“A teacher is one who helps others and influences lives forever.”
Rachel Baughman, an inspiring and powerful teacher for refugees in Fargo, North Dakota, shared her story and experiences on teaching refugees from Somalia, Nepal, Rwanda, and a variety of other locations that have all come and resettled in North Dakota.
“I’ll be going into my 6th year of teaching, so still I’m pretty early in my career,”she said. “And this is my first year working with refugees. Part of that I worked on a native reservation in South Dakota.”
Ms. Baughman was asked if she noticed any specific impact on North Dakota’s community ever since the refugees came and settled. “Yeah! Sure,” she said with enthusiasm. “North Dakota was settled by primarily Norwegian and Germanic people and very white, very farming community and in the past couple of decades there’s been a large influx of refugees and it started with Bosnians in the 1990’s and then today with Somali population and other displaced people throughout the middle east and Africa. The community is definitely adjusting. I think the community does struggle with how to welcome this new culture and how to I think.”
Ms. Baughman paused as she added: “Unfortunately, some people hold some pretty prejudiced beliefs about what they want their community to look like, and these refugees don’t really fit into that picture.
She also mentioned why North Dakota has been a great place for refugees: “There are thousands of open jobs in North Dakota so it’s a great place for them to come and find work, and a lot of people in Fargo reached out to them to make them feel welcome. We have a lot of celebration of culture, new neighbor nights, and those sort of things to welcome them into the community.”
One would probably ask, why North Dakota? What makes North Dakota stand out as a shelter for refugees? “The fact that North Dakota has many industries that are booming and a lot of open jobs is definitely a factor there’s also a lot of space, a lot of apartment complexes, a lot of housing, a lot of room for North Dakota cities to grow,” Ms. Baughman said.
Another factor she mentioned is: “There’s good public transit. So people don’t necessarily need a car to get around in the city of Fargo or West Fargo. So it’s easy to have a job, not need a car to get to work, and have an affordable place to live.”
We then discussed how the coming of these refugees affected North Dakota’s economy. “They’re [have] actually been a lot of studies right now, there hasn’t been a lot of transparent data-keeping about how much it costs to resettle refugees, versus how much refugees contribute to the economy,” Ms. Baughman said. “Cause obviously it costs a lot of money to bring people into your community, to cover the cost for six months and to support them in that way but without, and I don’t know all the official data on it, but I know without refugees, the job openings would be so huge. I mean the North Dakota economy couldn’t be growing as it is without all of these newcomers. So they’ve allowed the North Dakota economy to continue to grow and thrive because there aren’t a lot of people moving to North Dakota otherwise, so they’ve been a very important part of the North Dakota economy and work force.”
She has changed the lives of these refugees and given them strength when they were at their weakest, she enlightened their minds and completely changed their perspectives of the world. But how did Ms. Baughman personally become affected by her students?
“I think as a teacher, I always learn more than my students learn which is one of the greatest things about being a teacher and I’ve learned a lot about obviously their cultures from the food to the dancing,” she said.
“I’ve attended a couple of their weddings, and it’s just always wonderful to feel welcomed in a part of a community and I feel, getting to know their families, I feel like it’s been really enriching for me personally to understand and to know these different experiences that they have had; it’s also been incredibly humbling given my lifestyle and my upbringing and the challenges these kids have faced before they were 16 years old I could never dream of, you know I could never imagine handing myself. It’s just really inspirational to work with these people. These brave, brave individuals who have, are really, putting up an excellent fight to make a life and a future for themselves. So it definitely gets me out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face.”