MCC Refugee Services enjoys the opportunity to partner with local congregations who serve as co-sponsors to help welcome some of the refugee families we work with. Co-sponsors provide invaluable support and connections for new refugee families, and group members have the privilege of befriending new arrivals and learning first hand from their life experiences. One recent co-sponsor, Macalester Plymouth Church kept a detailed log of their adventures with the family and we are excited to share a few excerpts with you to give you a first hand taste of what co-sponsorship is like in volunteers’ own words!
“The news about the vast numbers of people on the move, displaced or in camps, is overwhelming to the point of paralyzing. Just the sheer level of human suffering is unimaginable. It feels like there is nothing I can do. Helping with this project is a huge benefit. It is a drop in the ocean but for this family (and for me) it means everything.”
Setting up the apartment:
A small but spirited crew loaded stuff into several cars. As we worked, more people and cars showed up. The place had been completely empty but was now filled with furniture, other stuff, people and energy.
Greeting the Family:
A small MPUC group congregated at the airport. The family made it on their own from the gate to the baggage area (a feat in itself!) around 11:40 pm, looking tired and a little bit apprehensive. Camille (the mother) had two year old Diane snuggled in a shawl on her back. The others – Eric (who speaks just a little English), Yves, Nadia, and Kevin all carried backpacks full of stuff.
Upon seeing the welcome banner in their native language they all smiled graciously at our group. A big THANK YOU to the banner-makers! The children accepted the fruit, water, and stuffed animals that were given to them
It was decided that two cars would drive the family to their new home. I accompanied Camille, Eric, and Diane to Don and Rachel’s car, along with Lynn. It wasn’t until we were in the parking garage that I realized the family was confused. Eric tapped me on the arm and asked, ‘Father?’ Whoops. We failed to communicate what was going on with splitting up the family for the car ride. Through a lot of hand gestures and pointing (possibly just crazy arm-waving) I think that we managed to get Eric to understand what was going on. At least the confused (and possibly alarmed) look on his face softened. He said something to his mother and she seemed relieved as well.
“The airport welcome was so moving. The family seemed exhausted and overwhelmed by the new surroundings. A young woman on the same flight made sure they made it to the baggage area. She told me that Kevin, the youngest boy, had been afraid of the moving walkways. Her daughter carried him so he wouldn’t be afraid. After we got home, I had trouble falling asleep, thinking about all that this family has experienced, and everything that is yet to come. It is so hard to fathom it all – their strength amazes me.”
MPUC volunteers, Refugee Co-Sponsorship Project
I drove the family to a meeting today and had some time to be with the children. I brought along my family’s Mancala game. I know it is a game played in some parts of Africa and hoped it might spark some connections. It did! Eric and Yves immediately were interested and started setting it up. We discovered that I didn’t know their rules and they didn’t know mine. They didn’t understand that I wanted to learn their rules, so we played some kind of hybrid version. When it came time to count up the stones for each side, I learned that these two boys knew how to count in English and French! I know some French and was able to count along. We had a big laugh discovering words we all understood together. At the end of our time together, Yves timidly pointed to the Mancala game as I packed it up. I understood he was hoping to take it home with him and so I gave it to him. He was thrilled.
We had a good visit today. Christophe, a neighbor in the apartment complex, came to help with communication; he is from the Congo and has been here about 2 years; his English is quite good and he is a gracious and helpful person. We took some small American flags for the 4th of July; it turns out that today, June 30, is the Congolese Independence Day. Christophe tried to explain fireworks; Simon asked if people got shot; we decided that fireworks might be quite frightening for this family right now.
We also took a ball with the globe on it. The boys were very interested in seeing how far they came to get to the United States and especially to see where Congo and Rwanda were on the globe; they took the ball over to their mom to show her where Minnesota is on the globe.
We arrived at 8:30 am, found the bag of paperwork, and loaded everyone in the car and drove to the Saint Paul Public Schools Student Placement Center. The Swahili interpreter was waiting for us. The adults filled out the paperwork while the children colored and had fun with the drinking fountain and exploring the photos on my cell phone.
Monday was the first day of “bus tutoring” for Simon. Following a short tutorial session at the apartment, Margaret, Simon, Don, and neighbor/interpreter, Michael, ran to the bus stop to catch the bus. The destination was the Sun Foods Market at University and Dale where the family likes to shop. Riding the bus is an essential skill for enabling Simon to get to his job and a valuable resource for the entire family.
After school, we arrived at the house. Eric was grinning and excited about his great day at school. Simon indicated that they will be OK doing bus stops tomorrow without us. I arrived at 6:35 am to help Eric and Yves get on the bus for their first day of summer school. Each student was given a note card with their name, address, bus number, bus stop intersection, emergency contact number, and name of the school in case they needed someone to help them. The kids showed great courage today to get on the buses and adventure off to summer school alone!
Margaret, Michael and I accompanied Camille and Simon on the bus tutoring trip this morning to MORE School. It was a good outing, both for the bus experience and the school visit. It has been serving refugee communities in St. Paul for about thirty years. With waiting and transfer, the trip takes about 40 minutes. The staff at the school were very friendly and welcoming, and both Camille and Simon indicated a positive feeling about the possibility of attending there.
A highlight of the visit was a conversation with Michael, a volunteer teacher at the school who is Congolese and speaks Kinyarwanda. Sixteen years ago, he worked in the camp in Rwanda where Camille and Simon were living! It was wonderful to see the
We accompanied Simon, Camille and the children to Como Park for a visit to the Zoo followed by a picnic lunch. The children were eagerly waiting when we arrived at their home. They immediately told Pat that they wanted to see gorillas, lions, zebras and giraffes; we believe they had never been to a zoo nor had they seen these animals in Africa.
The Zoo was a big hit! The children’s excitement and delight with the animals was wonderful to see. They saw all the animals on their “must see” list and much more. They even got to feed a giraffe and also enjoyed a ride on the carousel. We finished our Picnic lunch just in time as the rain started so we headed for home. Everyone had wonderful time.
Simon, Mike and I went to Wells Fargo to deposit a check. Mike and I taught Simon how to use the ATM. Simon was amazed by the ATM.
When I thanked Mike for all of his amazing help, he said something really beautiful. He said, “Thank you for all your help. This family is like my family, so when you help them you help me.”