No Walls, Only Open Arms for Refugees
May 17, 2020 — 16:27

By Grace Maselli

Invoking the recent words of former President Barack Obama to high schoolers and 2020 college grads, “If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you.” Or in the case of our Florida Timebanks, which have always been about inclusivity and valuing all members of our society, it’s up to the collective community energy—the social adhesive and grassroots mobilization we  strengthen and invigorate together—that can make a positive difference. And a critical and encompassing change in our neighborhoods and localities, particularly given the intense negative effects of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable populations.

TBT and its nearby timebank partners are forging organizational connections with groups dedicated to helping the Tampa Bay Area’s refugee populations; to reinforce the local social safety net, we’re taking citizen action for emergency responses and aiming to help expand refugee support programs. The locus of initial activity will begin around Tampa’s University of South Florida and Temple Terrace neighborhoods where concentrations of Congolese and Arabic-speaking refugee families live.

Organizational partners have joined TBT and surrounding timebanks to participate in the exchange “system” that uses time as its currency instead of money—welcoming refugee families to exchange “person hours.” Individuals and family members who sign up to do the things they love for other members, offering what they enjoy in a service exchange where every hour of time is equally valued.

To make it happen TBT is working closely with Tampa’s Radiant Hands, Inc. whose mission is to “empower women and families in the North-Central Florida region by providing them with spiritual, emotional, educational, and financial support with the goal of helping them to achieve independence in mind. In doing so, we hope to encourage and enable women and families to contribute individually and collectively in strengthening our community as a whole.”

Like Radiant Hands, we’re also collaborating with new organizational member Ramwi Refugee and Migrant Women’s Initiative, Inc.  Based in Tampa, Ramwi (pronounced ram-wee) places emphasis on support with the potential to blossom into self-actualization that can come with being an independent and much-valued community member: “Our mission is to bring newly arrived refugee, migrant and other vulnerable women, children and their families residing in Tampa Bay together. Doing so, we hope to empower, engage, and support them during the difficult phases of resettlement and transition.”

Volunteers to Deliver Much-Needed Food

The unfolding community work means there’s an opportunity for timebank volunteers to help deliver food in the USF area and to donate storage space for canned food. Also in the planning phase for timebank exchanges:

• A community garden
• Help with Radiant Hands’ and Ramwi’s Thanksgiving dinner
• Mask sewing for healthcare workers in need of Personal Protective Equipment

Many of Ramwi’s female program participants will graduate from sewing classes and be given a sewing machine of their own. The graduate “collective” is talking about potential plans to sell the things they make, including possible wedding guest favors. But of course we’re all open to all kinds of creative ideas for goods that can be handmade and brought to market.

No pairing of timebanks and community stakeholders dedicated to serving refugees could fit the Tampa Bay Timebank mission and revitalization efforts with more symmetry than the work now underway with Radiant Hands and Ramwi. Increases in our 550+ membership is a telltale sign of interest as more organizational leaders and families join, welcoming all who come to our city and its surrounding area.

For donations, to volunteer for food delivery and storage, and ideas to share, contact TBT Coordinator Rita  at 608.335.22382 or by email: ritacobbs@sum.net