I remember what it’s like

The following is a reflection/personal story by John Deng Duot, a caseworker at World Relief Seattle. Our caseworkers meet arriving refugees at the airport and work with them during the first few months, helping mainly with the logistics of getting settled into a new home and community. 

July 13, 2006 11:45 PM: My family and I met our brother at Seattle Tacoma Airport.

It was our first time meeting in real life—he had been absent from the family due to the war that was going on in Sudan. My brother Jacob Ajang Duot was one of the 2,000 Lost Boys of Sudan that were granted refugee status by the United States government in 2000. I remembered meeting him at the airport along with our case worker from International Rescue Committee by the name of Long. Ajang was big and tall and knew everything about the US. My first look at him was like a dream coming true; we never met each other but we had heard about him that he was in the US. Meeting him was the biggest thing in the entire world to our family, my mother was very happy and she cried with tear of joy.

Our caseworker was our other hero during that night. He was so helpful in showing us everything we needed and how our life would be different. One thing I noticed during that time was that he had a good working relationship with our brother.  I think I started learning about my job today from the first day when I arrived in the US. When I met Long, the first thing he told us was that we were safe; being in the US we don’t have to worry about war anymore. He also told us the importance of our documents. These are now the same things that I tell my clients whenever I meet them at the airport.

Last December, I saw Long in the airport while I was picking my clients up from the airport and he asked me, “What are you doing here at this time?” I answered that I am waiting for my clients coming in from Nigeria. “What? Are you a case worker?!” He asked. Long got so happy and told me that he was so proud of me. I was also happy too because I knew he would be my mentor and would help me if I needed it because he was more experienced.

Deng, now a caseworker, waits at baggage claim to meet a newly-arrived family.

Deng, now a caseworker at World Relief, waits at baggage claim to meet a newly-arrived refugee family.

Working at World Relief today [with newly arrived refugees], I always see myself as one who was once in that same situation, and I know how difficult it was. I like working at World Relief where the mission is to empower local churches to help vulnerable people and to give them a second chance of having a better life. I look at new arrivals as parts of my family, just as Long did to us when we arrived in the US. I know very well that we might be from different countries, but we have the same experiences of being affected by the same calamities. I know that none of the affected people chose to be in their situations, but that because of their vulnerability they were victims. I know that life can be different in a matter of minutes. Things change so quickly–I remember losing my father because of his religion, beliefs, and political status. I know that the same thing can happen anywhere in the world very quickly. I remember how life was in the refugee camp, how difficult it was and how people can help change the lives of others if they have willpower to do so.

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