Category Archives: Intern Reflections

My Foreign Experience

Damme’s father came to the United States as a refugee many years ago. She has spent this summer as an intern at World Relief learning more about what the resettlement process looks like and getting to know some of our newest neighbors. Much of her time is spent going to appointments with refugees and teaching them to navigate their new community.

It is the end of summer and I am driving to and fro, making new friends faster than I ever have before, learning new ways to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ and altogether finding out my place in this space where God has set me. Over the past couple of weeks, I have begun to understand who I am through the eyes of the people I have met. They have told me that I am lucky to have my citizenship—that I am entrusted with a security they are seeking after long and hard. I am privileged with a recognition they must wait years to obtain. They have asked me if all of this is easy for me, noticing how I can communicate with Social Security or DSHS or the Bank to sort out their information and get the necessary cards. I think of how I have learned to work with the American system. I can ask questions because the people behind the desk don’t seem too daunting, I am able to read the fine print because I live in a country where I was required to go to school for twelve years, and I can get where I need to go simply because I have the keys to a car and a license that allows me to travel with ease.

My perspective has changed. I see the world around me through a different lens now and it cannot be erased. They have told me that they are grateful for all that I am doing for them, that I am helping them with so much; yet all I can think is how they are doing so much more for me. Every interaction I have is filled with laughter and contentment. I am so happy to be here.

Damme's family

Damme’s father came to the US as a refugee many years ago. Now she understands the refugee journey in a different way–as a World Relief intern.

Privilege. My life screams it loud and clear. Yet the privilege and the resources I hold and cherish have come out of a struggle and an experience that I cannot call my own. It is foreign to me. Foreign like the parents I call Mommy and Daddy, foreign like their birthplace, and foreign like the culture I carry within me. The foreign experience is my own, it has been passed down to me. The many years that my mother and father toiled the land brought forth a family, a house, a college education, cars and countless other blessings that I am free to partake in. I am free, but it is with a price that I can proclaim that.

For such a time as this I find myself at World Relief. I find myself circling back onto the story that laid the foundation for my own life. I am relearning who my father is, I am relearning my parent’s experience and within it all I am relearning who I am. This internship has allowed me to pull out of a life where I have lived for myself and pushed me into understanding what it means to live for others.

Damme

Damme has spent her summer helping newcomers navigate their new community…and learning much more from them and their experiences.


World Relief internships provide hands-on experience with refugees in the Seattle area. If you are interested in a World Relief Internship, or know someone who might be, find more information here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On privilege

The following is a reflection by Emily, a very talented World Relief Seattle resettlement intern.

I sometimes wonder if I possess natural talents that I don’t even know about. Like maybe I have innate soccer-playing abilities that were never harnessed, or an inborn knack for speed cup-stacking, but the opportunity to discover this talent never presented itself when I was growing up. (Technically, the soccer one did have the opportunity to shine, but I’m told that 5-year-old Emily was more interested in the food on the sidelines than the game on the field.)

I think about “what if” often–what if I had been exposed to this or pursued that, or given that cup stacking thing a try–how might my life have been different? But then I realize how luxurious and rare it is to even wonder if I have “untapped speed cup stacking potentialWhat a privilege that I can even entertain such thoughts!

I recently saw this thought-provoking post by “Humans of New York” floating around Facebook. It was a quotation reflecting on how the lives or refugees in Iraq have been affected by recent events:

“They have no place to be a child, so their only frame of reference is war and fighting. And when that’s all they know, how can they grow up to be doctors and teachers? All they can possibly know is the desire for revenge and hatred for their enemies. I wish people would understand that Iraq is filled with intelligent, civilized people. This was the cradle of civilization in the ancient world. Even the Garden of Eden was here. These aren’t dust-covered, nameless refugees being forced from their homes. The refugee camps are filled with architects and musicians and teachers.”

Growing up, my basic needs were a given. My thoughts had room to frolic, to entertain big dreams, and to get full of knock-knock jokes. I wondered what my next meal would be, but never questioned that it would exist. I fussed over which college I’d go to and what I’d study, but never questioned that I would be able to go. The thought never even crossed my mind that a given grocery store might not carry a shampoo for my hair type. And I have never feared for my safety because of my faith; no, I’ve always gotten to be picky about where I worship, and sip a latte while I do it.

Photo credit "Humans of New York"

Photo credit “Humans of New York”

Several months ago, with the “Humans of New York” quote floating in my head, I had my first encounter with refugees. Since then, I’ve been humbled, and have had many of my stereotypes about this population broken down. I’m not a fan of generalizations, but one you could perhaps apply to refugees is that they all have untapped potential, stalled by anything from access to basic nutrition to personal political affiliations.

The quote about the Iraqi people took on a completely new meaning when there were 4 faces attached to it–a family whose past circumstances appear to have so starkly suppressed the individuals they could have been. My gut reaction was pity, but pity isn’t the right response. Pity is an emotion of the “haves” for the “have-nots” that allows the former to still “have”. It’s a feeling that reinforces a hierarchy.

Above all, these people deserve dignity.

I’ve not always been one with swelling pride for being an American, nor have I been shy to express as much (this, too, is a privilege). But for many refugees, America represents freedom, potential, dignity, and an opportunity for growth where before it was suppressed.

I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to my privilege, but I recognize that I don’t want to be part of a game where winner takes all. I can mourn the untapped potential, innovation, and creativity of millions of people like those referenced in “Humans of New York”. I can continue to seek out conversations that open my eyes to the realities of the world, and I can try my best to dignify everyone I meet.

Young Emily explores her soccer potential...and the food on the sidelines.

Young Emily explores her soccer potential…and the food on the sidelines.

 

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.

Sadiq’s Story

Although he was born in Iran, Sadiq Al Turfi has spent most of his life in Iraq as a displaced person fleeing persecution. But upon meeting him, you would never assume that a bad thing has ever happened to him and his family; he is the epitome of friendliness and hospitality on every level.

SadiqSadiq’s family, of Ahwaz descent, was displaced after Ayatollah Khomeini’s infamous revolution in 1979. After Khomeini broke his promises of giving the Ahwaz people their rights, Sadiq’s family decided to flee to Iraq to escape the imprisonment and near-genocide that the Ahwaz people were suffering at the hands of the new, Khomeini-led Iranian regime.

Sadiq and his family lived in several different provinces in Iraq throughout the 1980s, constantly running from the Iranian militia who were often in hiding in Iraq solely to find the Ahwaz escapees.

After the first Gulf War in 1991, some of Sadiq’s family went back to Iran to escape the worsening situation in Iraq—but they were imprisoned in Iran.

In 2003, Sadiq and his wife and children moved to the city of Diwaniya, Iraq. While they lived there, they were forced to move five times and had their car stolen—all blatant threats from the Iranian government. In addition, because of their Ahwaz ethnicity, the Iranian military cut them off from working in Iraq. After that, Sadiq and his family applied with the UN for refugee status.

The Al Turfis then went to the border of Jordan and Iraq to live at a refugee camp in 2007. But it was not a good situation for many reasons: it was a Sunni area that is hostile toward Iran, the UN did not support the refugee camp, and there was some Al Qaeda presence. In addition, Sadiq’s daughter (age 7 at the time) was not able to go to school for the two years that they were there and Sadiq was not able to make money as a teacher.

In 2008, while they were still in that camp, they started the long process of interviewing with the American Embassy to try to get resettled. The UN then told them to go to the Al-Waleed camp, located on the border of Iraq and Syria. They stayed there for two and a half years but the UN was not able to financially support the camp, Sadiq’s parents were sick, and there was no future for his children so they decided to go back to Diwaniya.

After a lot of waiting, and feeling like they would never get resettled because of the endless obstacles in the whole process, Sadiq and his family were finally able to leave for the United States on June 11, 2012.

They still have a long road ahead of them, but the Al Turfis are excited to have opportunities to American education and to become acculturated to life here in Seattle.

Sadiq’s wife, Firyal, is an exceptional cook and makes a killer Chicken Biryani. Here is the closest recipe to her version that I could find.

This story was written by one of our fabulous interns, Natalie Schreffler.

Oskarr and Amirhoessin: Friendship, Reconciliation, and Candy

Written by: Chelsey ArmstOskarr and Amirhoessinrong, World Relief Seattle Intern

Since January I have been fortunate enough to intern with World Relief. After each day I walk out with a larger world view and more joy in my heart.  Two specific clients have taught me a lot, despite their age. Six-year-old Amirhoessin from Iran and five-year-old Oskarr from Iraq, display how childhood friendship can cross restrictive boundaries. The boy’s home countries are certainly not the best of friends, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming just that. Their friendship illuminates what can happen if we allow ourselves to cross boundaries and limits that are set up in society because of skin color, race, religion, gender, or ethnicity.  The other day I saw the boys from afar playing basketball at their apartment complex; I couldn’t help but to get a huge smile on my face. All of a sudden the boys spotted me and started running my direction. Both gave me a giant hug and then stuck out their hands offering me a ‘Now and Later’ (a chewy candy) from their pockets.

I believe we all need to take a hint from Amirhoessin and Oskarr. To lay down our differences, reconcile with one another and realize that the same red blood is flowing through us all. When reconciliation occurs we are able to realize the important things in life, such as a shared love for ‘Now and Laters’.