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]