Helen Thorpe, in her book The Newcomers visits a refugee woman from the Middle East, a widow with two teenage daughters. She observes, “… we could see the full weight of all she carried. She was trying to gain a foothold in a new country, a new language, and a new economy, all at once, and it was hard and frightening. Simply being seen made a huge difference. Someone had witnessed her struggle…”
There is something deeply valuable about the presence of someone who cares during a time of trial, transition or trauma. Imagine coming from a culture that is foundationally based around family, community and being a part of the group. You have to leave all of those connections that make life function, tearing yourself away from your support network not out of choice but out of necessity and you find yourself in a culture that is very focused on the individual, extremely fast-paced, with no family or support network to speak of. On top of all that, you have no idea how to cultivate new bonds because of your lack of understanding of the new culture, your limited language skills and maybe even limited mobility and means to get around in your new city.
The Afghan families that our refugee program serves in the USA face this tension every day. Often we can look at the refugee crisis and think the greatest needs are having a lack of resources, or finances or facing the trauma of leaving home. While all of these are definitely experienced by any refugee resettling in a new home, the loss of community and relationships that provide support and belonging is by far the greatest loss that our friends experience.
Over and over, we have seen our refugee program meet this need of community and relational belonging in profound ways. One family, experiencing intense marital struggles, has numerous couples who have healthy marriages spending time with them, helping them with simple tasks like fixing things in their home, or tutoring their children, while modeling what communication and support in marriage looks like. Our volunteers see their struggle and have been able to speak life and truth into their lives.
Statistically, international students and refugees are often never invited into an American home. We hope to change this statistic so that every Afghan refugee that sets foot in our community has people in their lives who value them, their families and are people they can call friends.
Our volunteers have stepped out to connect with families, seeking to give and help our Afghan friends, and they themselves find joy and blessing in their new cross-cultural friendships. Their lives have been impacted and changed for the better because of their Afghan friends.
Presence. Being known. It’s something every human desires. And this is something that we provide to our refugee community here in the US.