On Monday, June 17th, about 40 people gathered at the Main Library in celebration of World Refugee Day. After watching two mini-documentaries, the group heard from some of those featured in the films: mentors Becky Sather Durr, Maria Guarraci, and Sarah Zoutendam and refugee mentee Khagendra Chhetri.
In the films and the panel, the audience learned about the joys and challenges of refugee mentor relationships.
The panelists—both volunteers and refugees—began by sharing their stories of uprooting and beginning again, finding themselves in Sioux Falls after living in Nebraska or Jordan or Bhutan.
“A place to call home is important to so many people,” said Sarah Zoutendam. Sarah was born in Jordan to American parents and has traveled to and worked in many countries since. “I’ve lived in enough different places that I don’t take home for granted anymore.”
Becky and Maria, who worked with Khagendra Chhetri and his family, described some of their mentorship activities that made everyone feel more at home: canoeing, sharing meals, and, of course, shopping.
In addition to discussing the importance of home, the mentors also stressed the importance of mutuality in mentor relationships—instead of “helping” refugees, the best mentor relationships are ones where all parties are givers and receivers. It can’t be a one-way street; it must be a two-way highway.
“It sounds bad, but I think you can volunteer for selfish reasons, because you want to learn about another culture,” Maria Guarraci said. “And the Chhetris have taught me so much.”
Khagendra Chhetri agreed. His family became friends with Maria, Becky, and their book club when they arrived to Sioux Falls from a refugee camp in Nepal last summer. He felt similarly about the giving and receiving that transform mentors into family members.
“They [mentors] teach me about American culture and I share my culture with them through food, festivals, music, and drumming,” Khagendra said. “I am very happy with my American family.”
World Refugee Day (June 20th) is an international day to honor the courage and contribution of refugees worldwide. If you would like to celebrate this day by beginning a refugee mentor relationship of your own, please contact our office at (605) 731-2000.
To contribute to the work of welcoming the stranger, make a financial gift to LSS today.
[Post by Amy S.Z.]