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County libraries help refugees, immigrants get degrees

Refugees who have waited years to get to the United States sometimes arrive only to find out their life's work does n...

Posted: Mar 10, 2018 2:59 PM
Updated: Mar 10, 2018 2:59 PM

Refugees who have waited years to get to the United States sometimes arrive only to find out their life's work does not translate to opportunities in America.

Pima County Public Libraries have a unique approach to helping those who are new to the city and country.

Librarians are helping immigrants and refugees from all over the world adapt to U.S. Culture by helping their degrees earned overseas recognized here in America.

Henri Nzeyimana was born in Burundi.

In late-April 2015, political unrest took over the East African country. It resulted in an attempted coup d'état. Hundreds of civilians were killed, and thousands of peaceful political demonstrators were tortured.

Nzeyimana is an asylum seeker that has been in the U.S. for three years.

"Every time you have to leave your country and go to another country -- not because of your choice but because you're not able to enjoy freedom -- it hurts," Nzeyimana explained.

He decided to move to Tucson to find work. A task that he initially thought was impossible.

"To hear that you've been at school for more than 10 years, working for more than 20 and then all of a sudden you have to start fresh, that was traumatizing," he said.

However, that changed when he met Citizenship Librarian Mary Givins at the Eckstrom-Columbus Library. Since he has two masters degrees from two different European universities, Givins thought if he could get a hold of his transcripts he can get at least a substitute teacher degree in America.

After some thinking, that's exactly what he did.

"I showed him the process for getting his degree evaluated, translated from French and then he had that paper submitted to the department of education," Givins said.

Givins says immigrants and refugees don't realize that the degrees they receive from their countries often transfer to the U.S. She says all it takes is a lot of steps to get them started. "If people have access to their transcripts from their university, then something can be done," she explained.

All the Pima County Public Library branches offer the "Job Help Program," twice a week. It provides support for degree translation and evaluation.

The primary goal is to get the diplomas earned overseas recognized here in the U.S. A bonus for those in the program is working with librarians to create resumes and even apply for jobs.

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