Remember Liz from Fancy Farmgirls? She and her sister have shared amazing furniture make-overs here on HDS, like this one. I, like a lot of people lately, have had on my mind the desire to help refugees, so when I heard that Liz was already knee deep in the trenches, I asked her to share her experience and help us know where to start so we can start helping as well. Knowing how much need there is out there, she was happy to help spread the word. Thanks Liz!
It all started with a trip to the Red Box.
It was a Friday night and time to kick up the feet and relax with a movie.
My husband swiped the card and came home with “The Good Lie”.
Reese Witherspoon, and Africa.
Two things I have always loved.
Should be a good one!
(The movie is based on the true story of orphaned Sudanese children who fled the brutal civil war in Sudan to find themselves thousands of miles away seeking refugee status in a new country. Years later they were relocated to the United States where their story continues….)
At the risk of sounding dramatic, the movie changed our lives!
One year later…
I’d love to introduce you to my friend, Sarah.
We grew up on different continents, in drastically different worlds.
Our race, religion, upbringing, and language give us little to build a common ground upon,
and yet, we are true friends in the truest sense of the word.
After viewing the movie, my husband and daughter ignited the fire that led us to sign up as “sponsors” or, “family mentors” for our local refugee agency. An agency I wasn’t even aware existed in my city.
I was hesitant about the time commitment with an already busy schedule, but reluctantly went to a training meeting alongside my daughter. Little did I know the world Sarah would open up to me as I tried to help her navigate the new world opened to her.
Our whole family has been able to be involved with local refugees whom we now consider dear friends, from:
day trips to the zoo
to visiting a local park,
…to just hangin’ around!
Lately there has been a lot of interest and willingness to help refugees. The desire is there, but knowing what to do about that desire can be confusing.
Well, sit right back and I’ll tell you!
How Do I Meet a Refugee?
Refugees live in places you might not expect.
For example, there are nearly 70,000 refugees in Salt Lake City, Utah, and around 9,000 in Boise, Idaho where we live. This number is constantly growing as many new people move in each year. San Diego welcomes 2,000-3,000 new people yearly. My family googled our “city” and “refugee agency” and found we had a local agency. We went through our local refugee agency chapter called The International Rescue Committee IRC located in Boise, Idaho
Idaho has four refugee resettlement agencies:
These agencies have offices located all throughout the United States and many countries.
How do I find if refugees are in my area?
This map offers you a quick glance at the authorized agencies that accept refugees after they have been vetted by the US Government. Here’s a quick instructional video outlining the steps and security screening process a refugee must go through before coming to America. Keep in mind that, after the 3 month period in which refugees are received into a community, they may choose to move to an area where there are known jobs or where they may have family. So they may disperse to other areas. You may contact non government agencies that do intake in your area. They will generally offer an orientation and then you may apply to assist a family. One of the most important things you can do is ask around your own neighborhood.
Don’t see your city on the map?
No Problem! There are so many ways to help.
So…How Can I help?
This is the number one question I hear from people when asking about refugees.
I always tell them:
1st- if you have refugees living near you, become a friend and spend time with them – your refugee agencies can facilitate this meeting. Once you spend time with them, suddenly this question of how to help becomes irrelevant! The first evening our family spent with Sarah at her home she cooked us an authentic beautiful Congolese meal. It was apparent her many years of cooking outside over a fire. The meal took hours to prepare. We visited and got to know one another while she prepared the meal and I witnessed her opening some canned tomato paste. Not with a can opener, but repeatedly hitting the aluminum can with a knife much like a machete! She had never been introduced to a can opener! First order of business, introduce her to a can opener.:) Such a simple thing for me to show her, but life changing for her! You can imagine the popularity I gained when I introduced her and her friends to a rice cooker and the crock pot. 🙂
Here’s a List of Ideas of Ways to Help:
(many of these ideas taken from the glocal boise website)
I have found in the past year of working with Sarah, we have needed to address 95% of these ideas on the list.
- Greet the family at the airport.
- Help set up the apartment.
- Gather items that might be needed and help them move in.
- Label things in their apartment to help them learn new vocabulary.
- Teach the days of the week and practice writing in appointments on a calendar.
- Help them find Thrift Stores and teach how they can save money buying used items.
- Practice understanding U.S. currency and coins and giving change.
- Review living skills in the apartment: smoke alarm, thermostat use, storing food, microwave, washing machine/dryers.
- Phone numbers: Make sure they know your number along with how to use 911.
- Go through the mail, sorting out what is junk mail and what are bills, etc.
- Go to the grocery store and do an orientation with them: explain what is cheaper, where there is a pharmacy, etc.
- Visit the Post Office and do orientation: mailing letters, buying stamps etc.
- Visit the library and help them know what services are available there.
- Do a bus orientation with the family, helping them locate the closest stores, etc.
- Coach the family in budgeting.
- Help them set up a bank account.
- Provide transportation to and from doctor’s appointments when needed.
- Help fill out job applications, practice interviewing, etc.
- Help fill out forms for low income/subsidy housing if appropriate.
- Help find appropriate day care for children.
- Teach how to use an alarm clock (That was one of our first lessons. It’s trickier than you might think with such a language barrier :))
If you live outside of a city that takes in refugees there are still so many ways to help.
One of my favorite ideas introduced to me by glocalboise.org is
“Welcome America Packs”
(This is one of my favorite ways because it can work for individuals, boy/girl scout troops, Eagle Scout projects, neighborhood drives, church donation drives, or a great way to keep the kids busy this summer!
Another one of my favorites is The JustServe.org website
What is Just Serve?
(the following description taken from their website:)
JustServe matches faith, nonprofit, community and governmental organizations that need volunteers with volunteers willing to help. JustServe.org links you to service opportunities in your community so you can make a difference wherever you are and however you want to serve.
Once we know what the needs are, we tell you about them here on JustServe then you can go and help get the job done. We make it easy to sign-up and show-up, on your time and in your way.
JustServe.org is provided as a service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Following the Biblical admonition to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” JustServe provides opportunities to relieve suffering, care for the poor and needy, and enhance the quality of life in the community. JustServe is not for proselytizing or publicity–simply a service to help link community volunteer needs with volunteers
I receive a personalized email weekly containing service opportunities happening right here in my neighborhood and a lot of the agencies have been using this service to get their needs out there.
This is a cause that has become near and dear to my heart.
A lot of days you can find my sister and I sprucing up old furniture or doing room makeovers over on our blog at Fancy Farmgirls, but I’ll tell ya what, no cute room redo or furniture transformation even comes close to the good friendship and fulfillment I’ve received from reaching out to my friend Sarah.
If you’ve ever had the desire to help, here’s your nudge to do it! You’ll be so glad you did.
Thanks again Liz for sharing your story, ideas and links for where we can get started! Let’s do this!