Refugees in the Heartland Conference Presenters/Contributors

Keynote speaker

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn
President, The World Food Prize Foundation

Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, assumed the leadership of the World Food Prize Foundation on January 1, 2000, following his retirement from the State Department after a 32 year career in the Foreign Service.

During his diplomatic career, Ken Quinn served: as a Rural Development advisor in the Mekong Delta; on the National Security Council staff at the White House; as Narcotics Counselor at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Vienna; for four years as Chairman of the U.S. Inter-agency Task Force on POW/MIAs; and as Director of Iowa SHARES, the humanitarian campaign that sent Iowa doctors, nurses, medical supplies and food to starving Cambodian refugees.  Dr. Quinn emerged from these experiences as one of the US government's foremost experts on Indochina. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the origins of the radical Pol Pot regime and is widely acknowledged as the first person anywhere to report, in 1974, on the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge. Twenty years later, while serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, his plan of agricultural enhancements and rural roads led to the final eradication of the Khmer Rouge.

A fluent speaker of Vietnamese, Dr. Quinn acted as interpreter for President Gerald Ford at the White House and personally negotiated the first ever entry by U.S. personnel into a Vietnamese prison to search for U.S. POW/MIAs. He was also a member of the first U.S. team to gain entry to a former Soviet prison in Russia.

Ambassador Quinn rose to become one of the most decorated Foreign Service officers of his generation, recognized for the important role he played in humanitarian endeavors, as well as for his actions in dangerous and violent situations, including:

  • The Secretary of State’s Award for Heroism and Valor for his efforts to protect American citizens exposed to danger in Cambodia, as well as the four lifesaving rescues in which he participated in Vietnam;
  • Being the only civilian to ever receive the U.S. Army Air Medal for his participation in combat operations in Vietnam;
  • Being the only Foreign Service officer ever to have three times received the American Foreign Service Association Rivkin and Herter Awards for intellectual courage in challenging policy.

Ambassador Quinn, a graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, has a M.A. in Political Science from Marquette University and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Maryland. He and his wife Le Son have three adult children.

Other presenters

Marcella David is Professor of Law & International Studies and Associate Dean for the University of Iowa College of Law. She returned to the law school faculty in January 2010 after serving over five years in central administration, most recently as the university’s first Special Assistant to the President for Equal Opportunity and Diversity and Associate Provost for Diversity (from 2006-2009). Professor David joined the law faculty in 1995. From 1991-92, she studied Human Rights and Comparative Law as a Ford Foundation Fellow in Public International Law at the Harvard Law School. In that capacity, she participated in an investigatory mission to Iraq, traveled through South Africa, and researched the impact of economic sanctions in both countries. Her research interests include the use of economic and other sanctions, international criminal law, and questions related to international organizations. At Iowa, Professor David teaches, among other subjects, Introduction to Public International Law, International Humanitarian Law, US Foreign Relations Law, and Human Rights.

Dr. Michele Devlin is Professor of Health Education at the University of Northern Iowa, and Director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities, an organization established by the National Institutes of Health to improve health equity for underserved populations.  She is also the founder and advisor of the award-winning UNI “Global Health Corps,” a model service-learning program that has trained more than 500 students in conducting culturally appropriate health education programs with over 40,000 diverse and underserved clients in the United States and abroad.  Dr. Devlin is the recipient of the One Iowa Award, Richard Remington Award, the Governor’s Award, the Iowa Civil Rights Award, and other local, state, and national honors for outstanding teaching, scholarship, and service in the cross-cultural health and human rights field.  Dr. Devlin completed her master’s and doctorate degrees in international public health at the University of California at Los Angeles.  Dr. Devlin’s primary areas of specialty include refugee, minority, and immigrant care, as well as cultural competency and health communication with underserved populations.  In addition to her academic expertise, Dr. Devlin has 30 years of field experience working with public health agencies, non-profits, corporations, and government organizations, conducting programs both domestically and internationally with vulnerable populations, and is also an International Disaster Relief volunteer with the American Red Cross. 

Bassel El-Kasaby is senior partner of Kasaby & Nicholls in Omaha, Nebraska. He is also current Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association-Iowa and Nebraska Chapter. Practicing primarily in Immigration law, civil rights, and transportation law, Bassel holds a Juris Doctor degree with distinction from the University of Iowa. He also has a Masters Degree in Urban Planning. As an adjunct faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Aviation Institute, he is involved in teaching and research on aviation law, policy, and regulation.  As an attorney, he has been involved in major civil rights litigation and has acted as counsel for several private and non-profit organizations in the field of transportation. In 2008, Bassel was the recipient of the Visionary Award of the Nebraska State Bar Association for his commitment to public service and was named the 2008 Roger Baldwin Civil Libertarian of the Year award by the ACLU. Born in Giza, Egypt, he is also fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish.

Fatuma Elmi is an Employment Supervisor with Lutheran Social Services in Minneapolis where she helps new refugees adjust to life in the U.S. Ms. Elmi grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia, and attended university in Italy before returning to Somalia and building a small home there. In 1990, civil war broke out and the country turned into chaos. She fled Somalia and came to Minneapolis the following year. Immediately after arriving, Ms. Elmi began volunteering with LSS where she eventually became a full-time employment supervisor, helping newly resettled refugees find jobs. Her work gives her the opportunity to return the generosity that was shown to her. For nine years, Ms. Elmi served as a volunteer coordinator at Somali Women, an organization that helps bridge the cultural gap for Somali mothers raising daughters in an American society. She currently sits on the board of directors for American Development Center, an organization that helps African refugees purchase houses and open small businesses. Even after finding safety in the U.S., Ms. Elmi does not consider her journey over. The stories she hears of mothers in refugee camps trying to raise their children are the ones that keep her up at night. Ms. Elmi helped move her mother from Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya, to Uganda and still hopes they can be reunited some day.

Brian Farrell is an adjunct assistant professor of international studies, an adjunct lecturer in law, and director of the College of Law’s academic support program.  He is a co-founder and president of the Innocence Project of Iowa. Brian received his JD with distinction from the Iowa Law School in 1998 and received an LLM in international human rights law with first-class honors from the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway, in 2002. He is completing his doctoral thesis through the Centre on the topic of habeas corpus in international law. Brian has published numerous articles in the areas of international human rights law and humanitarian law, and has also taught at St. Ambrose University and Sofia University. He has been a contributor to the Oxford Reports on International Criminal Law, has served as a consultant to the Harvard School of Public Health’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, and has conducted human rights field research in the Middle East.

Abby Freese is a social worker who initially served as a student researcher and eventually as an independent researcher for the Linguistic Access to Comprehensive Healthcare (LATCH) project in 2012 and 2013, which included community engagement and organizing with members of different refugee communities in Des Moines. She has worked with refugees in many different capacities and with many different refugee populations. Her first experience was at Heartland International Refugee Center in Chicago with their resettlement department as a bachelor’s of social work practicum student in the spring of 2006. Her second experience was at USCRI in Des Moines as a University of Iowa graduate social work practicum student in 2011 and 2012. She has also volunteered with LSI’s refugee program, EMBARC, and with Zion Lutheran Church’s homework help program for refugee kids in Des Moines. She is currently a social worker at an emergency homeless shelter in Des Moines, IA and enjoys learning from refugees from all cultures and backgrounds. Empowering refugee individuals and families is a great privilege and she looks forward to further opportunities to continue this important work.

Mary George is an Administrative Assistant and Acholi, Arabic Interpreter at the Southern Sudan Community Association (SSCA). She is from Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan of the Acholi tribe. Mary has lived in various refugee camps in Zaire and Uganda where she worked in logistics for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins  Sans Frontieres) then moved to Ifo, Kenya in 1994 to join her husband. She lived there for one year. She was initially resettled to Fargo, North Dakota in September 1995, and then moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1999. At SSCA, Mary George is the Administrative Assistant and serves as an Arabic interpreter. Currently, she is taking classes at Metro Community College for social work, specifically Health and Human Services. She has five children.

Angela Graham is a Refugee Health and Tuberculosis nurse at the Black Hawk County Health Department in Waterloo, Iowa. She is one of the founding members of Burma Iowa Friends. She is dedicated to the field of Refugee Health and serves as a local advocate for refugees. In 2012 she received the 100 Great Iowa Nurses award for her work in public health. She has been a nurse for 30 years. She describes her work as something that was placed on her heart as a child. The two things she likes best about her job are meeting people from around the world and  greeting newborns.  Angela lives with her husband in Dunkerton, Iowa. She is the mother of 4 adult children and 2 plus grandchildren.

Mark A. Grey, Ph.D. is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa. He is also Director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration. The Iowa Center is an award-winning program that provides consultation, training, and publications to Iowa communities, churches, organizations, and employers as they deal with the unique challenges and opportunities associated with influxes of immigrant and refugee newcomers. Dr. Grey is also Associate Director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities. Dr. Grey received his Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He has published extensively in academic journals on immigration in the Midwest including recent articles in Human Organization and Religion and Education.  He has also published extensively for non-academic audiences. His handbooks include Welcoming New Iowans: A Guide for Citizens and Communities and Welcoming New Iowans: A Guide for Managers and Supervisors.  With Dr. Michele Devlin and Aaron Goldsmith, Grey recently published Postville USA: Surviving Diversity in Small-Town America (GemmaMedia) and with Dr. Michele Devlin Health Matters: A Pocket Guide for Working with Diverse Cultures and Underserved Populations (Intercultural Press). Dr. Grey has won numerous awards for his activities, including the One Iowa Award, Iowa Friends of Civil Rights Award, Iowa Council for International Understanding Vision Award, the University of Northern Iowa Distinguished Service Award, and the Iowa Regents Award for Faculty Excellence.

Amir Hadzic has led the Mount Mercy University (Cedar Rapids, IA) men's soccer program for 18 seasons and is the program's all-time leader in coaching victories. He is also Assistant Director of International Programs and Student Services at Mount Mercy.  In addition to his duties as Mount Mercy's head coach, Hadzic is head boys' soccer coach at Cedar Rapids Xavier High School, where he led the Saints to the 2010 and 2011 Iowa Class 2A state championships. Hadzic has also contributed greatly to the growth of soccer in eastern Iowa through the support and development of several soccer programs. Hadzic's ability to mentor and engage his student-athletes has led many to contribute their skills within their communities. Fifteen of Hadzic's Mount Mercy players have become head coaches throughout the country, including six in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area. Amir is originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia. He fled from his home to escape the war in the former Yugoslavia, spent time in a Croatian refugee camp, (where he met his future spouse, Amy Weismann) and was eventually resettled as a refugee in the U.S. in 1995. He now lives in Iowa City with Amy and their 3 year old daughter, Hana.

Linda Hartke has been president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) since 2010. She brings decades of experience in human rights work and a lifelong commitment to LIRS’s core values. From 2001 – 2009 she served  as the executive director of the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, a global network of churches and agencies engaged in advocacy on common concerns. She has also served on boards and advisory councils for a number of organizations including the World AIDS Campaign, the Rose Marie Khoo Foundation and Amnesty International USA. While serving as chief of staff to Rep. Chet Atkins (DMA), Linda worked extensively on issues affecting the Southeast Asian refugee community in Massachusetts. After seven years on Capitol Hill, her passion for serving vulnerable migrants continued during her tenure with Church World Service from 1992 to 2000. Linda served first as CWS country director in Cambodia, working on reintegrating internally displaced persons and returning refugees, then  moved to the New York headquarters as director of programs and operations. A native of Massachusetts, Linda is a graduate of Smith College, where  had a double major in religion/biblical literature and government. Linda’s vision is for LIRS to be a catalyst in creating communities of welcome where newcomers can thrive.

Aleksandar Hemon is the author of The Lazarus Project, which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, and three collections of short stories: The Question of Bruno; Nowhere Man, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Love and Obstacles. Hemon graduated from the University of Sarajevo and was a published writer in former Yugoslavia by the time he was 26. Born in Sarajevo, Hemon visited Chicago in 1992, intending to stay for a matter of months. While he was there, Sarajevo came under siege, and he was unable to return home. Hemon wrote his first story in English in 1995. In the U.S. he worked as a Greenpeace canvasser, sandwich assembly-line worker, bike messenger, graduate student in English literature, bookstore salesperson, and ESL teacher. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003 and a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation in 2004. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

Amy Hughes is the Community Development Coordinator of the Southern Sudan Community Association (SSCA). She is a Billings, Montana native and a recent graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College of Saint Peter, Minnesota. She serves SSCA Omaha through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, a national service program. With a biology and environmental studies degree, Amy has found this 180-degree transition into the non-profit, social service, and full-time volunteer world to be an invaluable experience. In piloting this position in August 2012 as Community Development Coordinator, Amy recruits and manages volunteers, organizes events, and conducts educational presentations about SSCA, the refugees they serve, and the federal resettlement program. Though her service to SSCA ends July of this year, Amy hopes to continue serving people from all walks of life in her future endeavors.

Iowa Youth Writing Project (IYWP) is a nonprofit outreach organization that strives to educate, empower, and inspire Iowa's youth through language arts and creative thinking. Through a "Better Futures for Iowans" award from the University of Iowa Office of the Provost, the UI College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Frank N. Magid Undergraduate Writing Center has partnered with IYWP on a pilot program to strengthen and expand the IYWP's outreach efforts. The IYWP is committed to working with at-risk youth and youth whose voices may be marginalized, including immigrant and refugee youth. The IYWP has partnered with community-building organizations and culturally-specific advocacy groups that include the UI's Spanish Creative Literacy Project, Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, Nisaa African Women's Project, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, the 2012 API Youth Summit in Des Moines, and the 2013 VIA-1 (Vietnamese Interacting as One) Conference in Iowa City. The IYWP will explore "What You Can Do To Make Your Community a Welcoming One" through performances of reflections by young writers from local immigrant and refugee communities. These reflections were written through guided workshops with Emily Seiple and other IYWP volunteers. Emily is a UI Senior studying English and Creative Writing whose thesis focuses on writing as a tool for community outreach and community building.

Dijana Kadic is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago, IL. She recently completed a graduate program in journalism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she wrote her thesis on US immigrants attempting to obtain the same occupational status from their homeland. Dijana was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina and immigrated to the US in 2000 from Germany. She was the Multimedia Editor of the Chicago publication F Newsmagazine and has been published in TimeOut Chicago Magazine as well as The Seen - Expo Chicago's online publication.

Zoya Kolkin was born in the former Soviet Union and moved to the U.S. at the age of three. After growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Zoya relocated to Illinois to attend Northwestern University, where she majored in Social Policy and minored in Sociology. During her studies, Zoya traveled to Uganda, Denmark, and Israel, which deepened her connection with international communities.  She also interned in San Francisco for Upwardly Global, a national non-profit organization that helps highly skilled immigrants, refugees, and asylees rebuild their careers in the U.S. For the past three years, Zoya has worked at Upwardly Global Chicago, training over 160 job seekers/year in the U.S. job search. As a Senior Employment Services Associate, she loves working with individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and professions: from physicians to engineers, from Iraqis to Brazilians, and from newcomers to the taxi drivers who know Chicago like a book. She is most passionate about working to be a voice for those that are marginalized and silenced. Zoya can be reached at zoya@upwardlyglobal.org.

Zeljka Krvavica is a Case Manager with the Bureau of Refugee Services. She is from Sarajevo and has a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Sarajevo and several certificates in English language and literature from St. Mary’s College in Oxford, England and the School of Modern English and Contemporary British Literature from Cambridge, England. She worked as a Professor of English Language and Literature at Sarajevo Community College and later as the Head of Cultural Events at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games.  Later she became the Administrative Assistant/Interpreter/Translator for the Embassy of Yugoslavia and was a Personal Assistant to the Yugoslav Ambassador in Washington, D.C. After her return to Bosnia, the war started in 1992.  Zeljka and her two young sons managed to flee Sarajevo, first to Denmark and then to Croatia where they stayed in a refugee camp for a year. Her husband was unable to leave the city under siege. In August of 1993 with help from the US Embassy in Croatia, the family was reunited and resettled to Des Moines. Both Zeljka and her husband started to work for Bureau of Refugee Services as case managers for a growing Bosnian refugee population. Zeljka has been involved with Bosnian refugee community   teaching ESL classes; volunteering for DSM Public Schools as a Bosnian community outreach worker and interpreter; helping with citizenship classes, She is one of the founders of the organization,  “ Voices of Bosnian Women”,   and has given numerous presentations and workshops on Bosnian culture and customs as well as refugee issues in general  at state and national conferences. She represented the State of Iowa Resettlement Program at the US Office of Refugee Resettlement Academy in Washington, D.C. Zeljka currently serves very diverse refugee population as the case manager for refugees from Iraq, Bhutan, Burma, Liberia, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Ann Marie Kudlacz is the Executive Director of the Southern Sudan Community Association. She has over eleven years of experience in non-profit management and holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and accounting. She is also a graduate of the Nonprofit Association of the Midland’s Nonprofit Executive Institute in 2009. Ann Marie has been employed at SSCA Omaha for over five years. Presently, she also serves as Co-Chair of the Omaha Refugee Task Force, on the planning and advisory committee for the Refugee Leadership Academy, and on the Mayor’s Advisory Councils for Housing and Civic Engagement. She is married with four children and one grandson, and is actively involved in her daughters’ school as the current Parent Teacher Organization President.

Mu Law is the Board Vice-President of EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center), a community led grassroots organization dedicated to supporting refugees from Burma resettled in Iowa. She spent 20 years in a Karenni Refugee Camp in Thailand, and arrived to Iowa in 2010, with her two young daughters. As one of the few bilingual speaking members of the Karenni community, many families depend on her to access critical services. Ms. Law is a tireless advocate. In 2010, Ms. Law was selected to attend the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s National Consultation in Washington DC. In 2011, she was honored with a Governor’s Volunteer Award. Ms. Law is currently a Bilingual Outreach Worker for the Des Moines Public Schools. She speaks Kayah, Karenni, and Burmese, and is excited to be a presenting at the Refugees in the Heartland Conference.

Billie Marchik is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa School of Social Work at the Pappajohn Higher Education Center in Des Moines.  She teaches in the areas of Social Welfare Policy and Practice and her research interests include global economy, social change, political advocacy, building organizational and community capacity. Her past experience includes working as the International Affairs Program Director, American Friends Service Committee in Des Moines and as a Trainer for the National Resource Center for Family Based Services at the University of Iowa.

Deepinder Singh Mayell is the Director of the Refugee & Immigrant Program at The Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis. Prior to joining the Advocates, he was a Staff Attorney with Merrimack Valley Legal Services in Massachusetts where he represented poor victims of domestic violence in family, immigration and housing proceedings. He has been committed to human rights issues throughout his career and has interned with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Human Rights Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights. As a research assistant, he examined the constitutionality of laws utilized to imprison individuals in Guantanamo Bay. In addition to his legal career, he was a member of a research team that investigated and documented labor conditions in apparel factories in Jakarta, Indonesia. He also worked as a community organizer in Boston with a focus on youth empowerment and independent media. Mr. Mayell received his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 2007and a B.A. in Political Science from Boston College.

Michele Garnett McKenzie is the Advocacy Director at The Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis. She received her J.D. cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School [and her B.A. from Macalester College]. She joined the staff of The Advocates in 1999 as a staff attorney representing asylum seekers and immigration detainees and in 2003 became the Refugee and Immigrant Program Director managing the Asylum, Detention, and Walk-In Clinic Projects in addition to legal and policy advocacy relating to immigration. [Prior to joining The Advocates, Ms. McKenzie was in private immigration practice in Saint Paul, Minnesota and served as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Arizona and Nevada]. As Advocacy Director, Ms. McKenzie is responsible for policy advocacy and community and coalition engagement around The Advocates' priority issues, including human trafficking, refugee and immigrant rights, and diaspora community engagement. In 2011, Ms. McKenzie successfully led The Advocates' effort to pass groundbreaking legislation protecting sexually exploited youth in the State of Minnesota. Ms. McKenzie also directs the Discover Human Rights initiative to engage U.S.-based social justice organizations in the human rights movement and the One Voice Minnesota initiative to build welcoming communities for all Minnesotans.

Vinh Nguyen is an educator and cultural specialist. He is also a leader in the Des Moines Vietnamese community, and has been instrumental in creating the Vietnamese American Community in Iowa (VACI). The head of Des Moines Public School’s English Language Learner program, Nguyen came to Iowa as a refugee when he was 22. He was born in Saigon in the early 1960s, and grew up in a family of 10 brothers and sisters. In 981 his parents arranged for him to be smuggled out of Vietnam along with 134 other Vietnamese on a tiny and unseaworthy boat. He was eventually rescued and ultimately granted refugee status, then came to Des Moines. Vinh struggled with his language skills, worked many different odd jobs but was able to enroll in DMACC to learn English. He worked for Des Moines Public Schools as a Native Language Tutor to assist Southeast Asian refugee students. In 1993, he graduated from Drake University with a teaching degree in mathematics, taught high school math for several years and worked as a community advisor for the English as a Second Language program; he now supervises a program that serves more than 3,800 students. In 2004 and 2005, he was honored by the Iowa Council for International Understanding’s “Passport to Prosperity Award” and the Iowa Culture and Language Conference’s “Dan Chavez, Beyond the Horizon Award” for his extraordinary efforts on behalf of immigrant, refugee, and non-English speaking populations.

Fidel Nshombo, UNHCR Refugee Congress Board Member from Boise, Idaho, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was resettled to the United States in 2006. Mr. Nshombo has authored two books of poetry and is frequently asked to speak publicly about his experiences and work. Mr. Nshombo has shared his poetry and stories in schools and universities throughout Idaho and Oregon and has published one book of poetry entitled “Route to Peace.” He recently completed his second book. As a twelve year old child, Mr. Nshombo began his attempt to escape the violence of his home country. Although he experienced much trauma throughout his childhood, Mr. Nshombo was able to overcome his past and look forward to the future by writing. The state of Idaho recognized Mr. Nshombo with the “Refugee Success in Integration” award. In addition, Mr. Nshombo runs a refugee soccer team in Boise. Of all his accomplishments, Mr. Nshombo has located his family, who are refugees in Uganda, and now supports them to ensure that his siblings attend school and that his parents are well taken care of. He has also had the opportunity to visit Uganda and be reunited with his family. Mr. Nshombo hopes to continue to be inspired by hearing the stories of fellow delegates during the Refugee Congress and to learn about refugee awareness and accommodations in the different states.

Hadidja Nyiransekuye, UNHCR Refugee Congress Board Member, Colorado, was born in Rwanda, the oldest of eighteen children in a Muslim family. She was granted asylum in 2000. Ms. Nyiransekuye has recently published a memoir about Rwanda entitled, “The Lances Were Looking Down.” She currently volunteers at the Victims of Crime Advisory Council which assists survivors and witnesses of violent crimes in Denver. Ms. Nyiransekuye witnessed the atrocities of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As a Hutu married to a Tutsi, she felt unsafe and was labeled as an enemy when the genocide concluded. In 1998, Ms. Nyiransekuye was offered a private scholarship to come to the United States because of her background with education and her extensive language skills which included Swahili, French, English and Rwandan. Fearful of what would happen after that time, she applied for asylum in the U.S. Though her husband passed away in 2000, Ms. Nyiransekuye was able to pursue a Ph.D. in Refugee Women Studies and today, she is dedicated to speaking out and educating people on Rwanda and to discussing her memoir. By bridging the gap between culture and understanding, Ms. Nyiransekuye is sure that we can continue to move forward and provide better resettlement services in the U.S.

Henny Ohr is Co-Founder and Executive Director of EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center) a community led grassroots organization dedicated to supporting refugees from Burma resettled in Iowa. Prior to joining EMBARC, she was the Executive Officer for the Iowa Dept. of Human Rights' Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, and the Status of Women, where she advocated for equitable access to resources for marginalized communities. Ms. Ohr immigrated to the US from Korea as a child, and has been committed to working for immigrant and refugee rights throughout her career. Ms. Ohr received her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law in 2005.

Cristina (Nina) Ortiz is a second year socio-cultural anthropology graduate student working towards her MA/PhD. Her MA project deals with quince años celebrations in Iowa. Her project seeks to contribute to work that considers rituals such as the quinceañera as processes rather than static instances. She hopes that by looking at the quinceañera through the lens of individuals and communities trying to forge and express who they are in ways that both honor their traditions and their daily lives, one can better understand why the celebrations look the way they do and what they mean to the people who are involved. Nina has an undergraduate degree in International Studies and Spanish (with a minor in French) from Central College and an MA in Spanish from the University of Iowa. Her current research interests include issues of diaspora, tradition and change (particularly with regard to ritual celebrations), Latino/Hispanic studies, religion, and “culture” in the Midwest. Nina is currently enjoying life in Iowa City and dividing her time between regular jaunts through the Midwestern country-side (both for research and pleasure) and studying.

Thway Kaw Paw is a Board Member of EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center), a community led grassroots organization dedicated to supporting refugees from Burma resettled in Iowa.  Ms. Paw, who is ethnic Karen, lived in the Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand until she was 23 years old.  She left the camp in 2007, when she was granted permission to come to Iowa under refugee status.  Ms. Paw has been working for her community all her life, from teaching Karen and English to children in the refugee camp, to advocating for Karen women as the Chair of the Karen Association of Iowa’s Women’s group.  She works as a full-time Bilingual Outreach Worker for the Des Moines Public School District, and is studying for her GED.  Ms. Paw speaks Karen, Burmese, and Thai, and is honored to be a part of the Refugee Conference in the Heartland.

Alexis Perlmutter is the Associate Director of Policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), the nation’s largest nonprofit serving low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers while advancing for immigration law and policy reform.  In 2012, NIJC and Physicians for Human Rights released the first report on the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention, an arbitrary and inhumane practice that disproportionately affects LGBT asylum seekers and mentally ill detainees.  Prior to joining NIJC, Alexis worked at New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute during the 2009 re-launch of the Museum of the Chinese in America.  Alexis has also worked at Amnesty International, where she created human rights education materials, and for three years, she served as a Rape Crisis Counselor at Bellevue Hospital.  Alexis graduated from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies, with an interdisciplinary focus on human rights.

Rick Rustad is a workplace chaplain for Tyson Foods, Inc. and an ordained minister with 20 years’ experience. He came to Tyson Fresh Meats in Waterloo, IA in 2008, serving a meatpacking plant of over 2500 employees. From 2010-2012, he served as both a chaplain to the plant and member of their recruit team for new Burmese employees. This involved providing employee chaplain care, as a benefit, to Burmese team members and their families, helping them make the transition to a new life and work life in Waterloo.

Barbara Schwartz is a University of Iowa Clinical Professor of Law where she has been on the faculty since 1977. She focuses on immigration law in the College of Law’s Clinical Law Program. She regularly gives presentations to the bar and the community on immigration law and policy, and frequently speaks at clinical education conferences. She is a founding member of the Clinical Legal Education Association, and a former member of the executive committee of the AALS Clinical Education Section. She earned a BA and an MA from the University of Michigan and a JD from Wayne State University. She also taught in the law clinic at Wayne State.

Emily Seiple will receive her BA from the University of Iowa in English and Creative Writing in May 2013. She is completing a creative nonfiction thesis that examines how writing and the act of naming affects sense of place and the search for home. In 2011, she joined staff with the International Writing Program and currently works as the Assistant Coordinator for a writing exchange that brings together youth writers from the US, and Russian and Arabic-speaking countries. She volunteers with the Iowa Youth Writing Project and other community-centered initiatives, helping to plan events and on-going outreach within immigrant and refugee communities. She is grateful to the Sudanese families in Iowa City who have opened their homes and lives to her.

Mak Suceska is the Reception and Placement Case Manager at the US Committee on Refugees and Immigrants in Des Moines. He has extensive volunteer experience with refugee resettlement in Iowa spanning decades. Mak has led various youth projects and has vast knowledge of non-profits in the Des Moines area. He assists refugees through the resettlement process. Mak received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Iowa. Mak is fluent in Bosnian and Croatian.

Jill (Schnoebelen) Tomkins has worked with refugees from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, East and West Africa in a variety of capacities: pro bono legal advisor in Egypt, human rights advocate in Malaysia, U.S. resettlement team leader in Africa, UNHCR resettlement expert in Yemen, and as refugee community resource supervisor in Muscatine, Iowa. As a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia, Jill studied alms-giving within Islam as a potential funding source for poverty eradication efforts and as an alternative to traditional Western concepts of sustainable development.  While living in Ghana, Jill interned at a women’s rights NGO and worked at an orphanage. She has a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University and a Masters in International Law and Human Rights from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Her thesis was on how states undermine effective refugee protection by blocking access to asylum. She wrote an UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper on witchcraft allegations, refugee protection and human rights, which lead to an international conference on the topic and collaboration among agencies protecting refugees.  She currently works at the University of Iowa School of Management and was a volunteer organizer of the Refugees in the Heartland Conference.

Amy Weismann is the Associate Director of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights in Iowa City. She is an alumna of Bryn Mawr College (1993, A.B.) and the University of Iowa College of Law (2000 J.D. with Distinction). Amy served as a Law Clerk for the judges of the Seventh Judicial District of Iowa, and as a Legal Intern in the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Amy also assisted the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice with the editing of the final judgment produced by the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal 2000 for the trial of Japanese military sexual slavery. Before law school, Amy was a humanitarian aid worker in refugee camps in the former Yugoslavia, and a resettlement caseworker for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services affiliate offices in Eastern Iowa, and managed programs for a non-profit pursuing peace and reconciliation work in Bosnia. She lives in Iowa City with her husband, Amir, a soccer coach and naturalized American citizen from Sarajevo, their daughter, Hana, and extended family.

Alek Wek is a refugee agency supporter for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). She supports vital UNHCR projects in education, agriculture and health in South Sudan, where she was born and raised as an ethnic Dinka. She was forced to flee in 1985 to escape the north-south civil war in Sudan. At age 14, she made her way to the United Kingdom from Khartoum where she was discovered by a modeling talent scout at a London street fair.  She now lives in the United States and released her autobiography, Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel, in 2007. It documents her journey from a childhood in Sudan to Europe. She has returned to southern Sudan since fleeing, most recently in 2012 on the first anniversary of South Sudan's independence from Sudan. She visited UNHCR programs aimed at helping refugees gain access to education, health care and livelihoods. Wek is a passionate advocate for refugee rights and participated in the first Refugee Congress in Washington, D.C., where refugees and former refugees from across the country came together to discuss issues affecting them in the United States. She has also spoken about refugees before the Congressional Black Caucus and was an advisory board member for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

John Wilken is the Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Refugee Services, Iowa Department of Human Services and serves as the State Coordinator of Refugees.  John has worked for the Bureau for 26 years.  He was initially hired as a sponsor recruiter/developer; has served as grant and contract manager; and from 1989 – 2006 served as the Deputy Bureau Chief where he was responsible for the management of the employment, resettlement, interpreter and mental health services provided by the Bureau.  He has given numerous presentations about the refugee program and cultural awareness workshops.  He is a member of the Iowa Culture and Language Conference Planning Committee, served on the Iowa Diversity Committee and the Supreme Court’s Court Interpreter Policies Advisory Group.  He has a BA in Sociology from Westmar College and a Masters of Divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Nicholas Wuertz is the Director of Refugee Community Services at Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI).  He is a graduate of Wartburg College, where he studied Religion and minored in Physics, Spanish, and Environmental studies.  He has worked in LSI’s refugee program for 6 ½ years, working in the resettlement program for several years coordinating volunteer efforts and managing LSI’s employment program.  When LSI discontinued resettlement services in 2010 he and the former director began working with ethnic communities, volunteers, and stakeholders to create an array of services that would enhance the training and supports available to refugee families in Des Moines after their initial resettlement period.  He overseas all areas of LSI refugee programming which now includes Services to Older Refugees, Intensive Work Readiness Courses, Community Development and Capacity Building, Community Gardening/Beginning Farmers, and Child Care Business Development.

Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong American writer from Minnesota.  Born in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, Kalia and her family came to America as refugees of war in 1987 when she was six years old.  Kalia is a graduate of Carleton College and Columbia University's MFA program.  Her first book, The Latehomecomer:  A Hmong Family Memoir, was the winner of the 2009 MN Book Award for Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Book of the Year.  She is currently editing her second work, Still, Fluttering Heart:  The Second Album, for publication.  Kao Kalia Yang is a writer, public speaker, and a teacher.

Christa Yoakum is the Nebraska Is Home Coordinator, promoting mutual respect and cooperation to create welcoming communities in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into their new home town. She was fortunate to have worked for the International Organization for Migration during the South Sudanese Out Of Country Vote when the people of South Sudan were able to vote to create the new nation of South Sudan. Living all her life in Nebraska she enjoys meeting new people who can share their experiences and bring the world to her neighborhood.

Larry Yungk is the Senior Resettlement Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Regional Office for the United States and the Caribbean.  His work with refugees began in 1980, when he joined the International Rescue Committee in Washington, D.C. assisting Ethiopian and Afghan refugees.  He also worked with Catholic Charities and later Georgetown University.  He joined UNHCR’s office in Washington in 1987, and has headed the Resettlement Unit in that office since 1994. As the Senior Resettlement Officer in UNHCR Washington, he helps to co-ordinate UNHCR’s global resettlement policies and programs with those of the US resettlement program.  He works closely with the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services; and with US NGOs, on a wide variety of resettlement matters. He also supervises UNHCR’s resettlement operations for the Caribbean region.  He is a frequent presenter on global resettlement at state and national conferences, and has spoken on refugee issues in the media including NPR’s Tell Me More, Minnesota Public Radio, BBC, and NBC Dateline. He received his B.A. in History and Political Science from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, and his M.A. in Government from the University of Maryland, in College Park, Maryland.