"After many months of training and anticipation with the other members of our Good Neighbor Team (from The Church of the Good Shepherd), it was a real joy for my family and me to finally meet our new Syrian friends at the airport. They have been on a long journey since departing their home country, exacerbated by the difficult health challenges that twelve-year old Aya faces.
We shook hands and exchanged greetings. My girls (ages 9 and 7) mostly communicated with Aya through shy glances that soon became playful smiles and hugs. During the short time at the airport with Aya, her mother, and her aunt, we had more questions than answers about their story and circumstances. We told them that we represent several local families who have been preparing for their arrival for many months. We shared our excitement of their becoming our neighbors from a faraway land. My wife, Sarah, brought them food and drinks as we waited for luggage and arranged logistics to get them to the hospital and then to their apartment. As the luggage conveyor belt began circulating in the baggage area, Sarah presented our small gifts to the weary travelers.
As we later reflected on this first meeting with our new friends from Syria, we marveled at how much courage, stamina, and hope they must have to come into a new and very different country and to encounter smiling strangers, while enduring the long wait with smiles and gratitude. We are blessed to have three new neighbors in our town and look forward to becoming good friends."
-Aaron McKethan (Good Neighbor Team Member)
First impressions can matter a great deal, especially when traveling to a new place that is to become your new home.
When refugees first arrive at the RDU airport, they are exhausted from their long journeys to the United States and are overwhelmed with the unfamiliarity of the new environment and culture. Some arrive without family or friends for comfort and support, making the transition even more taxing. This is where World Relief Durham’s Welcome Teams come in. Welcome Teams---comprised of two to eight people---are the first the greet partnered refugees and welcome them to their new homes in North Carolina. The Welcome Team assists refugees with their luggage, drives them to their new apartments, goes over a brief housing/safety checklist, and leaves them with a culturally appropriate meal. Once their new international friends have been settled in, the Welcome Team goes on their way, hopefully to meet up with them again in the future.
Nural Amin (pictured right) is a Burmese refugee who was resettled in the Triangle through World Relief Durham. He fled his home in Burma in 1994 due to the armed conflict, and he and his family have lived in a refugee camp in Bangladesh ever since. In Bangladesh, they were not allowed to leave the refugee camp, and Burmese refugees were disliked by the local people. Life continued to be difficult for him, especially when he lost his leg in an accident a year ago.
When he arrived in the United States, he didn’t know anyone, as he was forced to leave his wife and children behind in Bangladesh. He and another Burmese refugee were on the same flight and were greeted by the same Welcome Team and interpreter at RDU. Their Welcome Team made a sign for them and presented them with gifts: Duke baseball caps and Nalgene water bottles. Nural Amin says it felt nice to have someone waiting for him there at the airport and that it gave him hope for the freedom he would experience living in America.
The Welcome Team that greeted Nural Amin upon his arrival was the Smith family: Jordan, Trevor, and their kids (pictured left). With three young children and a fourth on the way, Jordan and Trevor weren’t quite ready to commit to a volunteer position with a lengthy or regular time commitment, so the Welcome Team was a perfect fit. Being new to the area, they saw it as a way to get more involved with their community outside of church, to grow more aware of different people groups, and to introduce their children to a new pocket of Durham.
Jordan says that the refugees they welcomed were very quiet and tired from the journey. Because the men didn’t speak English, Jordan and her family relied on an interpreter, another Burmese refugee, to communicate with them. After bringing the men to their new apartment, they provided them with a meal of chicken, rice, green beans, and baklava---a taste of home in an unfamiliar place. She says that the most rewarding part of her volunteer experience was getting to watch her kids get excited and curious about refugees in general and getting to respond to the major news headlines about the refugee crisis. “We’ve learned a lot about Burma this week, and it was a real honor to get to be a part of these men’s arrival,” she says.
Welcome Teams are a great volunteer choice for those interested in forming connections with refugees in a group setting and for a short period of time. They are an ideal way to test if you’d be a good fit for one of WRD’s more long-term commitments, like Friendship partners or Good Neighbor Teams. Consider forming a Welcome Team and standing for the vulnerable as they first arrive in the United States.
[Article by: Rachel Hagerman]
Here at World Relief of the Triangle, things can get so busy that it is hard to find time for the small things, such as maintaining the vehicles that we use each day to transport clients. We want to thank Vic and Bob, two volunteers who helped to clean and repair our three vehicles. Clients can now ride comfortably in our vehicles. It's thanks to volunteers like Vic and Bob that WRD can continue to serve refugees as best we can. Thank you Vic and Bob! If you are interested in having your car as clean as our vehicles, contact Vic at The Durham Ritz Car Wash and Detail Center for a cleaning!
Nathan and his family were first introduced to Leng Mang’s family after an urgent email was sent out late one Friday night from World Relief of the Triangle asking for brief housing while a refugee family’s apartment was being prepared.
“My wife and I decided this would be a great opportunity to serve refugees and to use our home that God has blessed us with as a ministry tool,” Nathan said. “I have been involved with World Relief of the Triangle in the past, but have wanted to find other ways to be involved.”
Leng Mang’s family arrived to the U.S. on May 6th and stayed with Nathan and his family until May 10th. By the end of the week, the two families had bonded over meals and watching their kids play outside.
On May 10th Nathan helped the family move into their new apartment. Since then, the entire family has been enrolled in ESL classes and they are settling in nicely.
“Aung Win has a two hour commute to ESL classes each day, but he has such a great attitude about it,” Nathan said, “It’s evident that he is grateful that he has the opportunity to learn English, even though it may require riding on 3 different buses to get there. I could learn a lot from his perspective on life, particularly during times when I am prone to complain while sitting in my car in traffic.”
Nathan says that he believes that his family was very blessed by the experience of hosting Leng Mang’s family, “We are so thankful that the Lord has allowed our family to develop a friendship with them.”The two families loved getting to know each other, and their friendship is concrete proof of the connections and work being done here at World Relief of the Triangle. For anyone that is interested in finding other ways to serve, hosting a family is an excellent way.
Throughout their stay and as their friendship continues, the two families find ways to communicate despite language discrepancies.
“Though there is a language barrier,” Nathan said, “we have been able to communicate through broken English, the iBurmese app, and lots of sign language.”
Out of all the things that the two families did together, what Nathan and his wife enjoyed most was watching Leng Mang and his family interact with their children, two of which are 8-month-old twins.
“Leng Mang, Aung Win and Len Len Aung are always fighting over who gets to hold them! We often heard Leng Mang singing to the babies while he was holding them. It was so precious.”
Nathan and his wife plan to continue serving in this way. However, next time a similar situation occurs, the family may do a few things differently.
In particular concerning their preparation of typical American dishes.
“We’ll have to remember the next time we host a Burmese family not to cook pork chops…”
If you are interested in finding ways to serve, including hosting a family, contact Kaylee Baker at email@example.com for more information.
To start a business is difficult, but to do so as a resettled refugee seems it would be nearly impossible.
However, Saba and her husband Ammar would face the challenges of this task with open arms.
Their family came to the U.S. from Egypt in February as refugees resettled by World Relief of the Triangle. As a family, they began to make the same adjustments as any other refugee family: they connected with a Good Neighbor Team (GNT), they moved into an apartment, and they began ESL classes, to name a few.
Despite these challenges of entering into a new culture, only four months later this family would bring a whole new meaning to the idea of self-sufficiency that WRT strives for.
Saba, Ammar’s wife, decided to start her own catering company, similar to one that she had when she was in Egypt. Her catering company serves Arabic and Middle Eastern dishes, including their celebrated chicken fataa with salad and hummus.
“It is exciting to start a family business,” Ammar said, “I want to encourage [Saba] to go ahead. I want her to have her own job and confidence.”
On May 19th World Relief of the Triangle helped the family host a kick-off event for their catering business: Fataa Catering. The kick-off eventwas a tasting in the Hargraves Picnic Shelter in Chapel Hill.
Twenty-five people showed up, and of course Ammar was there, along with many volunteers from the family’s GNT and from World Relief Durham.
“Of course World Relief of the Triangle helped us so much,” Ammar said, “Marissa was a good helper, and of course Sam and Christina Benton. All of the volunteers helped us out a lot. ”
Fortunately, this event is not the last; the next event is planned for some time in June. As for now, a group of volunteers through World Relief of the Triangle surprised Saba with donations of various baking and cake decorating supplies to further her business and learning, which leaves Ammar feeling optimistic about the future.
“I hope this business will be a new start for us.”
Shawn and Annie Hirsch first got involved with World Relief Durham in the fall of 2012. Since then, in partnership with their Good Neighbor Team, they have seen the positive power of building good relationships with refugees for relief and development.
Their Good Neighbor Team (GNT) formed shortly after Shawn and Annie provided donations for a refugee arrival. "First we just bought groceries for a family. We dropped them off, but we didn't get to meet the family," Annie said.
Currently, the Hirschs are serving a refugee family in Durham, and upon their arrival, they met them at the airport, ate dinner together, and played games. "This weekend, we're going to take them to get clothes and hang out with them," Annie said about the team's future plans with the family. "I'm also really excited for them to teach us how to play retan ball--it's a Burmese game. Then we also want to take them to a Durham Bulls game and things like that."
Annie also said that the refugees are young and active to sports are a must in their time spent together. Because of this, the team is excited to walk with the refugees in the Great Human Race on April 6th. So far, Shawn and Annie and another member of their GNT are committed to walk in the race, and they're looking forward to getting the refugees signed up as well.
"Volunteering at World Relief Durham is a great opportunity to form a relationship and serve people," Annie said. "It's different from serving strangers once that you'll never meet again; you really do get to know them and the relationship is mutually beneficial."
Both Shawn and Annie have learned immensely more about other cultures and the people in the Triangle that they wouldn't otherwise know. The need for volunteer ministry with refugees is obvious to the Hirschs, who are excited to continue working to serve the refugees in Durham.
"These people are from halfway around the world, and now we're sitting in the same room."
On Saturday, December 8, 2012, more than 200 refugees gathered at our Welcome to the Neighborhood photography event to celebrate their different cultures and build relationships with volunteers. The afternoon featured free photographs of refugees, food, and a talent show.
As refugees arrived, they were greeted by roughly 60 volunteers. During the two hours of the event, refugees had their pictures taken by five different photographers, who freely donated their skills and time. They also performed in the talent show to showcase their cultures. The performances featured traditional Burmese dancing and song and music from Sudanese and other refugees.
The event was more than successful because God did immeasurably more than we anticipated. We planned for only 50 refugees to come, but more than 200 showed up at the event. Refugees were connected to our volunteers, who will help them continue to adapt to American culture, even after World Relief releases them. Also, Welcome to the Neighborhood served as a tangible example of how World Relief strives to partner with the local church to serve the most vulnerable.
This event would not have been possible without the help of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Cresset Baptist Church, and Vintage Church, all who gave their time, resources, and money to serve area refugees. These churches provided transportation for resettled refugees, facilities, door prizes and clothing and supplies donations. We are so thankful to all of our many volunteers and contributors who made so much of this day possible. Our photographers at the event were phenomenal: Nathan Clendennin, Emily Nycum, Brett Seay, Whitney Ford, and Nathan Mah.
The need for volunteers and resources here at World Relief of the Triangle is continuous. However, today we need immediate help. One of our refugee families, who is hard at work participating in ESL and job training classes, is in dire need of financial assistance. Family members recently lost their jobs, and need financial assistance to cover their basic life needs while in the process of searching for new employment.
If you would be willing to provide financial assistance, please contact our resettlement director, Lark Walters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UN refugee agency recently released a report on the status of refugees worldwide in 2011, noting some particular trends. I want to highlight two disconcerting trends. First, in the words of the report: "2011 saw suffering on an epic scale:" the number of displaced persons stayed above 42 million for the fifth straight year.
The report also shows that the number of people returning to their home country has remained low while the number of resettlements to a third country (like the USA) have continued to decrease.
As the summary says, "a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain as one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban location."
To draw all this together: at a time when forced displacement remains incredibly high and the ability to return home remains low, the only remaining option out of this precarious existence, namely resettlement, has been steadily declining.
We've felt this decline in our office, watching fewer refugees able to come over, especially families. The decreased number of arrivals, due to added security checks, came at a time of financial crisis and rising anti-immigrant sentiments, making the cuts seem desirable to many. Yet, the result, as the report shows, has been to leave more people stranded in precarious situations with no way out.
What should we do?
As Christians, we should reflect on our priorities. It is easy to give some out of our plenty but when resources are less abundant, generosity costs more. Yet, caring for the marginalized, persecuted, and displaced is central throughout the whole Bible: Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt! We have to ask ourselves the very tough question: do the poorest and most vulnerable bear the brunt of our cutbacks? And, what does this mean when Jesus repeatedly identifies himself with the most vulnerable? We also need to get involved. Refugee programs depend on community support. So, find ways to give and get involved. If you are volunteering, please fill out and submit monthly volunteer logs so we can document the community support! Finally, advocate. We can use our voices to let government officials know that the refugee resettlement programs remain a vital humanitarian effort as well as a blessing to our country, state, and city. Karim, a refugee our office resettled, talked about all this in terms of friendship. In an interview, he said,
"the refugee is a tired person coming a long way who needs rest and support." Later in the conversation, when talking about the U.S., the theme of friendship returned: "I think the United States of America and the American people are looking for real friends." We prayerfully examine our lives, give, engage, and advocate, ultimately, because Christ calls us to be friends, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
It’s only May but think all the way to the end of August, when you realize summer is over despite the lingering heat. What will you have done with your summer? At World Relief, we are praying that God will put it on the hearts of many people to take some extra time this summer to think about and live into international missions, right here, with our refugee neighbors. As we always try to remind ourselves and our church partners in the Triangle:
Our Mission starts HERE and begins NOW. Join us on May 24th for an overview of our work with international refugees and details about how you, your family, your small group, and your entire church can embrace the mission on our doorstep.
When: Thursday, May 24th, 7-8.30p
Where: Church of the Good Shepherd (3741 Garrett Road Durham, NC 27707).
Please email me (email@example.com) so I can let you know the details (we’ll be in the conference room but you might need a map to find it!).