Nestled into central New York where the winter is endless, the cold is bitter and college basketball reigns, one finds Syracuse, N.Y. While most may only know the city for Syracuse University and its Orangemen, Syracuse is full of diversity and culture.
[ Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. ]
Approximately 12,000 refugees and former refugees currently reside in Syracuse as of 2011 with nearly 800 more individuals arriving each year according to the Onondaga Citizens League. Job opportunities, the low cost of living and the strong relationship between resettlement agencies and the Syracuse City School District make Syracuse an ideal place to settle down. There are also a number of not-for-profits available to help refugees transition into their new lives.
Refugees in Syracuse have come from 38 different countries with the most coming from Burma, Bhutan and Somalia. These refugees all have stories to tell and some have bonded together to create communities that promote education and togetherness in Syracuse, N.Y.
Osman Ramadhani tutors every Monday-Friday after school at the Southwest Community Center where the Wazigua Organization of CNY has its offices.
Osman learns from the students as one of them helps him with his meteorology homework.
Osman pumps his soccer team up before playing another team in a scrimmage. The Wazigua Organization promotes sportsmanship, personal development and community involvement by having the young boys come play soccer.
Saladi, Osman's son, plays with a soccer ball by himself as his father coaches community kids on the other side of the fence.
Osman takes time out of his busy schedule to play with his youngest son, Muhizo. Although Osman is sometimes scheduled to work as a security guard on the weekends, he tries his best to make time for family.
Osman's wife, Saudi, spends much of the day taking care of the youngest children who do not yet go to school. Recently, she started working at night a couple days of the week. Osman and Saudi met in Syracuse and all of their children were born in the United States.
Asha, Osman's youngest daughter, looks out of the window while waiting for her father to come home from school.
Saudi prepares a meal for Muhizo while he plays on the floor with kitchen utensils that he finds on the ground. With four children and Osman gone much of the time, the house is sometimes found in a state of chaos.
Furaha, Osman's oldest daughter, and Saladi bring Asha to their mother to be scolded after she refused to listen to instructions. Saudi has to keep track of three children while also caring for a baby by herself when Osman is at school or at the Wazigua Organization.
Asha climbs onto everything she can find in the house. Laundry machines, banisters, cabinets, nothing is safe from her and she often finds herself in somewhat precarious situations.
Saudi takes the kids out to a trip to the grocery store and the Salvation Army to pick up new clothes and shoes for Furaha.
In a rare quiet moment, Furaha and the other children are mesmerized by the colors cast on the car as it goes through a car wash.
Saudi, Furaha and Asha shop for basic necessities at a Sam's Club in Syracuse. Later, Saudi had a worrying moment at checkout when she thought she had gone over her benefits limit for the month. The issue was cleared up and Saudi was able to purchase everything that was in her cart.
Osman studies for an exam at Onondaga Community College. By putting his efforts to serve the community first, he has delayed getting his degree to be a physician's assistant. He is finally set to graduate this May.
Osman looks over a student's homework to check for any errors. Besides helping with homework, Osman also teaches classes and quizzes the students on what they have learned each week.
Although the students can get rambunctious around each other and distract Osman from teaching, he can always get them back in line.
Students have fun while learning from Osman as they relay experiences they had that day and catch up with friends that go to other schools in the Syracuse City School District.
Kiza Useni excitedly speaks to Nicole Watts, executive director of Hopeprint, about her daughter and stepson finally coming to the United States.
Kiza cries happy tears after embracing her daughter and stepson after years of separation. They were welcomed at the Syracuse Airport by members of Hopeprint as well as others from the Congolese community.
Kiza embraces Bethany Smith, assistant director at Hopeprint, who also came to the airport to help greet Kiza's incoming family. Hopeprint considers Kiza as part of their family since she has been a member since their founding in 2010. There was not a dry eye at the airport during the family reunion.
A welcome party is held at the Eastern Hills Bible Church in Manlius for the incoming family members. The party brought together the Congolese community with food and lots of spontaneous dancing.
Kiza shares a laugh with her daughter, Leontina, who just arrived in the United States two days earlier. Leontina speaks French and Swahili but is taking classes at Hopeprint to learn English.
Lulela, Kiza's stepson, fills up his plate with American food that was made by members of the Eastern Hills Bible Church. The church wanted the partygoers to have fun and not worry about a thing and offered to provide the food.
Kiza sews bags which she gives to a woman who then sells them. Kiza, her husband and her six children spend a lot of time sitting together around the television chatting or making calls to family and friends still in Africa.
As Leontina is 19 years old, it will be difficult for her to get into the Syracuse school system. Until she can get an English tutor, she spends time helping out by cleaning and cooking meals.
Kiza's 14-year-old son, Jerome, was recently admitted to a mental hospital and she packs some clothing to bring to him. Kiza visits him as often as she can and hopes that he gets better soon.
Kiza has a contagious smile which is one of the reasons why people are drawn to her. Her love of life and family help bring joy to others and her home is never empty as visitors and friends are always stopping by.
Kiza's six-year-old son, Maja, inspects a pair of socks held up by Nicole Watts with the help of his father, Placido. Maja participates in the children's program at Hopeprint where he interacts and plays with other kids while his parents take English classes.
Kiza goes in a couple times a week and earns some money by helping to iron clothing. She passes the hours alone by singing to herself while ironing. She was able to get this job through the Northside CYO which provides services for people in need, especially the refugee population in Syracuse.
Kiza suffered from childhood polio. She wears special shoes that help her walk and gets around with crutches. However, she refuses to let anyone think that she cannot fend for herself and has told people that her disability does not mean that she is broken.
Kiza helps to dress her youngest son, Mulite, who is three years old. Mulite, along with Maja, also spends time at the children's program at Hopeprint. While there, it is a difficult task to get him to smile or talk but once he is at home, he is a bundle of energy and never stops talking or laughing.
Before eating a meal together, Kiza's daughter Kashindi passes around a bowl and a pitcher of water and has everyone rinse their hands. After the meal, a bar of soap is passed around with water.
The family enjoys a delicious meal of fufu, greens and fish. They may be surrounded by American fast food restaurants but when they cook at home, they make African food. Leontina prepared this meal and served it to the family and their friends that stopped by.
Kiza has successfully integrated herself and her family into the Congolese community in Syracuse as well as the Hopeprint family. These strong bonds have created larger families made up of great people who care for each other.
Feeding the Soul
Rivers Jordan, the owner of a cultural and religious store in the Northside of Syracuse, N.Y., has accepted his position as the wise man in the community and used it to bring together people from all walks of life. By giving everyone that comes by his store a takeout box of delicious food and some sage advice, Jordan has connected the entire community and cleaned up the streets.
Rivers Jordan decorates the front of his store, the Rivers of Shashamani, with flags every morning.
Jordan makes smoking ganja a group event by inviting friends to come by for conversation and a smoke.
Rivers Jordan holds court outside of his store as he gives advice to all that pass by. Everyone can expect a life story and a fist bump as they walk by and are told to "do good today".
Jordan cooks jerk chicken on a grill outside of his store in preparation for customers that come by hungry. Many friends came to the store as the smell of the delicious chicken wafted down the street.
Jordan gives a young man advice and ends his conversation with a fist bump and a promise from the man that he will do right by his girl.
Before facing the world and opening his store, Rivers Jordan puts his long dreadlocks into a hat as he claims that none of his friends have seen his hair.
As a Rastafarian, Rivers Jordan is loyal to the former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. Jordan keeps a portrait of the emperor in his pocket at all times to remind him to be a humanitarian and help others.
Every Sunday, Jordan teachers a spiritual learning class at his store where many come to learn about the Bible. They start off with and end each class with a prayer.
Each person that comes into the store and converses with Jordan is given a takeout container of food that he has cooked earlier that day. Today it is mango and chicken curry with basmati rice and a side salad.
Friends of Jordan start an impromptu dance party in the middle of the store as reggae music is blasted over the speakers.
When he first came to Syracuse three years ago, there were drug dealers and addicts roaming the Northside near Jordan's store. He gets emotional as he speaks about how he worked to clean up the streets and is still working on his mission to make the world a better place.
Although he runs the store by himself and doesn't have any biological family nearby, Rivers Jordan is never lonely as his days are filled with good conversation and friends. The whole community is filled with his "brothers" and "sisters" and they all watch out for each other.
Jerami Grant, a member of the Syracuse University men's basketball team, prepares to inbound the ball during a game against North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament. Syracuse would go on to lose against NC State 66-63.
Runners brave the elements during the annual Syracuse Festival of Races in Syracuse, N.Y.
A runner braves the pouring rain as onlookers cheer him on at the annual Syracuse Festival of Races in Syracuse, N.Y.
Students at the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse, N.Y., play with their tutor's hair after after finishing their homework.
Dane Jantzi, 5, from Clymer, NY, passes the time at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, NY, by laying on the cows and enjoying a loving lick from another cow on August 31, 2013.