Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Teacher Training

As part of the teacher preparation program redesign, the UW Graduate School of Elementary Education has created the Alliance of Community Teachers (ACT) which will be placing prospective elementary teachers in community-based organizations to complement their school-based field experiences.

CISC has been chosen as one of 3 ethnic minority organizations that the school will work with over the next three years.

The goals of the project are to:

1) Build connections between prospective teachers, community organizations and local schools
2) Give prospective teachers opportunities to develop holistic and assets-based view of children and youth
3) Acknowledge education and learning as a process that occurs in multiple contexts and
4) Place students, families, neighborhoods and communities at the center of the teaching and education.

We are very excited about this new partnership and look forward to the impact it will have on the youth and families we serve!

Belgium - Last Thoughts

After a long set of flights back to the US and waiting nearly 48 hours for the luggage to arrive, some final thoughts on our trip to Belgium last week.

We saw and learned so much about Belgian government(s), society, and issues around immigrant integration in such a short time, it is really very hard to come to any sort of conclusions. But there are a couple of things that did become very clear:

#1 Belgium does have the best chocolate in the world (it wasn't all work and no play...)

#2 Their beer is pretty darn good too. Didn't try all 550 kinds, but the ones we had were quite smakelijk!

More seriously, it seems, from what we could glean in one short week, that some of the issues of integration are linked to a perspective that requires immigrants (and their Belgian born offspring, often 2nd and 3rd generation) to make changes to adapt to mainstream society, sometimes giving up critical parts of their identity, while there are few efforts to change in the receiving society to ensure that immigrants are welcome and treated equitably.

There are many wonderful government sponsored programs in place to help immigrants assimilate into their new community.

But we also heard from some of these 2nd and 3rd generation allochtoonen that despite the fact that they were born in Belgium, speak Flemish, French, English and Arabic fluently, are university educated, and gainfully employed, as seems to be required to be considered "integrated" by Belgian society, they still felt less than welcome, still experienced much discrimination, and were overall treated much like second class citizens in many situations.Perhaps it is because Belgium has only recently been confronted with these immigration, religious, and race issues. They have not experienced hundreds of years of slavery and a civil rights movement that raised these questions in the US over 40 years ago.

Of course, we still deal with these issues every day in the US. But it seems that there is also more willingness to talk about them here, to try to work together to figure out solutions. Perhaps it is just a matter of time before Belgium will have its own movement to raise these issues for discussion on a societal level.

We can only hope that one day, decendants of Moroccan, Turkish, and Congolese immigrants can stand up proudly and declare, "Ik ben allochtoon!" and still be treated with the respect and fairness afforded to the autochtoonen (native born white Belgians).

We are looking forward to the Belgian participants' impressions of the United States as half of them visit New York, Atlanta and Denver in May, while the other half come to Washington DC, Detroit, and Seattle in October.

We're wondering how they will see our efforts at integration and what insights they may have into our own confusing system of immigration and immigrant services...

Friday, March 14, 2008


Today was spent in the French speaking part of Belgium, in the city of Liège. Did you know that Belgium, with a population of 10 million has a total of 6 different parliaments, 3 national languages, and has been without a functioning government for 8 months?

Part of the problem is with the deep divisions between the Flemish and French speaking regions. Something that became evident today as we discussed immigrant children in the education system and at 28%, an unemployment rate more than twice that in the Flemish speaking region.

One noticable difference was the heavier emphasis on diversity and tolerance, with campaigns to resist the extreme right, and emphasizing the richness in diversity.

At a local public high school, we met students from many countries and talked about their experiences and perceptions of living in Belgian society. Here, two girls from Nigeria are pictured with a program participant who also happened to come from the same country.

After lunch at the school, a visit was made to a holocaust museum where we continued to discuss the importance of education in the integration process as well a programs to improve access to higher education and services to promote retention, increase graduation rates, and facilitate successful entry into the labor market.

We had a sobering, private tour of the museum. The holocaust is something most Belgians never want to forget, a good lesson for us all.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Back in Brussels

Did you know the symbol of Brussels is the marsh iris? That's because it grows in swamps and lowlands, like Brussels before urbanization. Now you can impress your friends with your incredible trivia knowledge!

Today, was spent visiting an alternative Flemish vocational school where many of the students are immigrants. The students spend 2 days a week in class and 3 days a week in real life work settings, earning real money. We heard presentations from the Flemish ministry of employment statistics and the federal civil rights office before touring the school and meeting some of the students.

We were treated to a lunch of tradtional Belgian foods by the culinary arts class. It was also their final exam! Carbonnade Flamande, Brussels sprouts, Belgian endives and potatoes au gratin. They also stir fried a yakisoba for us! Yumm!

This boy is one of the students. He came from Mongolia to Belgium on foot when he was only 14. It took a year for him to get here and in the 2 years since, he has thrived. Through a special provision for undocumented minors, he was able to receive his permanent residency just yesterday. Congratulations!!

The afternoon was spent at another agency working with undocumented immigrants. We heard the stories of people from India, Pakistan, and Burundi. Terrible and sad accounts of incredibly resiliant people, who are only looking to work and live and survive in their new adopted country.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Today, Executive Director Alaric Bien spent in Antwerp,
the second largest port in Europe, 45 minutes outside Brussels by train.

There he visited an employment program called WerkVormm, housed on the docks of the city. Because the maritime industries are such a large employer, they focus training on welding for shipping container repair, general harbor maintenance, and catering work.

As you can see in the picture, the entrance to their facility is symbolic of their philosophy: the door is wide, and the threshold is low to enter, but you must be motivated to succeed.

Part of this is requiring trainees to clock in an clock out of work each day, just like in a real job. Coming to work every day on time ensures that clients learn the self-discipline needed to function successfully in the real world.

Here, students are practicing hands-on welding of a shipping container.

And here is one of the boats that are being restored to seaworthiness by students learning maintenance skills. No those are not job trainees, but other exchange participants!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brussels Continued

Today, Executive Director Alaric Bien spent the morning in meetings at the King Baudouin Foundation, hosts for the Brussels exchange. Discussion focused on the role of religion in immigrant orientation, in addition to women's issues, health care and criminality in youth.

Presentations over lunch addressed the role of the media in the perceptions mainstream Belgians have of immigrants and what can be done to improve the situation. There was spirited debate with multiple points of view expressed from both the Belgian and US participants.

The afternoon spent visiting the municipality of Molenbeek, which has one of the highest concentrations of immigrants in the country. Services provided by a quasi-governmental social service agency were presented as well as an introduction to the Belgian social welfare system.

Later, the group visited Motonge, the center of the African community, which like many places throughout the world is becoming gentrified and losing its unique character. The lively discussion continued over dinner at an African restaurant featuring Congolese cuisine.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Executive Director, Alaric Bien, is in Belgium for the week participating in the Belgium-US Cultural Crossing Program, looking at immigrant integration in the two countries. He was one of 12 applicants from the US selected for the program.

Brussels is a city of contrasts, with old coexisting side by side with the new. But this is not limited to the architecture.

Brussels, capital of Belgium, the European Union, NATO and other international organizations is 50% immigrants! One of the issues they are dealing with is how to help new arrivals coexist with the old.

Chinese are a small, but visible community here, with a tiny Chinatown comprised of markets, restaurants and souvenir shops. The majority of Chinese come from Wenzhou 温州 in Zhejiang Province.

One of the most popular restaurants in town is this noodle place with hand pulled noodles. Run by immigrants from Wenzhou, it is interestingly named Au Bon Bol (with the good bowl) in this Flemish speaking part of the country...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Be Careful Out There!

Over the last several months there have been a number of assaults against Asian American women in the Beacon Hill area. Neighbors are advised to use extra caution and be aware of their surroundings.

CISC crime victims program director, Alan Lai, has been working with the Seattle Police Department and neighborhood groups. If you are a victim or witness an attack, please call 911 immediately. If you need assistance working with the police, you can contact CISC.

See the article in the Northwest Asian Weekly.