by Joe Evancho
BOISE, Idaho — About 70 refugees showed up for special educational fishing day on Saturday, Sept. 6, at Park Center Pond in Boise. The event helped refugees learn about fishing and pertinent regulations while connecting with other transplants and with volunteers from the community.

The refugees come from all corners of the world and are placed in an unfamiliar environment with different ways of doing things. Many of these people have little to no experience fishing with a rod and reel and no clear understanding of fishing regulations.

The event was an effort to educate the refugees about fishing tactics and regulations. Idaho Department of Fish and Game conservations officers (COs) are obligated to issues tickets for regulation violations, even when it is clear the angler is unaware of the need for a license or special equipment. COs will usually issue warnings for first time violations.

The event was also a way to bring these people together so they can gain a sense of community.

Several organizations have come together to support the event including Pacific Crest Independent Insurance Alliance, Boise National Forest, Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG), International Rescue Committee, English Language Center, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s “Connecting People with Nature” program.

Fish biologists from the Boise National Forest conducted educational demonstrations and Idaho Master Naturalist volunteers were also be on hand.

Steve Rainy is the director of the English Language Center in Boise. He said that the day was more than just a fishing trip.

“Most of our refugees are suffering from some level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and it’s been proven that getting out in nature has benefits that help the refugees assimilate and gain a sense of community,” he said. “These people have come from all corners of the world and have been forced to leave their home country to avoid persecution.”

Refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar) Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi attended the event. Even with potential communication barriers, Rainey said, “Fishing is a universal language.”

Rainey said the mission of the ELC is to develop the skills necessary for social interdependence and lifelong learning through English language training within an emotionally, spiritually, and physically safe environment for refugees.

Learning English is an early step in helping these people assimilate into the community.

Studies suggest that spending time outdoors is beneficial for individuals with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Many refugees have experienced severe traumatic events in their lives.  The fishing day is especially popular with senior refugees, many of whom feel isolated and confined to their homes.

Edna Rey-Vizgirdas said the day teaching the refugees was one of the more rewarding experiences of her career.

“Even though there were language barriers, the love of the outdoors and the excitement of fishing brought many different cultures together,” Rey-Vizgirdas said. “I think that for many of the people at the pond catching a fish for the first time and feeling the positive support from the volunteers really made an impact in people’s lives.”

Rainy said that several years ago there was an older refugee from Bosnia that was having a hard time adjusting — harder than most.

“He had been with several counselors and therapists but nothing seemed to help him move forward. It wasn’t until he was introduced to fishing that he began to come around and participate in his new community,” Rainey said.

Ralph Mitchel is a fisheries biologist with the Boise National Forest. He said “It's more than just fishing. We're helping people meet each other and network so that they have someone they can work with in the community and form relationships and regain a sense of belonging in a strange new world.”

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