This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
The power of language


By Sister Virginia Strahan $


s a teen, Alen Omerbegovic and his family were forced out of their home during the


ethnic cleansing that accompanied the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. Tey couldn’t take any- thing with them, not even photos. Separated from his family,


Omerbegovic had his 17th birthday during his three-month and three- day stay in a concentration camp. He slept on concrete, ate once a day (mainly what he calls “bad food”)


The Lutheran network Ascentria Care Alliance is a member of Lutheran Services in America, a health and human services network with more than 300 social ministry organiza- tions connected with the ELCA and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The network provides a range of services including care for seniors, disaster relief, refugee resettlement, disability support, children and family services, housing and employment support, and others. Learn more at www.lutheranservices.org.


34 www.thelutheran.org


and witnessed people being beaten to death, among other atrocities. Aſter his release from the camp,


he was reconnected with his family, who were already on the “safe side” in Bosnia. About a year later, as a displaced person (a refugee in his own country), he started learning English through the Danish Refugee Council. Tis experience was a defining


moment for Omerbegovic, who now uses his English skills as pro- gram manager for a language bank administered by and for refugees in New Hampshire, where he now lives. Launched in 2001 in Concord,


N.H., the language bank program expanded last fall to Worcester, Mass. It employs more than 200 interpreters representing more than 60 languages. Offering interpreta- tion, translation and training ser- vices, the program is connected with Ascentria Care Alliance, formerly Lutheran Social Services of New England (LSS).


Alen Omerbegovic, an Ascentria Care Alliance lan- guage bank program manager in New Hampshire, uses his experiences as a former refugee to help others connect with social services.


Within the past year, the orga-


nization resettled more than 700 individuals. Of these, 25 percent are from the Middle East. Many of Ascentria’s language bank interpret- ers are refugees who were resettled by the organization, including Omerbegovic.


Seeking a place to call home In 1997, Omerbegovic fled to Hol- land, where he lived for two years before being recognized as an asylum-seeker and resettled through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). Ascentria, in part- nership with LIRS, found him an apartment in Concord and helped him secure a job making cleats for shoes. In his spare time, Omerbegovic


used his English skills to help other refugees in Laconia, N.H., connect


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