Last Thursday, we met Paul, Lara, and Elliot Hanson, one of our refugee mentor families, and heard about part of their journey mentoring the Kamanyire family. (Read it here) We continue with the rest of their story today.
The Hansons and Kamanyires have been able to meet pretty regularly. During their time together, the Hansons check-in on the family’s progress. “We see what they need that week and talk about what they want to accomplish during our time together.” Sometimes that means plans can change suddenly. Paul told me that one week the plan had been to introduce them to some American food. They brought over pizza but when they arrived Jonathan wanted to visit a park, so they did that instead. “It was very freeing for the Kamanyires. Being so new and not knowing many people yet, I think they stayed inside their apartment most of the time. It was great to see their smiles as they ran in the grass and looked at the river.” During other visits though, their time is more focused. They like to spend time practicing English with the family. I asked what they have done to get past the language barrier as only Jonathan has a good understanding of English. Lara said, “There are no real tricks. It’s just going slow and using simple words.” Maria and Lara keep a vocabulary list together. They point out objects and write down the word in English as well as Kiswahili. Paul likes to check with Jonathan to see if he understands. “Jonathan will tell me if he does not understand what I said. I can then rethink my sentence and try again.” Paul knows that miscommunication is going to happen but says that they try to be flexible and not worry so much.
As our interview come to an end, I asked Paul and Lara what’s the biggest thing they’ve learned from their experience mentoring. For Paul, he appreciates seeing American culture through another’s eyes. He feels that things are often taken for granted here and working with the Kamanyires he remembers how lucky he truly is. After expressing how amazing the cars here in America were, Paul explained to Jonathan that if he worked hard and saved money, he could buy one too. Jonathan was ecstatic! He told Paul that in his home country, only the President rides in cars like that. There would have never been an opportunity for Jonathan to even sit in a car like that, let alone own one. Paul’s advice for someone thinking about mentoring? — “Be patient and flexible. You have to remember that all of us have ancestors who resettled here and went through the same things as [the Kamanyires]. I can help them with that.” Lara has learned that it is not hard. “It’s just being a friend but you are making such a big impact in their lives.” She advises others not to be afraid. “All the barriers (language and culture) are small humps to get over. These refugee families are just people and how easy is it to be friends with a person?”
If you want to become a mentor like the Hansons, please go to http://www.lsssd.org/family_services/refugee/volunteer.html or call (605) 731-2009.