IRC Phoenix 'Turns Up the Volume' To Benefit Local Refugees

by Fara Illich
Arts & Culture Bars & Nightlife Community Commentary Featured Food, Restaurants & Dining Music & Events Fara Illich June 11, 2015

Tareke Tesfameachel smiles all the time. Maybe because a smile is universal and Tesfameachel doesn’t speak much English — or maybe he’s just a happy guy.

Either way, the fact that he can find comfort and perhaps even some joy after losing everything and fleeing the war-torn country of Eritrea in 2012, provides a true testament of his strength.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps hundreds of refugees like Tesfameachel resettle in Phoenix each year.

From getting an apartment to applying for a driver’s license — assimilatuion can be challenging, not to mention time consuming. That’s where funds for emergency cash assistance from the IRC come in — helping with rent, food, and other basic needs.
World Refugee Day

On Saturday, June 20, the IRC will be raising money for the emergency cash fund through a benefit concert at Crescent Ballroom. One hundred percent of the proceeds from World Refugee Day: Turn Up the Volume goes toward helping refugees, according to Nicky Walker, development manager at IRC in Phoenix.

“In circumstances like domestic abuse or a medical emergency — that fund is critical because people need assistance immediately,” she said.

The federal government provides financial support to refugees for the first 90 days, but in reality, it takes much longer than that to learn English, get a full-time job and figure out life in the U.S.

Since emigrating from Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa, Tesfameachel still struggles with English and doesn’t yet have a full-time job.

But he’s getting by on his own, and is no longer in need of the IRC’s emergency cash assistance. Instead, he’s making progress through a different IRC program called New Roots, where he can practice English, learn U.S. farming practices and even make extra money selling crops.

According to Timothy Olorunfemi, Phoenix’s New Roots program coordinator, working in the garden provides many benefits, ranging from job skills to mental health.


Timothy Olorunfemi (left), program manager for IRC New Roots, discusses produce sourcing with restaurateur Amy Binkley and New Roots farmer Ahmed Ali.

“When they’re happy, I’m happy,” he said. “A lot of them tell us how much they appreciate the program and it makes me happy, it keeps me going.”

For Tesfameachel, working in the New Roots plot at PHX Renews provides a sense of peace and belonging. He farmed in his home-country of Eritrea and gardening allows him to do something familiar.

He tends about one-eighth of an acre, growing more than ten varieties of crops seasonally including beets, radishes, peas, lettuce, spinach and corn.

According to Walker, the goal of the benefit concert is to raise awareness about refugees in Phoenix and spotlight the work they do in the community.

So the next time you drive down Central Avenue, you might glance over at PHX Renews and recognize Tareke Tesfameachel from Eritrea or someone you met from Sudan, Iraq or Burundi.


Artichokes are just one of the many crops grown seasonally at the IRC’s New Roots plot at PHX Renews near Indian School Road on Central Avenue.

“They are often in the background and we want to bring them to the foreground,” she said. “We want to show people the entrepreneurial spirit that the refugees have and the fact that they are helping to build our community and strengthen it.”

Tickets for the benefit concert cost $25 with live music from DJentrification, Sylvain Paslier, World Class Thugs and Reagan, playing music from the Congo. Doors open at 8 p.m.

As a special treat, guests will also be able to enjoy a signature cocktail made with melons grown by a group of Somali Bantu women in Chandler.

After a night of eclectic music, dancing and drinks, Walker says she hopes people will walk away from the benefit with more than just a good time.

“One thing that I hope folks will take away is that they can get involved,” she said. “We can’t do this alone, this is really a community-wide effort.”

Click here to learn more about World Refugee Day: Turn Up the Volume and the IRC in Phoenix.