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From 90 to 900: Extending the Timeline for Resettlement through an Arts- and Activism-Based Resource Guide

We link resettled individuals with students, scholars and community organizations to create a guide to the first 900 days after resettlement

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

This project will help refugees from Iraq, Syria, and beyond who are resettling to the US. When people arrive in the US after fleeing conflict and oppression in their native countries, aid agencies are charged with the impossible task of helping resettled individuals reach self-sufficiency in 90 days. Our project will extend the resettlement window from 90 to 900 days by working with recently relocated individuals to understand their needs, tell their stories, guide others, and thrive. We will work with resettled people to create a community-developed Resource Guide for newly relocated populations. Resettled individuals experience a triple trauma: (1) the trauma of war or persecution; (2) the trauma of fleeing and waiting; (3) and the trauma of resettlement. While less than 1% of displaced people worldwide are resettled, few anticipate the challenges they will face afterward, including prejudice, lack of resources, language barriers, loss of credentials, and inadequate employment. While grant funds would be used to co-develop the Resource Guide, it would be designed to help people move from satisfying basic needs to striving for aspirations as they work through the book. For example, a section on learning English might start with resources for free ESL courses, move to Philadelphia-specific phrases and colloquialisms, and end with strategies for finding opportunities to talk with native speakers about topics that matter to you. Topics covered might include: Philadelphia arts and culture, finding a fulfilling job, the U.S. political system and how to get involved, combating stereotypes, or starting a business. Our idea empowers individuals to help each other through different phases of resettlement: from satisfying their bare necessities to realizing their potentialities. We want to help people move from forced displacement to chosen paths.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We will build on our networks and contacts in northeast Philadelphia. Philadelphia is known as a sanctuary city; we will help to define what this means in practice. Northeast Philadelphia is home to many recent immigrant and refugee communities, and it is the city’s primary resettlement location where individuals are provided transitional housing. Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary has worked extensively with these communities since 2017.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

As this project facilitates the development of the Resource Guide, it will build a network of resettled individuals, community organizations, and American-born individuals committed to assisting people in their first 900 days of resettlement. Through those organizations, we will reach out to the existing population with a series of hosted workshops facilitated by both resettled individuals and the “neighbors.” Workshops will focus on development of different aspects of the Resource Guide.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

At its core, our project is about empathy and belonging. Beyond basic needs, humans need to feel a part of a social fabric and something bigger than themselves in order to thrive. By working with collaborators in ways that help them to assert their autonomy and share their voice with broader publics, we strive to bring dignity, humanity and voice to individuals and families who have had little choice in leaving their homes and relocating. By co-creating a Resource Guide through workshops, this project honors resettled experiences and expertise to help future newcomers. Led by collaborators, community organizations, and Swarthmore faculty, staff, and students, workshops will build bridges across the Philadelphia region and engender understanding and belonging. This project will work to meet two basic needs: the need of recently resettled individuals to add value, and the immediate needs of newcomers for additional support beyond the 90 days offered by resettlement agencies.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project had significant impact on resettled community members; “From 90 to 900” seeks to broaden that impact. Currently, resettled individuals receive 90 days of support from resettlement agencies. After that period, newcomers are expected to be “self-sufficient.” Given the challenges of moving to a new country—language, culture, financial, and other barriers—many resettled individuals struggle to survive, let alone thrive. The guide will address many of these challenges by linking users to local organizations, “near peer” success stories, services, networks, and coping strategies. For example, we expect the guide to help users develop conversational English, find jobs that better match their skill level, and learn how to advocate for themselves. We will know this project makes a difference when we see the Guide helping individuals and family members have a better quality of life, to develop feelings of accomplishment and self-actualization.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Being resettled to the US is traumatic both in its cause and its process. Refugees, by definition, are individuals who were forced to flee their home countries. They did not choose to leave behind their professions, families, homes, native language, and communities. According to FPS collaborators, their indebtedness is compounded with hardships that include: treatment as though they have nothing; inability to find work appropriate to their skill level; suspicion based on their religion, culture, race or ethnicity; language barriers; and general culture shock. Over the course of FPS, collaborators co-created an 8-page resource guide that will be disseminated by resettlement organizations in the city. While this resource will provide a personal touch to the materials newcomers receive, collaborators have expressed a desire to do more. The guide will help to create longer-term approaches to welcoming newcomers. The process of co-creating the Guide will itself help to build community.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Philadelphia has declared itself a sanctuary city and many of our collaborators have noted this with pride. Their families are often tight-knit and spend time with one another; in particular, sharing meals is of utmost importance. Many women choose to stay at home, but this culturally-informed decision often becomes more difficult when husbands have low-paying jobs below their skill level. Resettled individuals are not seeking handouts, but rather to be treated with dignity to realize they are able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. They seek the opportunity to find suitable jobs that pay a living wage and match their skills and qualifications. More resources need to be dedicated to support and help people with the complexities of navigating a new society: trauma-informed mental health specialists, cultural-navigation counselors in schools and communities, increased language support and respect for traditions, culture, and heritage, and culturally-appropriate outreach.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We strongly believe that this project could leverage the relationships we have formed to broaden our impact to other newcomers to the city of Philadelphia. Our community has spent the last two years working and making art together. Through this process, Swarthmore College has built strong relationships with our Iraqi and Syrian collaborators and they have built strong relationships with each other. In addition to the trust we have built together, this communities’ advantages include: self-awareness, confidence, translation skills, cultural competencies, and a strong desire to change and defy stereotypes. Every member of our community is committed to the issues facing resettled individuals, and they have the energy, skills, and drive to truly change the resettlement process for the better to those who come after them. We firmly believe the “From 90 to 900” Resource Guide could be a model that other cities with significant refugee populations could modify for their own contexts.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Swarthmore College is the core partner/stakeholder on this project. In particular, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, and the Arabic and Peace & Conflict Studies departments. Our current partners are our FPS project collaborators, 15 individuals who have worked closely with us for the past two years and Yaroub Al-Obaidi, our FPS community liaison, who has worked alongside us throughout the entire process. GDLoft, a design firm, has also agreed to work with us to advise on the design the guide. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Nationalities Service Center, resettlement organizations in Philadelphia, have worked closely with us. We have also built a relationship with NaTakallam, who we worked with to translate our approximately 200-pg. project catalog. Depending on the direction the Resource Guide takes, we will likely expand our partners to include organizations that provide other services in entrepreneurship, maker spaces, and mental health.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Swarthmore College / The Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary Project

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts college located 11 miles from Philadelphia, was founded with a commitment to social justice. The College is dedicated to the idea of ethical intelligence, i.e., giving students the intellectual capacity to act ethically in the world. The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility focuses on Engaged Scholarship, orienting the College’s resources toward pressing social problems. The Lang Center partners with organizations across the globe, and is also home to the Social Innovation Lab, where we meet with communities to co-create solutions. Over the past two years, the Lang Center and the College Libraries have shepharded Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary, a project to build empathy and a sense of belonging for resettled Iraqis and Syrians through creation of new artistic works. This proposed project builds on FPS and engages our collaborators in using their experience to help others resettle successfully.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a formal part of a University or Research Institution

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

Swarthmore / Pennsylvania


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