Recently, the Argus Leader published an article about befriending refugees in which you met two of our refugee mentors. We wanted to share another of our mentor’s experience with you. As the Hansons had such a great story, we decided to split the story in two. Come back next week for the second half of their story!
Paul and Lara Hanson, along with their son Elliot, began their journey of becoming mentors last year when they applied to mentor a refugee family with the Center for New Americans. A mentor commits to befriending a new refugee family for 6 months and visiting them for an hour or two each week to do different activities. Sometimes it may be practicing English or going to a park. Or it could be something as simple as sharing food together. By visiting regularly, it helps the new family adjust to living in the US, which sometimes is VERY different than where they came from. The Hansons met their first family back in January—a Bhutanese family of three.
As volunteer coordinator, I am lucky enough to get to match potential mentors with new refugee families, but I’m always interested in learning what motivates them in the beginning. Paul and Lara both expressed difficulty in trying to fit in volunteering with full time jobs (Lara is an ELL teacher and Paul works at a bank) as well as spending time together as a family. “Mentoring is something we can do all together. We don’t have to sacrifice family time when we mentor,” said Lara. She first had the idea of working with refugees since she works with many refugee children at school. She thought it would be a great way to help the families of the kids she sees daily. Paul was also excited about working with refugees. He sees it as a great way to teach their son about diversity. Paul laments the lack of diversity he grew up with, “I wasn’t exposed to that, growing up on a farm in rural South Dakota, and I want Elliot to learn about different cultures.”
The initial meeting between mentor and family can be a little uncomfortable, but Paul and Lara have assured me that it gets easier each time. During the initial meeting, the mentor, family, LSS staff and an interpreter all meet in the family’s home for introductions and to talk about the mentoring relationship. Lara and Paul both expressed that the first meeting is always kind of quiet and awkward but that fades as the relationship grows. At the first meeting with their first family, they had tea and talked about some activities to do together. The first meeting with the second family was a little more exciting. Lara got the chance to greet the family directly off the plane. She got to see their first moments in Sioux Falls. “I was just amazed at how trusting they were. They met complete strangers and got into cars trusting that we were there to help.” Paul feels he understands the process of resettlement better now, having seen it from the beginning. “We feel more useful, in that we can provide connections and show them around Sioux Falls. Our first family had already been in the US for a couple months before we were matched and had already learned a little about Sioux Falls.”
One of the connections Paul and Lara helped them make was getting the Kamanyires in touch with a local church. Paul and Lara took Jonathan and Maria, the parents, to meet the deacon, who in turn found other church members to help bring them to worship each week. Paul is proud that this one small connection will allow the Kamanyires connections into the larger community. “It was so simple but it is making such a difference in their lives.”
Learn more on how the Hanson’s and Kamanyire’s spend their time together next week!
Written by Kristyne Walth