Organization Started by Refugees Celebrates Five Years in Community

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DES MOINES, Iowa – It can be overwhelming coming to a new country. You have to navigate new customs and laws all while learning a new language. One organization started by refugees is marking its five-year anniversary of helping refugees.

We all know it can be frustrating taking care of business on the phone, especially when you don't know what someone is saying on the other end. Khoe Meh came to the United States from Burma in 2009. She said, "I had no clue when I first came here. I didn't even know a little bit of English."

She now helps others at EMBARC’s walk-in clinic. She serves an interpreter and recently helped Mu Mu change her address while another volunteer worked the phone. for example, if they need help calling the phone, and I'm the interpreter, and she's going to help call on the phone."

EMBARC hosts the walk-in clinic on Monday and Friday afternoons at Vineyard Church in Des Moines. EMBARC stands for Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center. Executive Director and Co-Founder Henny Ohr said, "We're an ethnic community based organization founded by and for refugees, which work to develop community members and provide opportunities and resources through education advocacy and development."

More than twenty grants fund the organization. But, services like this walk-in clinic are not covered and require donations. EMBARC will celebrate its five-year anniversary this month by raising money to keep things like the walk-in clinic going.

It has served about seven hundred people since they started it a year ago. Ohr said, "There's a huge need for the community that don't speak English that don't understand the system to get help: help immediately when they need it in a language and culturally competent way."

The service has helped people like Mu Mu as they become a part of the community. Through an interpreter, she said, “If I have to go and present and no interpreter, we have hard time."

An Evening with EMBARC: Celebrating Five Years of Community is Thursday, October 12th. It is at the Tea Room in downtown Des Moines. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person. You can get tickets at

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