Our Story

In 2008 and 2009, Karenni, Karen, Chin, Shan, Mon and Rakhine refugees from Burma started resettling to Iowa after fleeing Burma’s 70-year civil war, the longest running civil-war in the world. Since then, over 1 million people have been forced to flee Burma — and nearly 10,000 refugees from Burma have made Iowa home.

Upon arrival in the United States, refugee families receive about 90 days of assistance from a caseworker to help them learn about their new home. That’s not much time when there’s so much to learn. As refugees continued to arrive from Burma, leaders from the refugee community did all they could to help — but they soon realized that many families were still struggling with day-to-day tasks such as understanding mail, writing checks, getting children to school and learning English.

That’s when 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 longtime friend and volunteer, gathered to discuss their vision of a united refugee organization that understands the strengths and challenges of the community and leads in creating solutions. Together they formed EMBARC in 2011 to provide support from refugees and for refugees through advocacy, education and community development. In January 2013, EMBARC obtained 501(c)(3) status.

Advocacy in Action

EMBARC’s focus on empowerment is based on the principle that lasting support systems and solutions come from within. As the collective voice of different ethnic groups from Burma, EMBARC strives to address shared issues, and work together towards common goals to uplift all communities.

The challenges are many. Though small, Burma is a culturally diverse country with multiple languages and traditions, so, before EMBARC, culturally appropriate services were scarce or nonexistent. Plus, refugees with professional skills and experiences were often unable to find employment because of language barriers and limited opportunities. EMBARC strives to serve as voice, friend, mentor, educator and leader for all the refugees as they make a new home here in Iowa. In addition to a wide range of programs and services, EMBARC staff and volunteers provide linguistically and culturally appropriate workshops and orientations to ethnic community members throughout Iowa to increase understanding of U.S. culture and systems.

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