture, and language, as they became more integrated. Leaders in the separate ethnic communities struggled to support their community. In November 2011, seven community advocates from three different ethnic organizations (the Karen Association of Iowa, The Chin Baptist Church and the Karenni association) and Henny Ohr, a Korean-American advocate and long time friend and volunteer, came together to discuss the needs and strengths of their respective communities. Through this meeting, it became clear that what was needed was a community driven, grass roots coalition organization by and for refugees from Burma.
This idea became a reality through EMBARC: Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center. In January 2013, EMBARC obtained 501(c)(3) status. As refugees themselves, the board members know firsthand the struggles, hopes and potential of the refugee community. EMBARC hopes to serve as a voice for their community and as an advocate for their needs.