The Work of Welcoming: Jami, Americorps Case Aide

Imagine you fled your home due to violence and have been living in exile in a refugee camp for over ten years.  Now, your life is about to change again.  After many months of interviews and screenings…and more months of waiting, you have received notice that you and your family are to be resettled to the United States…to a place called, Sioux Falls.

Who will be there to welcome you?

Who will walk alongside, helping to navigate this foreign culture and journey with you towards integration? 

Who will empower and equip you for a life of self-sufficiency and independence?

Jami, is an Americorps volunteer at the Center for New Americans who has been contributing as a Case Aide since October 2014.  In her role, she mainly works in finding newly arrived refugees affordable housing, making sure the home is equipped with furniture and basic living supplies, and providing orientation on the use of appliances, fire safety, and abiding by the terms of lease agreements.

Below is a reflection Jami wrote entitled “Forget they are Refugees: The Life of a Caseworker.”

Sometimes, I forget. I form bonds with my clients and forget they are refugees. Well, I know they are refugees, or else I wouldn’t be here with them.  Because that’s what I do for a living, I work with refugees. But right now, sitting in their home, sharing tea and laughing and storytelling…it’s easy to forget what their lives used to be like.  It is the little things that remind me, though.

Small tidbits of memory weave their way into the conversation like a thread in a blanket that is a bit off-color. While talking about their child’s teacher:“Back in the camp school it was much more difficult without electricity.” Or—when sharing the news about a relative back home—“Mashallah! My sister is giving birth to twins! One is out, but she has been in labor for 2 days waiting for the next one. There is no hospital in the countryside.”  Explaining the concept of Boy Scouts and their outdoor activities:“Oh! Yes! I know what ‘tent’ means now! That’s what I lived in back in Nepal!” These little things jump out of the conversation and shake me into reality.

While I spent my days playing tag on the elementary school playground, these people I am sitting with were literally running for their lives. They had to leave their homes and flee to another country to stay alive.  Those little things, the bullet-shaped scar on his arm or the way she startles when an airplane flies over head, remind me that life is different in other places…that these people, the same ones who have welcomed me into their home to chat and drink tea, have lived through unimaginable horrors. I forget that the 50-year-old man in front of me has never been to a single day of school before coming to the United States. I forget that the mother serving me tea has seen the death of two of her children. I forget that the other children are small in stature not from their genetics, but from living most of their lives malnourished.

But, then again, maybe it’s okay that I forget. Maybe that’s part of resettling to the United States. They are here to begin again: to live free from persecution, from fear, from racism and from ethnic cleansing…to be able to gain an education, take care of their families, and live in peace.

And here I am, lucky enough to be sitting in their living room and helping them reach these opportunities. Although, every now and then I may forget they are refugees, I will never forget this. This moment. These smiles. These howls of laughter. These faces that are, at least temporarily, free from worries.

Jami

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