The Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC) was originally founded in 2012 to help new refugees from Burma successfully settle in Iowa. In 2016, our reach expanded to empower other newly arriving refugee groups through our RISE AmeriCorps program. As Iowa’s first and only refugee-led service provider, our approach is different. EMBARC better understands not only the challenges, but also the dreams and potential of refugee families. We believe that in order to help a community, the individuals within must feel empowered to help themselves. By serving as the collective voice of different ethnic groups, EMBARC strives to address shared issues and uplift all refugee communities. Our ultimate goal is to create opportunities for all refugees in Iowa by removing barriers and fostering equity and inclusion. EMBARC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Des Moines, Iowa, with a satellite office in Waterloo, and programs statewide.
In 2008 and 2009, Karenni, Karen, Chin, Shan, Mon and Rakhine refugees from Burma started resettling to Iowa after fleeing Burma’s 70-year civil war, the longest running civil-war in the world. Since then, over 1 million people have been forced to flee Burma - and nearly 10,000 refugees from Burma have made Iowa home.
Upon arrival in the United States, refugee families receive about 90 days of assistance from a caseworker to help them learn about their new home. That’s not much time when there’s so much to learn. As refugees continued to arrive from Burma, leaders from the refugee community did all they could to help - but they soon realized that many families were still struggling with day-to-day tasks such as understanding mail, writing checks, getting children to school and learning English.
That’s when seven community advocates from three different ethnic organizations (the Karen Association of Iowa, The Chin Baptist Church and the Karenni association) and Henny Ohr, a Korean-American advocate and longtime friend and volunteer, gathered to discuss their vision of a united refugee organization that understands the strengths and challenges of the community and leads in creating solutions. Together they formed EMBARC in 2012 to provide support from refugees and for refugees through advocacy, education and community development. In January 2013, EMBARC obtained 501(c)(3) status.