Category Archives: Culture

Their dreams

The following is a reflection by Calilee, a smart and spunky AmeriCorps member who teaches English to newcomers at World Relief and cares deeply for the success of her refugee students and friends. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the English classes had a writing activity in which they interpreted their own “I have a dream…” statements. 

I stood in front of my English students getting goosebumps up and down my arms as I read the speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave on August 28, 1963. “I have a dream” I read aloud, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” I am from Georgia. I have read this speech and have learned about Martin Luther King Jr. many times over the years, but the story of who this man was and the message that he brought to our country had never impacted be like it did during this particular class.

Our program participants have left their homes to find refuge for various reasons. One student explained that she came to America because her mother “has dark skin and curly hair, so people treated her badly.” I am sure there was more to the story than that, but truth was that this young, intelligent woman came to a new country so that her mother could live in a place were she wasn’t defined by her differences. We sat around a large plastic table, with our varying nationalities, speaking the only language we are all fluent in–broken English–and talked about how this was once a much larger issue that separated Americans from each other.I have a dream 6

My students were more engaged than I have ever seen them in any other writing activity. They have dreams that one day they will be able to find a stable country where they and their families will be safe. They dream that they will have a house of their own and find a job that can help sustain their families. They dream to return to school. They dream that one day they might contribute to our society and demonstrate their thankfulness for the assistance we have provided. Some even dream that one day it will be safe to return to where they fled from–they want to help the rest of the world fix what is broken.

These are our friends and our neighbors. God has called us to love them, to welcome them, and to stand beside them. These are their words: some of the structure has been lost in translation, but their dreams and ideas are evident. I hope you will take a moment to read through what they have to say.

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“…to be some[one] with a kind heart and helpful to everyone”

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“One day I will be 70 years old….I will be sitting in sunlight with all the grandsons around”

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“Ukraine will be [a] good country where people can live and have equal rights”

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Working and learning: they go together

The following is a personal reflection by Rachael, a summer Resettlement Intern. World Relief’s Refugee Resettlement internship connects students and recent graduates with opportunities to serve newly arrived refugees in a variety of ways, while also encouraging meaningful cross-cultural relationships and training them in professional casework skills.

This is the beginning of my third week of interning at World Relief and every day is a new adventure. Today was no exception. My job for the day was to meet a husband and wife at their apartment in Tukwila and teach them to ride the bus. A bit of a daunting prospect, since I don’t generally take the bus myself. But one thing I’ve learned in my two weeks here is that even if I don’t know how to do something, at least I have the skills to figure out how—I know who to ask and what kinds of questions to ask.

After getting lost trying to find their apartment and almost going to the airport instead, I found their building, asked the maintenance man where to park, and walked up to their apartment. A minute later, a young woman opened the door with a small girl peeking around from behind her. I smiled and the little girl gave me an endearing grin. I figured out that the woman’s name was Hawo, the one I was coming to find, but that she spoke absolutely no English. She managed to tell me that her husband was coming too, but that we had to go find him. So off we went to another apartment where we waited for her husband to get back from meeting with a friend. The other apartment was very warmly furnished. I felt like I was somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa with the rich colors and patterns in the curtains, couches and rugs. Hawo’s husband, Isak soon arrived and we went back to their apartment to get the bus tickets, drop their beautiful three-year-old daughter off with friends, and then hurried down the street to catch our first bus.

The trip to the World Relief office in Kent was uneventful. We caught all of our buses smoothly, dodged the raindrops on our final walk from the last bus stop, and arrived early. After waiting for a little bit, they had a job skills assessment that I got to sit in on. They were asked questions about former education and jobs, what things they felt particularly good at, and what their dreams were for ten years from now. The assessment would be used to help find them a job. Hawo couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do someday, but Isak wanted to be a mechanical engineer. For the present though, he was ready and willing to take any job available. He knew that they would most likely be hard jobs requiring long hours, but he was eager, saying he would do anything.

On our walk back to the bus stop, Isak asked me how it would be possible to go to school, saying, “Working and learning—they go together. Both are important. You need both to get somewhere.” I told him that maybe after working for a little bit he would be able to pay for classes at a community college. He then began to tell me how, for human beings, everything is possible. If something feels too hard, he said, you must say to your soul, “I can do it,” because it is possible to do it. I was impressed and told him that this attitude would get him far. I told him that so many Americans like having it easy and will stop doing something if it gets too hard. This, however, is not the attitude of the refugee, and it was not the attitude of Isak. He knows that the next couple months will be incredibly hard as he and Hawo learn about American culture and struggle to accustom themselves to this new lifestyle, but he is up to the challenge and willing to persevere through the hard transition for the hope of a better future.

In the end, the journey back to the apartment took way longer than needed. I got buses mixed up and we went in the wrong direction, ended up at the wrong end of the line, and had to turn around and take the bus all the way to the other end. It was a long afternoon, but Isak and Hawo were incredibly patient and gracious as we all learned a new system together. That is another trait that I have noticed in many new refugees—they are thankful for whatever help you can give, even if you don’t have all the answers, because it is more than they could do on their own. And as you figure it out, they learn how to figure it out too.

As I left their apartment, I reflected that we had all been learners together that day. And ultimately, that is a good position to be in. We can both learn so much from each other; it’s not a one-sided relationship. I look forward to seeing them again soon and asking them how their bus rides are going and what they are learning in English class. I hope that next time I will be able to have a short conversation with Hawo in English. And I am looking forward to learning together with more refugees this summer—teaching them about my culture, and learning about pieces of theirs. It’s a rich experience.

If you are or know a student or recent graduate who is interested in the Refugee Resettlement internship, find out more information at http://worldreliefseattle.org/internships Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Welela: Traditions Old and New

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Welela and her children arrived to the Seattle area 9 months ago and they have moved from danger to a new life here filled with joy and friendship.  We sat down and talked to her about her family, Christmas here, and her traditions from back home in Eritrea.

How many Christmases have you celebrated in the US?
This will be the first time.

Describe your first Christmas memories. Are there any traditions of Christmas in your home country or culture?
I remember celebrating with my family, and preparing different foods and going to picnics. I also gave and received many Christmas cards and presents. The same as in America.

What is the meaning of Christmas for you?
Passing into a new year, and celebrating Jesus Christ.

What are you looking for to this Christmas?
I’m happy because it’s the first time we will have Christmas in America. I know many people from many countries and languages, and have made many friends with my neighbors and with World Relief. I’m ready to celebrate with them and prepare everything. I will prepare popcorn, biscuits, and all foods for Christmas.

What was Christmas like when you were living in a refugee camp or while you were fleeing your country?
Christmas was the same in Ethiopia as in Eritrea.

When did you come to Seattle and why did you have to leave your home country?
I came on February 28, 2013. We left our country because of danger. We could not practice our religion in our country. Pentecostal’s do not live in our country. We are not safe there.

What do you tell your children about Christmas?
I talk to them about the new year coming, and I talk to them about Jesus Christ; how He was born to die and give life to the world.

What is your life like since moving to the United States?
It is good. I had a new baby boy named Japheth. He is now 8 weeks old.

If you could say anything to the people reading this what would you want to say to them?
I’m okay here in America. I pray all the time for America and the people. I pray blessings on them because they are helping many people to come to America.

Would you make a gift to World Relief Seattle this season to bless many more families like Welela’s?  Click Here to Give Online

Zau Bawk reflects on Christmas

Zau Bawk, a Kachin refugee from Burma, arrived to Seattle a little over a year ago. The Kachin are a group of ethnic minorities who have experienced much persecution in their home country of Burma. Before October 2012, Zau Bawk spent many years in a refugee camp in Malaysia. We invited him to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. Here are some of his thoughts and memories.

Zau Bawk remembers his first Christmas celebration:

I was 11 years old in 1995. I was then in a missionary boarding house. On Christmas night of that year we celebrated the ceremony by worshiping, singing songs, playing social games and exchanging presents. To exchange the present we drew the poll and exchanged the presents between the two persons whose numbers matched each other’s. The present I prepared for the night was a very cheap small picture. But I came across with a senior girl, whose present was worth more than ten times than mine. Inside the box was a full set of stationery and some more chocolates. As a young kid, I just thought myself I was so lucky. Even some of my friends envied me. From that moment whenever Christmas comes I would just long for something big to receive rather than thinking to give. But I never received a present again that could please my desire. I’ve only learned three years ago that I should change my mindset. That was the first Christmas I remembered well and also was the beginning of a turning point in my life.

Zau Bawk looks forward to Christmas 2013:

I can’t wait to see my Christmas baby who is soon to be born in December. She will be the most precious gift I’ll ever receive from God during Christmas time.

At the moment, my two years old son is quite young to understand everything I tell him. But I surely would love to introduce our savior Jesus Christ to my children and tell them about what Christmas actually means. That is also the best teaching way to be a man of value when they grow up. I just can’t wait to tell them about the 12 symbols of Christmas and other Christmas stories.

Philippians 2:5-11 is the most significant to me about Christmas. In this passage we don’t see the usual scenario of Christmas. But we can see a different viewpoint that gives the real meaning of Christmas. The meaning of Christmas for me is to find the lost, to feed the hungry, to heal the broken, and to bring Christ to all.

Finally, we asked Zau Bawk if there is anything he would like to share with you, the friends of World Relief Seattle:

There are many things to say my heartfelt thanks to many people some I have already met but some I’ve never known. It is really difficult to mention in brief.

Our world today is wounded because of some selfish and greedy people. There are wars and conflicts around the world. As a result, many people have become refugees and IDPs. Many lost their love ones. But the United States is leading the world in saving refugees by bringing them to its own country. To accomplish this mission I am well aware that the government can’t do it alone.  Many individual contributors are needed and many humanitarian agencies are required. As a human being, I do understand it is not an easy task to invite strangers to our home and feed them for we don’t know how they will behave. But I do want to say that I really admired you all your citizens’ courage to accept the diversity in this country.

Last of all, I would like to invite you especially to all believers, “Let’s keep healing the wounded world as followers of Jesus Christ, for he himself had set examples in healing many people.

I wish you all to have a Merry Christmas as the joyful time is approaching. May God bless you all.

“We have lots of hope” -Harka

Harka and her family arrived to the United States in 2010.  They fled cultural persecution in their home country of Bhutan nearly 20 years ago and had been living in a refugee camp in Nepal waiting and hoping. As we approached the holiday season, we sat down with her to talk about why Christmas is so special for her.

Can you share a bit about when you left Bhutan? When I was in Bhutan I was a very little child. As far as I know, the reason we left Bhutan was due to the persecution of Nepali people.

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Harka remembers life in the refugee camp in Nepal. When she came to the United States, she left much of her family behind.

Our mother tongue was Nepali because our ancestors were from Nepal and came to Bhutan, so we speak Nepali language, but in Bhutan they speak Dzongkha language. Nepali people were forced to adopt their culture. We have different culture. Ladies have to cut their hair—they couldn’t wear it long. There was a special dress of Bhutan and we had to wear that. We couldn’t wear other kinds of dress–both ladies and men. There were two different cultures, our two options were to practice their culture or to leave the country. We came to Nepal and settled as a refugee for 18 years.

The refugee camp was difficult. Some people spent 19-20 years in refugee camp, but we came later and spent almost 18 years. We were not citizens; we were not allowed to go outside to work as citizens. We were unable to get proper salary or wages.  They would pay us less than they said they would.

Of your whole family, you were some of the first to come the US, right? We didn’t know if we would be in one place or not. I came here through my nephew and the agency told us to go through the process, but we didn’t know about the rest of my family… but we were reunited 5 families for Christmas. It was very amazing and it was the very great plan of God to bring us here to be reunited in the United States.

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Harka plays with her boys, Rohan (4) and James (1)

What was your first Christmas like? At the very first I didn’t know about Christmas, but when I came here I accepted Christ. After that, there were lots of Nepali families in the church and we went there and our pastor began to teach about Christmas ahead of time. He gave a lot of information about Christmas—how we celebrate Christmas, what is the purpose of celebrating Christmas. After that when Christmastime came, we were very happy and celebrated. Probably 4 or 5 of my family members arrived during Christmastime. Before we were only 2 families, but 3 more families arrived during the month before Christmas, so we were 5 families before Christmas. There were a lot of Nepali people—they accepted Christ before Christmas and there were a lot of Nepali people in the church to celebrate Christmas. We were very happy. The pastor’s wife asked us to direct a drama… it was very fun and we were very happy. 

I cannot forget that first Christmas. It was my first Christmas in my life. I cannot forget that. Even though I didn’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about celebrating Christmas, but I was very happy. It was like the beginning of my life. I was very happy and thankful to God.

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Harka’s husband, Gopi, and their son, James. James is the first of the family to be born in the United States.

What is the meaning of Christmas? What will you teach your kids about Christmas? For me, Christmas is the celebration of when Christ was born from Mary. We celebrate the birthday of Christ. 

We are going to give [our sons] great knowledge of Christ. He is born to take away our sins and he is our savior and we have to celebrate his birthday to remember him all the time in our whole life.

What do they think of Christmas? Do they get excited? Yes. Rohan is very excited and he likes to sing a song of Christmas and we always play a Christmas song in the computer and he always likes that. He likes to listen to the Christmas music and he always likes to go to church. During Christmastime we have a lot of fun in the church. Different type of games and dramas, programs and dancing. 

A small portion of the Biswa family. They are grateful to all live in the same apartment complex and look forward to spending time all together this season.

Some members of the Biswa family. They are grateful to live in the same apartment complex and look forward to spending time all together this season.

Last time we had a Christmas tree in our home. We have 4-5 families in the same apartment complex and they all get together in one house. We give gifts to the small kids—they are under 10 years old—we buy them gifts and wrap them in paper under the Christmas tree. Then there will be games for the kids. We celebrate Christmas in that way in our apartment because we have a lot of kids. Christmas 2013 we’ll have two more, but they’ll be too little. Mina’s is 3 months old and the other is 7 or 8 days old.

What are you looking forward to this year? As a member of the church we are organizing a program for Nepali people and then we are planning to give some dramas and some dance and something for the kids—games. We are planning to share with the non-Christian people in the church on that day [Christmas], too.

What is life like now, compared to your time growing up and living in the refugee camp in Nepal? It’s totally different. In camp, life was hopeless. How can I make my life? We didn’t have any hope, we didn’t have courage or power.  When we came to United States, I felt by myself that I am just a newborn.

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Harka shares a moment with her son, Rohan. Rohan was born in a refugee camp, but Harka and Gopi have great hope for his future.

I have a lot of challenges to get through here, but there is hope. There is a lot of ways to make our future bright… Here it is very different. In some ways it’s very difficult, but in some ways it’s easier. I am very happy to be here and I give thanks to God.

I am very happy. All of my family are happy to be in the United States. We have lots of hope. Even the older people have hope to live in the United States. Before they did not have hope to live in the camp. They didn’t have medical care, they didn’t have a place to go work and earn money. But here almost all of the people are happy. The greatest thing I achieved is that I accepted Christ. I got to know who God is and how He helps us. That is the main thing I got in the United States. I am like new born in America. New life in America.

Would you make a gift to World Relief Seattle this season to bless many more families like Harka’s?  Click Here to Give Online

Read These Links: Refugees Add Life to Local Economies

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Happy Haloween, everyone!

Good morning friends. We have some interesting links to share with you today:

That’s all the news for today. Keep checking back for more updates and stories from our blog, Strangers in Seattle. May your days be filled with joy and laughter.

What is your favorite thing about America?

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In the middle of class one day, one of the English classroom volunteers spontaneously said, “I want to know what the students’ favorite and least favorite things about America are.”  So I told her to pose the question to the class for a discussion.  The answers were insightful.  Most students spoke about how they love freedom in the U.S. and how they feel their families are safe here.  Some mentioned their concerns about homelessness, drugs, and alcoholism, which they didn’t expect to find in the United States.  One very sweet, shy student became animated as she explained her favorite thing: squirrels!

The response that impacted me the most came from one of older women in the class.  Her English skills were very limited, and I remember that health concerns caused her to miss class at least half of the time.  She avoided speaking in class as much as she could, but when the volunteer posed this particular question, her eyes lit up.  She eagerly offered a full sentence: “I like reading.” 

During the hustle and bustle of managing the activity, I initially thought, “Oh that’s wonderful – she likes reading English!  It’s even her favorite thing about being here.”  But, as I thought about her response later in the day, I recalled that she never learned to read or write in her first language, Nepali.  This class at World Relief was her first experience with literacy at all.  Additionally, out of all of the things she could have been grateful for as a recently arrived refugee, she immediately identified her new-found ability to read and write as most important.  Her confidence in these skills empowered her to share her voice in a situation where she would normally be silent, and I think that that is so very cool. 

English language learning is a significant challenge for many refugees arriving in the United States.  Though most have some past experience with English – however little (“hello”, “thank you”, “no problem” etc.) – students’ levels of skill vary dramatically from those who are non-literate to those who used to work as interpreters or translators.  As an instructor, I admit I found this multi-level nature of the classroom at times quite frustrating, but it also turned out to be an opportunity for getting students to interact with each other and with volunteers.  In fact, volunteers played a vital role day-to-day by focusing with smaller groups of students on activities and, often, by simply time giving them time to practice spoken English skills in a very low-pressure environment.  Students would regularly ask after their favorite volunteers on days when they weren’t around and vice versa! 

I’m grateful for the volunteer’s question that day and how it made me think twice about what a student really meant.

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This story was written by Caitlin Wasley, one of our former ESL Instructors through the Americorps Literacy Program (RIP). Caitlin recently graduated from the University of Washington with an MA in Comparative Religion. She is an avid Molly Moon’s fan, and enjoys spotting Corgis in her spare time. World Relief misses you, Caitlin!

Cultural Spotlight: Ramadan

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Many of our Muslim refugee friends have recently passed the halfway point of observing the holy month of Ramadan.  Most of them are doing so in a new country far from family and friends. 

Ramadan is an important month for Muslims around the world, including many of our clients and colleagues. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a time of fasting observed from sunrise to sunset. This year, Ramadan began on the evening of July 8th, and it will culminate on the night of August 7th for Eid al-Fitr. For the entire month, adherents will generally abstain from food, drink and other physical needs during daylight hours. There are, however, some exemptions for people in certain situations. 

Similar to other religions, the time of fasting is viewed as more than just not eating or drinking. It is also a time to reevaluate and refocus attention on God – part of which also includes reconciling relationships with friends and family members. Many people also view it as a time of solidarity with those who lack food and water around the world.

Each night during Ramadan, families will gather together for the daily Iftaror breaking of the fast. Traditionally, the fast is initially broken by eating dates, just as the Prophet Mohammad did. 

What do you know about Ramadan?

We at the blog here are by no means experts on religious observances, so we encourage you to do a little research and learn something new about Ramadan this year. As always, it’s important to keep in mind that each person and each family celebrates differently. Ramadan Mubarak