April 25, 2012

I have a simple idea for Christmas this year. Instead of collecting gifts for refugee kids, what if we help refugee parents shop for their kids themselves? It's one thing to see your kids receive gifts from others. It's different when you get to pick out the gifts yourself.

I assume everyone agrees that this is a good idea, so the question is, how do we do it?

How do we give the gift of giving?It's pretty easy, actually. Over 90% of our clients have church and community volunteers working with them. They are already in relationship with these families. Not all of them can afford to give these parents enough money to buy gifts for their kids, but my guess is most would have the time and desire to take the parents shopping. So, all we need to do is raise the money to give to the refugees and volunteers. The volunteers can take pictures and we will post them here so that those who give can share in the fun. I know it is less satisfying than buying and wrapping the gifts. I get it. But sometimes the less satisfying choice for us is the best way to love and serve others. We give gifts at Christmas not to feel better about ourselves anyways.

We give to remember the joy that is ours because God so selflessly gave everything God had, God's very life, to us. To give parents who have arrived in the last year $30-$40 for each kid under 18 means we need to raise $1,800-$2,500.

Donate online now. Checks can be mailed to our office: 801 Gilbert St. #209 Durham, NC 27701. Please let us know on the memo line that it is for Christmas giving. We know we're running a little late on announcing this: sometimes obvious ideas take a while to think up. Please help us spread the word to your church, office, neighborhood, friends, family, and anyone else you know.



April 25, 2012

Dahir Bedel had been in America for ten days at the time of the interview. The views expressed do not represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner. The interview has been edited to correct grammatical inaccuracies while still preserving the refugee's distinct perspective and voice.

Where are you from? My nationality is Somalian, but I just say I am from Ethiopia. I have been living in Ethiopia for almost 20 years. I traveled from Somalia when I was three years old, in 1991, when the central Somali government had already collapsed. I have been living there since. So I just say I am from Ethiopia. I have been living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Can you talk about what the refugee camp was like? The refugee camp is located in a very small town…in eastern Ethiopia… near the Somalia border. The life is very difficult there. There are almost more than 18,000 families of refugees. I started my basic life there. I enrolled in school in Ethiopia. Ethiopian schools are very difficult. The curriculum is based on their language called Harari. Also their form of writing is different from Latin…[the Somali language uses a Latin Script]. So in Ethiopia, it’s very difficult to live in a refugee camp.

How did you feel when you first came to America? Were you excited? Very, very excited to come to America because America is a very large country and it is also democratic. So you can live, and you can learn, and everything is better. Very much so.

What is one thing you wished American people knew about refugees? I want to tell them that for refugees, every person when he comes first to America, there is a culture adjustment. He may not be expecting that America is like this. In America all the people are helping you, all the people are smiling, everybody’s happy. Ethiopia is not like this. Very simple, like, “Excuse me, sorry,” – everybody is saying it in America. This is wonderful. You do not see these kind of things in Ethiopia. At least when you see most of the people, you might think that all of them are angry… There are circumstances, most of them based on war, and that is why they came here [to America], for this sentiment.

When you came to America ten days ago, what did you think about the country? Was it what you expected? I’ve been expecting that it’s a very big country, there’s… a diversity of culture, religion, everything. I became happy when I first came. Also in Ethiopia they say there is a diversity of culture and religion, like this, but it’s not like this in Ethiopia….In America I think there is a full democracy, so I am happy.

What would you want to tell other people in your refugee camp about coming to America? They may have a conception about America when they are in the refugee camp. They may think America is like this, like this. There is snow, there are people. There may be some radical idea they believe, especially for Muslims. The Muslims, some have, not all of them, a radical idea about America, that America is chasing Muslim countries and destroying Muslim countries. They do believe such - a small amount of people do believe this. But I am going to tell them that idea is not real… Also, they know the humanity. America is welcoming all refugees, I think. Now, I know many religious people, those from Iraq, Afghanistan, many other countries. So I am going to tell them that there is a democracy in America, so I hope they will be happy when they come. They will see when they arrive.

What idea do people in your country have of America? A number of people in Ethiopia and Somalia are very eager to go to America… A number of people in Ethiopia and in the refugee camp, a number of Somali people are very eager to come to America, especially the youth, because they want to get a basic education. Also a better life. So a number of people are very eager to come.

Are you looking for a job? I have been here for ten days; still I haven’t gotten my social security card. As soon as I get my social security card, I will look for a job.

Did you come here with your family? Almost all of my family was killed in the Somalia civil war in 1998. I was the only one who survived from an attack on our house. My father, brothers, and mother were killed there. So I lived with another family, those were our neighbors… so I have no other family, but they raised me, so they are my family. But they didn’t come yet to America.

Are they going to come? Yes, they are in the process.

April 25, 2012

An Eritrean refugee, who had lived in refugee camps in Ethiopia for six years before coming to the U.S., tells how he became a refugee. He had lived in the U.S. for about two weeks at the time of the interview. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner. The interview has been edited to correct grammatical inaccuracies while still preserving the refugee's distinct perspective and voice.

Can you tell a little bit about what it was like in the refugee camp in Ethiopia? Yes, in Ethiopia, once you get to come or are sent from Eritrea, there is a refugee center that accepts Eritreans, and they put you in camps. Many Eritreans will be given a shelter and food. Then you earn your life through that process.

Why did you have to leave Eritrea?

There are so many problems in Eritrea—political and religious problems. Specifically, my problems were political problems. When I was learning in the university, there were voluntary trainings that had been made by the university programs. Once we looked through the particulars of the campaign, we did not accept that voluntary program, because there were dues of 800 ERN, Nafka, which is the currency for Eritreans. Because it was that much, and everything—the food and the rent, we did not accept that […] But unexpectedly the government gave orders just to go—it became a must—and the student union of the university had a meeting and gave statements from the students and informed the university that the students didn’t accept these programs. Soon military police or government officials came to our dorms and collected us in one of the football stadiums by force and they had there about three or four thousand students in one place. Then they took us to a place, which I didn’t know before even, that was 145 kilometers from our university campus. It was a hot and sunny place, and we were concentrated there with our bare feet for 45 days.

Then we signed a letter…it was not our wish, but forcibly signed. We used to do some heavy physical work…having this…even the government starts to have bad views of us … When I finished my mechanical engineering… I also signed up for national services… When I was there, there were a lot of treatment from the government. They already released our names to the one who just started all violence against the government…Even if you are a kid, you will be forced to work… The last meeting, I decided to go to, for refugees. My friend and I worked in the campaign; we were given fifty dollars per month that couldn’t be for food. I stayed on for four years through that. My friend was not in national services, he was a temporary worker…. and I was in national services. Every temporary worker was collected just to move to military services. He was from Ethiopia.

I had grown up in Ethiopia, even if I am Eritrean, I had grown up in Ethiopia, and he too was from Ethiopia and had grown up in Ethiopia. He was exiled to Eritrea, the same as my parents who were exiled from Ethiopia to Eritrea. Then we were in… one section of fields and unexpectedly he was lost, since he was ordered to go to military services, but that was not his aim to go to military services at that time. Soon I was called to the office, and the boss, that is one of the Eritrean leaders, asked me to tell him to go to the military services. That’s not my will, to say these things, that’s his will to go, but he told me just to bring him, or to find him where his address was. Then I told him that this is not my job or my task, that the military force or military police can find him or ask him…but for some reason they took me to the place which is inside our camp and arrested me. I was in prison for three days. They put me in a van almost till midnight and they took me almost 145 kilometers away…then they led me to the place which is his home, my friend’s home. They ordered me to go inside his home, to knock on the door, and to call him. They were armed and they controlled me. Once I went and knocked… and his sister opened the door… I asked her where my friend was. His name is Jonas…. He jumped out the back door…. Meanwhile they tried to go inside and just thrashed inside. Then I got the opportunity, the chance, to escape, and I escaped and went to nearby friends and the next morning I just left on foot.

Some Eritrean Refugees in a Camp in Ethiopia (not the speaker)


Can you talk about America? What did you think it would be like and how is it different? …America and Eritrea are two quite different things, because here you have freedom of speech, freedom and permits to work. Also, you can express feelings. But there it is very difficult to express feelings and there is very little freedom of speech…. There it is bad administration and management, so once I got this… note to come to the United States, I was really happy, because there could be nothing that could grasp me or could delay me from what I want to be, you know? There you are not leading your life. Somebody is leading your life. Even if you don’t like political things, you are going to get involved in that way. But here you can have options. If you don’t want to be involved in political things, you can be what you want.

What about the people you have met in Durham since you’ve been here? The first time that I got to Durham, I lived with Somali people, which is new for me, even if I know them, but it’s a new culture, even a new language. But we all live together peacefully. Even in Durham we get every accommodation from World Relief and from the American government. Because we have rooms to sleep in, every home has food, and also we are getting service, like now we have job training services and how to get a job and to be self-employed.

Is there anything else you would like to tell refugees? Here in America, what they should have to do now is forget all the bad situations they have been in, and try to be reborn again to try to do what they need to now. Here they can express themselves and they could be, they must be happy, you know.

April 25, 2012

I want to tell you about the big picture, about the 43 million refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons. 43 million. The refugee crises are multiplying, becoming more unpredictable and harder to resolve. One camp has more people living in it than Raleigh does (more pictures of Dadaab, by Brendan Bannon).

I want you to be concerned. I want you to be shocked, to be heart broken, to be, most simply, motivated to make a difference. And to tell everyone you know, and even those you don't know, about it. But I need to write about something much more mundane, about something right here, in Durham. The weather, in fact. In case you haven't noticed, it's getting cold out there (this lovely photo is from The Carolina Wandering).

I always say "refugees come over with what they can carry" and joke that they can't come with couches or beds. It's true. They don't come with blankets either. Or with coats. We need you to help refugees stay warm this winter. We have no blankets, comforters, or winter coats in our warehouse. Please donate: coats, blankets, comforters, space heaters (please, SAFE ones, safe for families with little kids and who aren't used to living with electricity), socks, hats, scarves, and gloves. Donations, which are tax deductible, can be dropped off at our office (801 Gilbert St. #209) during regular business hours. Email JSheppard@wr.org for more information. Please spread the word, and while you share the need, let them know about the 43 million worldwide, the nearly 500,000 in Dadaab, and the individuals and families coming to Durham every month. UPDATE: you can download a flyer to help you spread the word.

April 25, 2012

If you clicked the link from our e-letter and are looking for the interview with the Eritrean Refugee, it's on this page. Sorry for the inconvenience. This is the story of an Iraqi woman from Baghdad who did not want to give her name or release her photo, but was happy to share her story. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner.

When did you come here?

I came here in June 2009.

How did you feel when you first arrived in America?

First, there was a delay in our airplane because of a storm in Chicago, so we [including her husband and baby] at first stayed three days there. I had family there in Chicago. So we called them and said, “Hey, we’re here, we have a delay, we’ll stay for three days if you can come.” They came and we saw them. It was a very nice three days because we hadn’t seen them for 15 years. Then we came to North Carolina. I had no one here, just a friend that came to the airport to take us to our home. So it was nice, here there are a lot of trees and not that many buildings, and you know it’s different from other cities. We like our apartment. We found that our friend had prepared everything at home for us and for my baby. So it was good the first two weeks, then you start thinking about your future and what you’re going to do: I have to look for a job and these things. So I am still looking for a job now–two years and two months.

When did you learn English?

I already came in knowing English, but I improved it here for the past two years.

How did you learn English in Iraq?

In school and in college. We start English in the 5th grade until we graduate from the university. I knew a little bit, but I improved myself.

Does everyone take these English classes and some know it better than others?

Yeah, if you are more curious and smart, you learn more. If you just want to know the basics and that’s all, you can pass.

So you speak Arabic and English?

Yes, and I want to learn more Spanish and French. Tell me about your transition here. Did you leave a lot of family behind in Iraq? Yes, I came here in June 2009. In July 2010, my brother and his wife came. In September, my mom and my other brother came.

How do you feel about leaving Iraq?

I left Iraq in a very bad situation, so even the good memories that I have from my country are no longer happy or good to remember, because the bad things go over the good things over there. So I’m not going to say I’m happy. I left everything there, my memories, my home, my history, everything, but to start here all over again– it’s hard but it’s worth it. I think it’s worth it for me, and for my children.

Did you leave a lot of friends in Iraq?

Yeah, I had a lot of friends. I have a lot of friends here but not in this state. But it’s better than staying there.

Was it hard to make friends here?

No, it’s not hard, but you know if I came here at a younger age, maybe I would have been more adjustable with the culture and the people, because you’ve got school, like at college you get to know more people. But I don’t have a job. I went to school at the community college taking classes over there. I have friends, but you know they will not be like your friends in high school that went with you to college and up until you’re married. All those memories will be with your friends in your country. But I thought if I had a job or I went to school maybe I would have more friends.

Is there anything else you want to tell people about coming in as a refugee?

I always encourage people to come in here and start from the beginning. It’s okay. You think it’s a waste of time–no, being in a stable situation, a safe situation, is the best thing that you will ever imagine. And you may lose someone that you really love, and you may change the place, but I always encourage people that if you have the opportunity to be here, you should be here. Especially for highly educated people in my country, because it’s bad for them to be over there. But you know these obstacles that you have, you imagine in your mind that when you come in here that maybe they will have more opportunities for you to find a job than lower-educated people. They don’t have any bachelor’s degrees or masters or Ph.Ds. and you can’t find a job here because the degree that you have is from your own country, not from here. That’s the difficult thing that you can live with, that you used to be a doctor or engineer in your country and here you have to accept that you are doing housekeeping or something like that, that’s hard. When you come here with a lot of dreams in your mind and you can’t find even the half of the thing that you can do, it’s hard.

Has it been that way for you?

Yeah, I’m looking for jobs. I went to school. I took a certification in health care and have a college education. I have experience working in hospitals and I know so many medical terms. I even took my degree in Durham tech with high grades so they offered me free classes over there but still I can’t find a job here. Durham’s a medical city, but it’s hard if you don’t know someone that can hire you. That’s the only problem.  

April 25, 2012

Muhannad is a 21-year-old refugee from Iraq. He had only been in the United States for a week when interviewed. He speaks some English, but the translator helped with most of this interview. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner.

When you arrived in America, what did you think? Was it different than you had expected? Some things were just what I expected, and some things were not what I expected. I expected the people to be more helpful, but they are not that much. But some of the things that I saw were much more beautiful than I expected. You have an apartment in Durham already? Yes, and I lives with my family there.

Has World Relief helped you a lot since you have been here? Yes, they were helpful, and they teach us things like how to learn English and how to ride the bus.

What did you feel like before you came to America?

Were you nervous about coming? I was so excited to be here that I did not sleep, just waiting for the time to be here.

Was there anything you were sad about leaving? No. You didn’t leave family? Just friends.

Were you also in a refugee camp? No, we were just in the city in apartments.

What about Iraq? Can you tell me a little bit about how it was to live there? The image that I have from Iraq is that I was in my own country but I was humiliated and neglected, nobody cares about what happens to you.

Did you graduate from a university in Iraq? I just finished primary school.

Are you concerned about learning English? Do you think it will be difficult for you? I am just so excited to learn English and just waiting for the time to learn so I can talk and communicate so I can merge into the community.

What are your dreams and goals for you while you are here in America? I want to be self-sufficient, dependable, able to afford my life expenses, and find a good job. Are you going to start looking for a job after school? I am so excited– if I found a job today I would start.

April 25, 2012

Well, we've almost made it: our fiscal year ends this month. At points, we've been overwhelmed with arrivals (around 40 people in December!) and we've watched the weeks go by without anyone coming (nobody came in April). We learned that Iraqi refugees were calling their cellphones "My Obama"(come to a volunteer orientation to find out why). We've partnered with churches to support ESL programs and we had our first human trafficking awareness event. In short, it's been a full, exciting, and occasionally nerve racking year. We've had some incredible growth as well, and so we wanted to share with you some highlights.

It's not too late to give generously to refugees and to donate to our work. There are many other important factors that can't be quantified: lives touched, grief shared, hope given, lessons learned, meals eaten, first experiences, long waits at Social Services, kids playing across language barriers, first words of English spoken (or Spanish...or Arabic or...). Jesus said that when we welcome strangers, we welcome him. We are so blessed to have been welcoming Jesus with you this past year and look forward to continuing this joyful work next (fiscal) year. Keep an eye out for a state wide update via email.

April 25, 2012

What would you take? What precious things would you have to leave behind? Refugees come over with what they can carry, bringing clothes and other essentials. Many come with gifts, like handmade shirts and bags, for those who help them in the U.S. As our fiscal year ends, we want to have an end of the year "blow out" give away.

We want refugees to know they have what they need and maybe even have a few things they want. Many of the refugees here are extremely generous. It is often hard to leave their home without sharing a drink or even a meal. We have the chance to return the favor, to show them that they've helped us become more generous. Refugees need cars. Students and families need computers. TV's and DVD players allow them to watch familiar movies (Bollywood for the Bhutanese!) and also use ESL curriculum. Gift cards to grocery stores allow them to buy food above and beyond the necessary items. Rice cookers, microwaves, and vacuum cleaners are helpful. Winter is approaching and they'll soon need coats, hats, and gloves. We need to stock up on basic items (like comforters, sheets for twin beds, blankets, and toiletries). But we also want refugees to have more than just the minimum needed to survive here. We want them to feel blessed, abundantly.

Refugees come with what they can carry, and many come carrying gifts for others.

Our fiscal year ends September 30th. What will you do this month to abundantly bless our newest neighbors? For suggestions or more information, please email tmcgee@wr.org and acastle@wr.org. All donations are tax-deductible.

April 25, 2012

I overheard an Iraqi refugee talking to his case manager in broken English. I was amazed: this man had spoken no English just a few months before. After the conversation was over, I said to him, "You're English is getting so much better." He laughed and said, "English? Not much. But Spanish, yes." He then started talking in Spanish. We all laughed. Immigration has and continues to reshape America. Refugees are often just as confused as life long residents. They express bewilderment, sometimes outright prejudice and other times, a sense of humor and even enjoyment at how different America is becoming.

Veteran civil rights leader, John Lewis, proclaimed that immigration is the new civil rights battle. As our nation recently opened a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr., it's important for us, especially as Christians, to reflect on our silence, complicity, and compromises. What would King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" say to us, to our churches, about immigration? Fears about transition, about change, about shifts in power and unanticipated alterations of our communal identity are real. But fear is overcome through love--that is, through building relationships, through loving these "others" that we fear. To help provide a context to hear stories, see models of welcoming, and share the joys and struggles of these transitions, we're supporting a film screening of Welcome to Shelbyville on Sept. 17.

This film documents the challenges and blessings in building community across racial, national, and religious lines in a small, Southern town. http://vimeo.com/13152216 Your church can also participate in DREAM Sabbath, which will give your church a chance to hear from and reflect on the experiences of undocumented immigrant youths. You can continue to follow the conversations on the undocumented.tv blog, or even host a screening of their short film. The makers of Welcome to Shelbyville have a Building a Nation of Neighbors curriculum and the NC Council of Churches has put together a great Bible study. It's easy to imagine yourself fighting alongside civil rights leaders back then. But will you stand with our vulnerable immigrant neighbors now? Will you, like the Iraqi refugee, find joy in the differences of our community?

April 25, 2012

DREAM Sabbath September 16th to October 9th Be a Voice for Undocumented Students!

From September 16th to October 9th, congregations across the United States will lift up the lives of DREAM students in prayers, readings, reflection and education during at least one Sabbath service as a way to help educate and spread awareness of DREAM students and their hopes to attain full recognition of their contributions to this country. The large showing of support by faith groups will hopefully continue to build momentum for the DREAM Act in Congress. Would your congregation consider doing any of the following this fall?

  • Inviting a DREAM student (which World Relief Advocacy can help coordinate) to share his/her testimony at a service
  • Showing a video of a DREAM student (sample videos will be available in the near future)
  • Praying as a congregation for the DREAM student and if comfortable, praying for our elected officials to have the courage to support and pass the DREAM Act
  • A call to action for members to pray and fast for the DREAM student who shared his/her testimony and the thousands in our country
  • Passing out a bulletin insert with prayer points about DREAM youth so folks can be reminded to pray throughout the week

Please note the service doesn’t have to be called DREAM Sabbath nor does the whole service have to be dedicated to the DREAM student. Also, congregations do not necessarily have to tie the hardships that many undocumented students face to a piece of legislation, but to just highlight their stories which in and of itself is very impactful. This will give congregants an opportunity for prayer and reflection about a very real issue of pain happening within own communities.

This packet of information contains a plethora of resources to help a congregation with their DREAM Sabbath, including stories of DREAM students, bulletin inserts, theological reflections, sermon starters, myths and facts about the DREAM Act, a sample agenda for a DREAM Sabbath event, and much more.

In order to register your event, please click here

For more information or any questions, please check out www.interfaithimmigration.org or contact advocacy@wr.org

April 25, 2012

Most of us are shocked and horrified by the reality of human trafficking, whether in Bangkok or Raleigh. Rightly so. Everyone should be outraged. But trafficking has blurred edges. I recently read an article that linked human trafficking in Charlotte, NC to drug cartels: it's more profitable to traffic persons. It's also linked to the broken immigration system, including the guest worker program. And the difference between trafficking someone and exploiting their labor is frequently difficult to judge.

Finally, we are living in a culture in which using women is permissible. As soon as we try to understand what is happening here and abroad, the problem keeps expanding and spiraling. It's easy to get overwhelmed. I have no simple answer on how to think through and work to overcome all these problems--problems that connect to other problems, which connect to other problems... I have, however, learned the importance of prayer as a first step. There are too many problems for me to handle; and the reality is always more complicated than I can even imagine. Fortunately, I am not called to be the savior of this world but to live with the knowledge that there is one. Prayer reminds me of this fact. This Saturday, we will set aside time for a prayerful "first response" to the problem of human trafficking in Durham. People will be free to sit or walk around, journal or pray, meditate or examine their lives. As an organization founded out of the Christian church, we do not think of prayer as something to do before we act. We want to act prayerfully.

We also know that human trafficking is a problem that besets our whole community and thus want to welcome the whole community to join us. Christian or not, we all know that this problem is bigger than us as individuals. And we also know that, whether we like it or not, these blurred edges start bumping up against our own lives--what we buy, how we treat others, and who we consider to be less valuable than ourselves. I hope you can join us as we respond reflectively to the problem of human trafficking in our community. For more information, please go to our website, Facebook Event page, or email tmcgee@wr.org.

April 25, 2012

I can't imagine their feelings, the weight of the tragedy. An Iraqi refugee family recently buried their 7 year old daughter. It's overwhelming and heartbreaking. We have been and continue to raise money to help cover the costs of the funeral. A family beset with so many burdens--starting over in a new country, navigating the loss of a child--shouldn't have to worry about the financial costs of death in America. The daughter was in the hospital for a week or two. The family practically lived there at the hospital. Many volunteers stopped by to help as they could: sit in silence, listen to frustrations, bring some food, share some kind words, pray together. A nurse told one of the people supporting this family that she noticed something. Many of the visitors of this Muslim family were Christian. Christians and Muslims, sharing life together, even its dark and bitterly painful moments. It's a scene that the media doesn't often show. Not fighting, fear, hatred, and prejudice; just living together, celebrating and now grieving, together. The nurse noticed it. And it should offer us hope, hope for this family, hope for our city, and hope for this country. People can and are loving each other, across various "boundaries," in extraordinarily difficult times. Email us (tmcgee@wr.org) to find out how to donate to this family.